Writing from New York, one week after returning from Tunisia, we have had some time to reflect on our whirlwind experience of meeting some of the country’s top business and political leadership.
Tunisia is a country in transition. It is a country whose constituents were never allowed to have an opinion until January 2011 and who are now asking questions of national and individual identity: What does it mean to be Tunisian? What does it mean to be the spark that ignited the Arab Spring? How do we fit into the broader context of North Africa? Of the Arab world? Of the area south of Southern Europe? What has democracy changed? What changes must we still demand?
The world watches Tunisia, awaiting these answers with proverbial baited breath. These answers will determine how the world “does business in North Africa,” how North Africa interacts with the West, and how this next potential market will emerge.
We had an unparalleled opportunity to visit Tunisia at this moment in time and to bear witness to a country and a region as it forges its future.
“North Africa’s most relaxed and hospitable country just might turn out to be its most interesting,” describes the Lonely Planet’s Tunisia guidebook.
That depiction rings true for many of us, having pieced together a mosaic of understanding of today’s Tunisia through a host of visits with Tunisian professionals and companies the past few days .
Here are some of the highlights in my classmates’ words:
On Meeting Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki:
“Perhaps the highlight of the trip was our visit to the presidential palace. There, we had the honor of meeting the president. We were warmly greeted with water and lemonade by his staff and he candidly answered our questions about his views/ plans for the country. We were struck by how honest he was about the challenges facing his country and the difficulties they face. Afterward, we were interviewed by TV, radio and print media as we posed for pictures. Many of the Tunisian staff assisting with the trip took the opportunities to get their own pictures as well.” -Andrew Weber, CBS ‘13
“Today’s lunch meeting with Poulina provided a unique opportunity to learn about a successful Tunisian holding group with a well diversified offering of companies. The meeting with the Chairman was not only informative on its businesses and the economic climate within the region, but also gave us the opportunity to eat produce and meats sold by the company. Overall, I was extremely impressed with today’s visit and will be keeping my eye out for Poulina brands throughout the duration of our trip.” -Evan Tyner CBS ‘13
“The group was honored to go to Enda on Wednesday night to meet with the founders, employees and three inspiring women who have received aid from the NGO. The highlight was hearing how the three women’s lives were impacted through the loans, and their optimism to continue striving for a better life by setting higher goals. All aspects of the visit demonstrated the founders’ belief in empowering people. Specifically, employees gave presentations to inform and practice their English and the reception was catered by another women who is a micro loan recipient. It was amazing to see the gratitude and happiness radiating from the room.” -Krupa Tailor, CBS ‘13
CBSers with the founders, staff, and 3 clients of Enda Inter-Arabe microfinance
“The meeting was able to highlight a number of factors that can propel business in North Africa:
1) The region is the least integrated of all regional blocs in the world; better collaboration can lead to North Africans getting better negotiated trade agreements with the rest of the world.
2) Collaboration can be achieved by taking advantage of the cultural and historical similarities between Libyans, Algerians and Tunisians to open up each other’s borders to provide products and services that will benefit the region.
3) The region could reduce unemployment by moving skilled-but-jobless people between the countries’ borders to where they are needed most, and by leveraging their natural resources available by moving up the value chain.” – Nkazimulo Sokhulu, CBS ‘13
“We had the opportunity to visit COFAT, a company of the Elloumi Group and to speak to the CEO Faouzi Elloumi. For me, it was one of the more interesting company visits given the multi-national nature of the business and the plant tour we were given after the presentation. Understanding COFAT’s core wire and distribution business and then seeing the fabrication of these products in a plant were a fantastic way to start our early morning. (Professor Singh would have been proud!)” –Stephanie Cheng, CBS ‘13
Professor Jedidi and students at the COFAT factory
Salam and Bonjour from Tunis! We arrived in Tunisia yesterday, with the 22 CBS students flying in from destinations near and far from prior winter break travels. For those of us who arrived earlier in the day, Chazen organized a tour to the visit the ruins of Ancient Carthage, just a few miles north of the modern city of Tunis.
The Empire of Carthage, founded as a Phoenician city-State in 814 BC, was significant both politically and as a trade hub amongst the ancient empires. It is notorious for warring with the Greeks and the Roman Republic, which culminated with the Punic wars, which were led by Hannibal, immortalized by Vergil’s Aeneid, and ultimately ended with the destruction of Carthage.
Carthage, Atlas Mountains, Mediterranean
Remains of Carthage with Latin Inscriptions
CBS at Carthage
Following the tour of Ancient Carthage, we traveled to the summer vacation town of Sidi Bou Said, a 12 miles outside the city, for a welcome dinner. The town is known for uniform white buildings punctuated by azure doors and windows. Tunisia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, currently embroiled in a nationwide scandal, was a fellow diner at the seaside Dar Zarrouk restaurant.
Blue door in Sidi Bou Said
Yesterday marked the 2nd anniversary of the Revolution. The country decided a few weeks ago to officially recognize January 14th as a holiday, and as such, most businesses closed in recognition. In order to avoid the demonstrations in the streets, populated by Tunisians off from work, our group enjoyed the morning meandering through Hammamet, a, popular resort town outside Tunis, whose population quadruples in the summer months. We explored the town’s medina (old city), browsing the souq(marketplace)for Tunisian handicrafts, and stopped for some mint tea, a traditional beverage, ubiquitous throughout the region, at a salon de the (café).
Salon de The
Coastline in Hammamet
Mediterranean in Hammamet
The CBS Group
In the afternoon, we had several meetings focused around Foreign Investment. For a more complete recap: click here.
At the Mediterranean School of Business
This morning, we began the day with a Media Panel. Again, for details, click here.
To sum up the historical (and arguably current) history of the country’s censorship, one of the panelists told us the following famous Tunisian joke: A newspaper decided to interview Americans (developed country), Ethiopians (less developed country) and Tunisians (somewhere in the middle) about their opinions on the shortage of meat. When the journalist asked the Americans about their opinions on the shortage of meat, the Americans responded “shortage…what do you mean ‘shortage’?” When the journalist asked the Ethiopians about their opinions on the shortage of meat, the Ethiopians responded “meat…what do you mean ‘meat’?” And when the journalist asked the Tunisians about their opinions on the shortage of meat, the Tunisians responded “opinions…what do you mean’opinions’?”
Until the next (freedom of press protected) post –
I know, I know. Trips to Guatemala and Cuba have come and gone – and I am pathetically behind on updating photographs and stories.
In the meantime, I’m leaving for Tunis, Tunisia tomorrow as part of a course called “Doing Business in North Africa,” (CBS’s Global Immersion Program) and I’m the official CBS media blogger for the trip! Check out my first blog post here: Tunisia on the Eve of the Revolution’s 2nd Anniversary
I’ll be leaving behind the grey, chilly of the NYC winter for some balmy Mediterranean weather (ok, just in the 60s, but still!), to check out, what Lonely Planet calls, “North Africa’s most relaxed and hospitable [and]… most interesting” country