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Tunisia‘s large black population has been marginalized for generations. No official figures exist on the number of black Tunisians in the country. However, activists say the population extent is considerably larger than officially acknowledged. According to Mnemty, for example, the community represents between 10 and 15% of the total population, with most residing in the south of the country.
Nevertheless, they remain almost entirely absent from public life and employment, including government posts and other leadership positions. Despite this discrimination, there is still widespread reluctance in the country to admit that racism exists.
The history of the black community in North Africa is linked to the slave trade. Slavery was abolished in Tunisia in 1846, but black Tunisians still face enormous discrimination and marginalization. This is reflected in the everyday use of words such as slave (ousif) to refer to a black person.
Additionally, prior to 2011, the country’s Constitution abolished all forms of association, making it difficult to organize efforts to advance equality for the black population. The 2011 revolution, however, gave this silenced and oppressed minority a chance to be heard. The country’s first organization to fight for the rights of black Tunisians, the Association for Equality and Development (ADAM), was formed soon after to advocate for legal change to strengthen anti-terrorist provisions. -discrimination. Nevertheless, popular denial of the scale of the problem persisted until Mariam Touré, a young Malian student, published an open letter to Tunisians in October 2014 in which she denounced the harassment she suffered on a daily basis in a society whom she believes to be ‘infected’ with racism.
A number of incidents that have received wider publicity illustrate the prevalence of racism in Tunisia and the particular challenges faced by black Tunisians. In 2013, Saadia Mosbah, the president of the civil society organization Mnemty, was told by a gas station employee that he “did not serve slaves”. Due to the lack of legislation at the time criminalizing hate speech, she had to take legal action for assault after her son was assaulted while trying to intervene. In 2014, Nejiba Hamrouni, the former president of the Journalists’ Union, was publicly insulted by Islamists when they published caricatures of her monkey-like image. Because she couldn’t sue, she took to social media to raise awareness about racial discrimination. The same year, a black woman was stoned in Bizerte by her neighbours, but the case was dismissed by the police for lack of evidence, despite several witnesses.
Black Tunisians not only suffer from widespread poverty, labor market exclusion, and limited access to higher education, but are also largely absent from politics, the media, and other areas of life. public life. Although underrepresented in Tunisian society, many black Tunisians are easily identifiable and subject to verbal abuse and even violence as a result. In southern Tunisia, the situation is particularly worrying, as the black community sometimes lives in isolated areas, such as the village of Gosba. A 2016 report revealed the existence of separate buses for black and white students in Sidi Maklouf, but it was reported to be a single incident after the outrage it sparked. More recently, research by the Mnemty organization found that areas with a high concentration of black students, particularly in the south, tend to lack resources in terms of social and health amenities, with a greater incidence high absenteeism among black students due to children. work during school hours. This ultimately results in disproportionate dropout rates in the community which, in turn, shapes their future prospects in employment and public life.
Black Tunisians still do not have access to many areas of life. Currently, there is only one black Tunisian reporter on national television and only one black deputy in parliament. Nevertheless, black Tunisians have seen their situation improve significantly since 2011, especially as Tunisians have begun to recognize racism. In this regard, the adoption on October 9, 2018 of a law criminalizing racial discrimination by the Tunisian Parliament – making it the first Arab country to adopt such legislation – is a major step. Civil society organizations such as Mnemty have been fighting for years to make this possible. Indeed, the first conviction under the new legislation came in February 2019 when a woman was given a suspended prison sentence and a fine by a court in Sfax for insulting her daughter’s teacher. about his skin color. This law was further strengthened in July 2020 when the Council of Ministers approved a decree establishing the National Commission against Racial Discrimination, which will be responsible for implementing the 2018 law. However, at the time of writing (one year after the decree), the Commission has not yet been set up. Thanks to this law, MRG and its partners won a historic lawsuit in October 2020 which led to the removal of the word “Atig” (meaning “liberated by”) from the surname of a black Tunisian. Although MRG has trained 150 lawyers on this new law and supported dozens of legal proceedings, we have seen a lack of awareness on the part of police and magistrates who have not yet been trained by the state, as well as fear of take legal action. or the lack of hope in the justice system by many members of the black community.
Another problem that many black Tunisians currently face is their amalgamation with migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, who form a distinct group. Some of them flee various humanitarian crises and conflicts and transit through North Africa with the intention of continuing on to Europe. Others come to Tunisia as university students and workers. Whether they come with the intention of transiting or staying for study and economic reasons, many find themselves living in Tunisia for extended periods. Much of Tunisian society, due to the invisibility of black Tunisians in public life, assumes that all blacks living in the country are of sub-Saharan origin, which makes it even more difficult to recognize black Tunisians.
Like black Tunisians, sub-Saharan migrants face racial discrimination, but their situation is compounded by language barriers, problems with identity papers and their limited access to education and health care. They are frequently abused, exploited and even subjected to targeted attacks. For example, prominent anti-racist activist Falikou Coulibaly was stabbed to death in Tunis in late December 2018; he had been president of the Association of Ivorians of Tunisia (AIT). While authorities said the murder was linked to a robbery, Coulibaly’s death nonetheless led hundreds of black Tunisians to protest in the days that followed against racist discrimination in the country and the lack of an adequate response from the government. government. MRG, through its network of anti-discrimination points, documented hundreds of cases of racial discrimination against black Tunisians and sub-Saharan migrants in 2019 and 2020.
A Black Lives Matter solidarity protest was organized by Mnemty and other groups in Tunisia in June 2020, being the first of its kind in the region.
Updated November 2021