« Every day we see trucks transporting fuel passing by; while our social status has not improved. Poverty, unemployment and lack of development programs is the only constant issues in this region» a citizen from the south.
The general context
The sit-in in ‘Kamour’, the main crossing point towards the oil-fields in southern Tunisia, was an unprecedented event in the governorate of Tataouine. The protest movement lasted for more than four months between April and August 2017 and reached the deepest points of the Tunisian Sahara, triggering the shutdown of oil production valves. The protests started from the delegation of ‘Bir Lahmar’ and spread across the whole governorate to reach some regions of the governorate of Kebili. These unprecedented events affected directly the country’s oil production, which decreased by nearly 50%, falling from 46 thousand barrels per day in January 2017 to 23 thousand in August 2017.
Tataouine never witnessed protests of this size, involving hundreds of young people from different levels of education. Protesters persisted in demanding development and employment as well as the disclosure of the real production value of Tunisian natural resources. The movement started spontaneously with tens of protesters to quickly attract hundreds of people that set up almost 80 tents.
The governorate of Tataouine has the largest natural resource fields in Tunisia, such as Borma, Adem, Chourouk, and Nawara, which will soon start gas production expected to be the largest gas field in Tunisia. However, despite the richness of natural resources, the governorate has weak development indicators: the unemployment rate reaches 32%, almost doubling the national average of 15%, while the poverty rate is around 15%. The governate also ranked 12th in the Regional Development Indicator Index in 2018 and 20th in the Regional Investment Attractiveness Index in 2015.
Four main national and international oil companies (ETAP–MAZARINE –PERENCO-WINSTAR) operate in the governorate and are engaged since 2016 in the Social Responsibility Program led by the Tunisian Enterprise for the Petroleum Activities (ETAP). Despite the allocation of 11.6 million dinars for the development of Tataouine, this program has failed so far to reach the expected goals and did not contribute to reducing congestion. Despite the significant amount allocated, many problems remain about its governance and its ability to create jobs. The program created only 700 job opportunities and the program’s participation in the funding of projects does not exceed 25% through the bank of funding small and medium businesses. Besides, too many youths still uninformed about the advantages of the program and the mechanism through which they can access and benefit from it.
Over the first four months, the protests ed to the government losses amounting to 400 million dinars, according to the Minister of Employment. In July 2017, a presidential decree was issued, declaring the energy production zone a restricted military zone. However, this did not keep protesters away until the government made some concessions to their demands after long negotiations. The agreement signed on the 26th of August 2017, obliged the government to recruit 3000 residents of Tataouine in the Environmental and Plantation Enterprise (1500 in 2017, 1000 in 2018 and 500 in 2019) and to recruit 1500 in the various oil companies operating in the Sahara (1000 in 2017 and 500 in 2018). The agreement also required the government to allocate 80 million dinars every year to the development and investment fund of Tataouine as well as to guarantee the non-prosecution of those who participated in the protests.
The idea of investing part of the natural resources revenues on development projects:
Protesters demanded 20% of the revenues from the oil industry in Tataouine to be allocated to development projects, in accordance with article 136 of the Tunisian Constitution of 2014, that allows the use of part of the revenues from natural resources for regional development projects. This demand resonated in the words of prime minister Youssef El Shahed, who included it in one of his speeches on energy in May 2019. However, the implementation of this measure is not as simple as it seems and more research is needed to guarantee an equitable and transparent distribution of the country’s revenues.
Governance of the Energy sector
Among other demands, protesters called for more transparency in the energy sector and the disclosure of the real value of the Tunisian natural resources. Although the energy sector started to become more transparent, there is still a huge lack of trust and confidence in the public data available regarding natural resources. The transparency of the energy sector has improved and specific data on production are becoming more available, for example with the publication of the oil contracts on the open public portal of the Ministry of Industries. Moreover, the Prime Minister declared in June 2019 that Tunisia is preparing to join the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI). These steps are certainly crucial to strengthen the transparency and the good governance of the natural resources sector in Tunisia. The commitment to these initiatives helped Tunisia ranking 26th in the Natural Resources Governance Index internationally and first among the Arab countries in the domain of oil industries. However, the sector still has major discrepancies. For example, the government is reluctant to publish the individual revenues of the different companies operating the natural resources sites, studies on the environmental and social effects of the operations, as well as documents of the audits of Social Responsibility Enterprises. As long as they will remain unaddressed, these discrepancies will not reduce people’s mistrust in the government, the allegations of corruption, and the question about the real value of the Tunisian natural resources.
In conclusion, although the ‘Kamour’ Agreement was an important milestone, tensions started again in Tataouine and the number of social movements has risen in the last period. In the first half of 2019, 179 protests were registered in the governorate, a high number considering that the governorate’s population does not exceed 150 thousand residents. The main reason for the escalation is the failure of the government to meet the objectives of the ‘Kamour’ Agreement, leading to a deepening of the mistrust in the government.
Therefore, what are the reasons behind this mistrust?
The Mushawarat project seeks to tackle urgent socio-economic challenges in the governorates of Gafsa and Tataouine and to improve natural resources governance. Through an inclusive policy development process, the project opens the door to citizens, civil society organizations, activists, unions and local government officials to engage in a series of consultations to evaluate current policies and discuss feasible alternatives.
The Maghreb Economic Forum (MEF) is an independent Think-and-Do Tank founded in 2011 on the premise of supporting economic and social development in the five Maghreb countries. Our mission is to convene and mobilize diverse actors to catalyze sustainable economic and social development in the Maghreb. MEF believes that an informed, active citizenry is the key to building sustainable economies and inclusive societies.