On Sunday, 21 Columbia Business School students will arrive in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tunis, the capital of the Republic of Tunisia, trading in the NYC winter chill of the NYC the balmy 60-degree weather of the gulf city. Our trip is part of a course called “Doing Business in North Africa,” which is a Chazen Institute Global Immersion Program. Approximately the size of the state of Georgia, Tunisia is the smallest country in North Africa – a swath of land wedged between Algeria and Libya, just 140 miles south of Italy, separated by the sea. Bordered by the Atlas Mountains in the north and the Sahara desert in the south, Tunisia has been the linchpin of empires: the Phoenicians (Carthage), Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Ottomans, and the French, from whom Tunisia obtained independence in 1956.
Despite its modest population of 11 million people (2 million of which are in the capital), the 2010-2011 uprisings in Tunisia are credited as the spark that ignited the widespread Arab Spring and ousted the authoritarian government of President Ben Ali domestically. We will be in Tunis on January 14, 2013, which marks the 2nd anniversary of the Revolution and highlights the junction at which the country sits two years after exiling Ben Ali.
“Tunisia today is at a crossroads,” said Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki on November 30th. And with the new constitution still unwritten, postponed elections, a resurgence of riots, and simmering economic discontent due to rising unemployment numbers, the world certainly is waiting and watching to see in which direction the country will go. (Read more in the Dec. 1, 2012 New York Times article “Economic Frustration Simmers Again in Tunisia“)
As MBAs learning about emerging markets, our visit to Tunisia will be well timed. The World Bank recently approved a $500M loan for economic reform and job creation, which comes after a major investment from Qatar as well as EU and US aid. However, foreign investors are currently scared off by the political unrest, a dangerous catch-22, as the political unrest is fueled by rising unemployment due, partially, to the lack of investment. Studying industries such as financial service, healthcare, education, NGOs, and media, we will be meeting with an number of firms and institutions including: AfricInvest-TunInvest, the African Development Bank, the American Cooperative School in Tunis, Carrefour, COFAT/Groupe Elloumi, Ende inter-Arabe, Poulina Group Holding, Tunisiana, and the Tunisian American Chamber of Commerce in order to learn about, as the title of our course suggests, “Doing Business in North Africa.”
– Yael Silverstein ’13 (Follow my travels on twitter.com/YaelSNYC) [blogging from cold, grey, NYC, USA]
Map picture from (http://www.operationworld.org/tuni)