Since the beginning of the summer, the daily life of Tunisians has been punctuated by repeated shortages. In turn, coffee, sugar, water, cigarettes, oil, flour, pasta, rice, milk are not found. A Chinese ordeal that puts the nerves to the test.
The big absentee at the moment is milk, the basis of children’s breakfast and the essential “direct”, Tunisian milk coffee. For a month, the stocks have been empty. ” On delivery days, Mondays and Fridays, I go around the grocers I know and who agree to sell me two liters, a few six-packs are sold almost as soon as they arrive,” sighs Meryem, mother of two children.
Shortages are compounded by skyrocketing inflation
White sugar is only sold in supermarkets, at the rate of one kilo per person. The coffee has disappeared from the shelves. “The cafe owners are delivered as a priority by the purchasing groups, and again, on condition that they take at the same time large bottles of water or juices which they do not need”, explains Meryem again, whose in-laws run a café. It is always possible to find brown sugar or Arabica of superior quality, provided you pay three or four times the price.
Because to the shortages is added a vertiginous inflation. Beef, sold at around 20 dinars (6 €) per kilo two years ago, is displayed at 35 dinars (10.42 €). Mutton is around 40 dinars (€11.98). An unaffordable luxury for the majority of Tunisians. “I only buy a little minced meat from time to time”, says Sabiha, a housewife. “The average monthly consumption has dropped to 900 grams per person”, according to Ahmed Lâamri, president of the National Chamber of Butchers. “We have been alerting the public authorities since 2015, he continues. With the increase in the price of fodder, imported ingredients for animal feed, the scarcity of water due to drought, production is decreasing and prices are soaring. »
Anxiety rises two months before Ramadan
Wherever one looks, one sees only crisis. Nearly 300 medicines are missing from pharmacies and hospitals. Suppliers are reluctant to supply the central pharmacy, which is too indebted.
The president of the Trade Union Chamber of Bakers, Sadok Haboubi, announces the cessation of activity of regulated bakeries (prices set by the State) from February 1, in at least 10 of the 24 governorates of the country. “The state hasn’t paid us the flour subsidies for fourteen months. Soon we will no longer be able to buy flour. »
Two months before the start of Ramadan, a period of high food consumption, anxiety is mounting. Meanwhile, the head of state Kaïs Saïed is locked in denial and regularly calls into question “speculators who seek to aggravate the situation”.
“The crisis is structural”
“However, the crisis is structural, affirms Houssem Saad, co-founder of the Association for the fight against the rentier economy in Tunisia (Alert). The shortages concern local products whose price is fixed by the State and subsidized imported products. » Milk is in the first case. The price paid to breeders has been set at 1.14 dinar (€0.34) for years. With the increase in the price of animal feed, they now sell at a loss and prefer to slaughter their animals. As a result, milk production has decreased by 35% and 500,000 liters are missing per day.
In the case of subsidized products, for which the State has an import monopoly (wheat, coffee, sugar, etc.), “a few companies benefit from the majority of the quotas and enrich themselves thanks to the subsidies, while paying little taxes. At the end of the day, the State goes into debt and no longer has enough foreign currency to import”, summarizes Houssem Saad. The double shock of Covid and the war in Ukraine has thus hit a breathless model that no government has managed to reform. In this atmosphere, the second round of legislative elections scheduled for Sunday, January 29, only arouses a disillusioned shrug of the shoulders.
The Arlesian of the IMF loan
July 25, 2021: President Kaïs Saïed’s coup led to the suspension of discussions with the International Monetary Fund for a planned loan of 3.7 billion euros, the IMF demanding in exchange deep reforms.
December 14, 2022: After resumption of negotiations for a loan of 1.75 billion euros, the IMF adjourned sine die the examination of the file due to an unfavorable political context: deterioration of democracy, dissension between president, government and central bank, etc. .
January 24, 2023: The presidency denies that Kais Saïed, who opposes the reforms demanded, has signed a document in connection with the negotiations.