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U.N. Democracy Fund Grants Funding for NRGI Programming Promoting Democratic Space in Tunisia

  • News from NRGI

  • 15 March 2022

The Natural Resource Governance Institute has launched a new project “Promoting Democratic Space for Marginalized Communities in Oil-producing Areas of Tunisia," funded by The United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF).

Following is a summary of the project programming:

Marginalization of natural resource-rich regions was a key factor leading to the 2011 revolution in Tunisia, which triggered a democratic transition. These regions continue to lag behind in development indicators with the highest unemployment rates nationally (32.4% in oil-producing Tataouine, 28.9% in phosphate-producing Gafsa, and 24% in oil-producing Kebili, compared to 15% nationally in 2018). Successive governments’ failure to address local communities’ demands for social justice is having severe impacts on the socioeconomic and political stability necessary for a successful democratic transition. This is evidenced by the escalation of social unrest in producing regions; phosphate producing Gafsa recorded 1,774 protest movements in 2020, while Tataouine recorded 696 protests. The brewing frustrations highlight regional disparities and risk exacerbating the rift between marginalized communities and the state, therefore derailing the country’s transition.

This four-year project seeks to advance a peaceful, sustainable, and civil society-led resolution to continuous citizen-state conflict in the oil-producing regions of Tataouine and Kebili. The rise of citizen-led social movements in Tunisia's oil-producing regions reveals the failure of civil society to effectively voice local grievances or translate them to policy asks. This could negatively impact Tunisia’s democratic transition, a central condition of which is the existence of a vibrant and effective civil society that fulfils the democratic function of cooperating with the government while holding it to account.

This project aims to empower civil society organization (CSO) actors to effectively represent the demands of marginalized oil-producing communities in Tataouine and Kebili while fulfilling a mediating role between the government and protesters. Through civil society capacity development and financial support, this project will address the lack of peaceful and sustainable alternatives to street-level and contentious politics.

This project will also engage in quantitative and in-depth qualitative research to produce recommendations for government commitments that are both achievable and responsive to citizens’ needs. This will form the basis for the CSO networks, through NRGI sub-grants, to engage in community and government consultations to establish and adopt region-specific roadmaps for the sustainable resolution of the Tataouine and Kebili oil-based citizen-state conflict. This project will further support the networks to fulfil their accountability roles through follow-up meetings to monitor the implementation of government commitments.

This project is based on the theory of change that if regional civil society actors coalesce while increasing their institutional capacity and sector-specific knowledge, then they will be better able to fulfil a mediating role between government and street-level demands in marginalized oil-producing communities. In tandem, if qualitative and quantitative research is available, then capacitated civil society networks will be able to lead consultative processes aimed at establishing roadmaps for regional development. Finally, if the roadmaps are established and adopted by the government and local communities, then civil society networks will be willing and able to hold the government accountable for their implementation.