On February 21, while addressing a National Security Council meeting in Tunis, Tunisia’s President Kais Saied condemned irregular migration from sub Saharan Africa and described it as a conspiracy to erase Tunisia’s identity.
“The undeclared goal of the successive waves of illegal immigration is to consider Tunisia a purely African country that has no affiliation to the Arab and Islamic nations,” he said. “Hordes of illegal immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa are still arriving, with all the violence, crime and unacceptable practices that entails.”
Two days later, as he called on Tunisia’s interior minister to crack down on irregular migration, the 65-year-old leader denied accusations from human rights groups that his hateful comments were racist, and claimed those accusing him of racism “want division and discord and seek to damage our relations with our brothers”.
He, however, did not renounce his unsubstantiated claim that migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are arriving in Tunisia as part of a plot to alter its demographics.
The estimated number of Black African migrants in Tunisia today, including those without proper documentation, is just 21,000. Given the country’s 12 million-strong population, they don’t have anywhere near the numbers necessary to alter Tunisia’s demographic composition. The elaborate plot to end Tunisia’s “affiliation to the Arab and Islamic nations” is clearly just a figment of Saied’s imagination.
Nevertheless, the president’s provocative remarks unleashed a wave of discrimination and violence against sub-Saharan Africans in Tunisia.
Hundreds were arbitrarily arrested, dismissed from work, evicted from their homes and violently assaulted.
“In my neighbourhood, Black people were sought out, chased, raped, and their homes looted by Tunisians,” a university student who was voluntarily repatriated to Guinea told the AFP news agency.
In Tunis, scores of migrant families who were left homeless as a result of Saied’s crackdown set up camp outside the headquarters of the International Organization for Migration.
The African Union swiftly and firmly rebuked Saied’s divisive comments and, in response to the consequent government crackdown and racist attacks against sub-Saharan nationals, indefinitely postponed a conference it was due to hold in Tunis in March.
The AU must move to protect Africa from the populist nationalism and racism of the likes of Saied. Without unity, the 2063 Pan-African agenda is doomed to fail. It’s high time the AU demonstrates its authority and brings in line African leaders who attempt to divide us along racial lines.
Credit: Mark-Anthony Johnson