Since opening our Tunisia office in September 2013, the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI), with support from the UK government, has worked to help the country’s nascent civil society play a more active role in demanding natural resource transparency and accountability.
Already, our support of the Association Tunisienne de Transparence dans l'Energie et les Mines has led to the inclusion of natural resource clauses in the country’s constitution, adopted in January of this year. We have also helped create a coalition of 16 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that will promote natural resource transparency. And there is more progress to come, now that capacity building efforts have begun.
To that end, a 5-day proposal writing workshop in Beirut earlier this year brought together 25 participants from 15 key NGOs to work on issues related to transparency and good governance in the extractive sector. Selection criteria for these organizations included membership in the NRGI-led Tunisian coalition (although not exclusively), a track record of solid institutional capacity, and geographic ties to the Tunisia’s resource-rich regions. (Early protests linked to poor governance in the phosphate-rich south fanned the flames of the 2010 Tunisian Revolution.)
What can civil society learn from such capacity building efforts, and which issues are most critical to their success? Our participants have reported a clearer understanding of key natural resource governance issues, including the country’s new constitution, its value chain, and international standards such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). They have also begun to identify important sector challenges, develop action plans with viable project proposals, and procure small grants in order to tackle those challenges. In this way, civil society organizations (CSOs) play a vital role in implementing the new constitutional articles.
“It is very important that CSOs are made aware of the opportunities for action presented to them with the passing of this new constitution, most notably in terms of capitalizing on Article 13,” said a workshop participant, Riadh Ben Hmida of the Association Tunisieene de Jeunes Avocats. Article 13 explicitly states, “natural resources belong to the Tunisian people.” To achieve those ends, our constituents have developed projects wherein they play an active role in reviewing contracts, acting as watchdogs and ensuring government accountability and adherence to international norms, namely EITI. (Tunisia is not yet an EITI country.)
Other participants rightly point out that a pressing need still exists for Tunisian CSOs to work in concert to help concretize these constitutional articles. Mohamed Kamal Gharbi of the Centre de la Citoyennete et de la Democratie (CECIDE) emphasized the need to turn words into action and unite. “These articles look great on paper,” he said, “but unless we mobilize for their implementation, they will remain as such.”
Markedly, participating CSOs developed a sense of newfound unity, reinforced by teambuilding activities. As a result, many non-coalition members—among them, CECIDE, l’Association Tunisienne des Controleurs Publics, l’Association Tunisienne de Lutte Contre la Corruption, Nomad 08 and the Mining Basin Association—expressed an interest in joining.
Adnan Hajji, who led protests in a 2008 uprising over hiring practices in the southeast mining region of Gafsa, has described resource governance as “extremely important” and “vital for Tunisia’s economy.” The workshop, he said, has given CSOs valuable knowledge and skills to advocate for transparency in the extractive sector. Most importantly, he adds, it has given them a network: “I am hoping that this will help build a strong network nationwide. I look forward to working with NRGI and the CSOs on large-scale projects in the near future.”
To learn more about Tunisia’s resource governance reforms, please visit our Tunisia overview.
Hanen Keskes is NRGI’s Tunisia associate.