Mother Earth Travel


Facts About Tunisia

Background: Following independence from France in 1956, President Habib BOURGIUBA established a strict one-party state. He dominated the country for 31 years, repressing Islamic fundamentalism and establishing rights for women unmatched by any other Arab nation. In recent years, Tunisia has taken a moderate, non-aligned stance in its foreign relations. Domestically, it has sought to diffuse rising pressure for a more open political society.
Government type: republic
Capital: Tunis
Currency: 1 Tunisian dinar (TND) = 1,000 millimes

Geography of Tunisia

Location: Northern Africa, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Algeria and Libya
Geographic coordinates: 34 00 N, 9 00 E
total: 163,610 sq km
land: 155,360 sq km
water: 8,250 sq km
Land boundaries:
total: 1,424 km
border countries: Algeria 965 km, Libya 459 km
Coastline: 1,148 km
Maritime claims:
contiguous zone: 24 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: temperate in north with mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summers; desert in south
Terrain: mountains in north; hot, dry central plain; semiarid south merges into the Sahara
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Shatt al Gharsah -17 m
highest point: Jabal ash Shanabi 1,544 m
Natural resources: petroleum, phosphates, iron ore, lead, zinc, salt, arable land
Land use:
arable land: 19%
permanent crops: 13%
permanent pastures: 20%
forests and woodland: 4%
other: 44% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 3,850 sq km (1993 est.)
Environment – current issues: toxic and hazardous waste disposal is ineffective and presents human health risks; water pollution from raw sewage; limited natural fresh water resources; deforestation; overgrazing; soil erosion; desertification
Environment – international agreements:
party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Marine Life Conservation
Geography – note: strategic location in central Mediterranean; Malta and Tunisia are discussing the commercial exploitation of the continental shelf between their countries, particularly for oil exploration.

People of Tunisia

Modern Tunisians are the descendents of indigenous Berbers and of people from numerous civilizations that have invaded, migrated to and been assimilated into the population over the millenia. Recorded history in Tunisia begins with the arrival of Phoenicians, who founded Carthage and other North African settlements in the 8th century BC. Carthage became a major sea power, clashing with Rome for control of the Mediteranean until it was defeated and captured by the Romans in 146 B.C. The Romans ruled and settled in North Africa until the 5th century when the Roman Empire fell and Tunisia was invaded by European tribes, including the Vandals. The Muslim conquest in the 7th century transformed Tunisia’s and the make-up of its population, with subsequent waves of migration from around the Arab and Ottoman world, including significant numbers of Spanish Moors and Jews at the end of the 15th century. Tunisia became a center of Arab culture and learning and was assimilated into the Turkish Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. It was a French protectorate from 1881 until independence in 1956, and retains close political, economic, and cultural ties with France.

Nearly all Tunisians (98% of the population) are Muslim. There has been a Jewish population on the southern island of Djerba for 2000 years, and there remains a small Jewish population in Tunis which is descended from those who fled Spain in the late 15th century. There is no indigenous Christian population. Small nomadic indigenous minorities have been mostly assimilated into the larger population.

Population: 10,074,951 (July 2005 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years: 30% 
15-64 years: 64% 
65 years and over: 6% 
Population growth rate: 1.17% 
Birth rate: 17.38 births/1,000 population 
Death rate: 4.98 deaths/1,000 population 
Net migration rate: -0.7 migrant(s)/1,000 population 
Infant mortality rate: 30.09 deaths/1,000 live births 
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 73.69 years
male: 72.14 years
female: 75.36 years 
Total fertility rate: 2.04 children born/woman 
noun: Tunisian(s)
adjective: Tunisian
Ethnic groups: Arab 98%, European 1%, Jewish and other 1%
Religions: Muslim 98%, Christian 1%, Jewish and other 1%
Languages: Arabic (official and one of the languages of commerce), French (commerce)
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 66.7%
male: 78.6%
female: 54.6% (1995 est.)

Tunisia Economy

Tunisia is in the process of economic reform and liberalization after decades of heavy state direction and participation in the economy. Prudent economic and fiscal planning have resulted in moderate sustained growth for over a decade. Tunisia’s economic growth historically has depended on oil, phosphates, agriculture, and tourism. The government’s economic policies had limited success during the early years of independence. During the 1960s, a drive for collectivization caused unrest, and farm production fell sharply. Higher prices for phosphates and oil and growing revenues from tourism stimulated growth in the 1970s, but an emphasis on protectionism and import substitution led to inefficiencies. Tunisia received considerable economic assistance during this period from the United States and European and Arab countries and is one of the few developing countries in the region to have moved into the “middle income” category.

As a result of an overvalued dinar and a growing foreign debt sparked a foreign exchange crisis in the mid-1980s. In 1986, the government launched a structural adjustment program to liberalize prices, reduce tariffs, and reorient Tunisia toward a market economy.

Tunisia’s economic reform program has been lauded as a model by international financial institutions. The government has liberalized prices, reduced tariffs, lowered debt-service-to-exports and debt-to-GDP ratios, and extended the average maturity of its $10 billion foreign debt. Structural adjustment brought additional lending from the World Bank and other Western creditors. In 1990, Tunisia acceded to the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and is a member of the WTO.

In 1996 Tunisia entered into an “Association Agreement” with the European Union (EU) which removes tariff and other trade barriers on most goods by 2008. In conjunction with the Association Agreement, the EU is assisting the Tunisian Government’s Mise A Niveau (upgrading) program to enhance the productivity of Tunisian businesses and prepare for competition in the global marketplace.

The government has totally or partially privatized about 140 state-owned enterprises since the privatization program was launched in 1987. Although the program is supported by the UGTT, the government has had to move carefully to avoid mass firings. Unemployment continues to plague Tunisia’s economy and is aggravated by a rapidly growing work force. An estimated 55% of the population is under the age of 25. Officially, 15% of the Tunisian work force is unemployed, but the real numbers of jobless or underemployed are higher.

In 1992, Tunisia reentered the private international capital market for the first time in 6 years, securing a $10-million line of credit for balance-of-payments support. Recent international operations include 50 billion Japanese Yen raised through a global samurai bond issue and 55 million Yen raised on the global samurai and Yen bond markets. Tunisia has gained investment grade ratings from several international institutions (Standard and Poors, Moody’s, Fitch).

The stock exchange is under the control of the state-run Financial Market Council and lists nearly 50 companies. The government offers substantial tax incentives to encourage companies to join the exchange but expansion is still slow.

The Tunisian Government adopted a unified investment code in 1993 to attract foreign capital. More than 1,400 export-oriented joint venture firms operate in Tunisia to take advantage of relatively low labor costs and preferential access to nearby European markets. Economic links are closest with European countries, which dominate Tunisia’s trade. Tunisia’s currency, the dinar, is convertible for most commercial and investment transactions, but certain restrictions still limit operations carried out by Tunisian residents.

GDP: purchasing power parity – $62.8 billion (2000 est.)
GDP – real growth rate: 6% (1999 est.), 5% (2000 est.)
GDP – per capita: purchasing power parity – $6,500 (2000 est.)
GDP – composition by sector:
agriculture: 12%
industry: 28%
services: 60% (1998 est.)
Population below poverty line: 14.1% (1990 est.)
Household income or consumption by percentage share:
lowest 10%: 2.3%
highest 10%: 30.7% (1990)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 2.7% (1999 est.)
Labor force: 3 million (1997 est.)
note: shortage of skilled labor
Labor force – by occupation: services 55%, industry 23%, agriculture 22% (1995 est.)
Unemployment rate: 16.5% (1999 est.)
revenues: $5.1 billion
expenditures: $5.8 billion, including capital expenditures to $1.6 billion (1999 est.)
Industries: petroleum, mining (particularly phosphate and iron ore), tourism, textiles, footwear, food, beverages
Industrial production growth rate: 8% (1998 est.)
Electricity – production: 7.94 billion kWh (1998)
Electricity – production by source:
fossil fuel: 99.5%
hydro: 0.5%
nuclear: 0%
other: 0% (1998)
Electricity – consumption: 7.549 billion kWh (1998)
Electricity – exports: 0 kWh (1998)
Electricity – imports: 165 million kWh (1998)
Agriculture – products: olives, grain, dairy products, tomatoes, citrus fruit, beef, sugar beets, dates, almonds
Exports: $5.8 billion (f.o.b., 1999 est.)
Exports – commodities: textiles, mechanical goods, phosphates and chemicals, agricultural products, hydrocarbons
Exports – partners: France 27%, Italy 22%, Germany 15%, Belgium 6%, Libya 4% (1998)
Imports: $8.3 billion (c.i.f., 1999 est.)
Imports – commodities: machinery and equipment, hydrocarbons, chemicals, fuel, food
Imports – partners: France 27%, Italy 20%, Germany 12%, Spain 4%, Belgium 4%, United States 4% (1998)
Debt – external: $12.1 billion (1999 est.)
Economic aid – recipient: $933.2 million (1995); note – ODA, $90 million (1998 est.)
Currency: 1 Tunisian dinar (TND) = 1,000 millimes

Map of Tunisia