The Tunisia Country Programme is the Cities Alliance’s first Country Programme engagement in the Middle East-North Africa region and the first financed by a Cities Alliance member, the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).
As is the case with all Cities Alliance Country Programmes, the Tunisia partnership seeks to align urban development at all levels – national, city, and community, with an emphasis on bringing all citizens into the planning and decision-making process.
The programme is being implemented in two phases: Phase 1 (2016-18) and Phase 2 (2019-23).
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Tunisia is at a turning point in its history, and cities are at the heart of these changes. Since 2011, it has been experiencing a unique societal change embodied by the rise of an active civil society, a new Constitution, and a vigorous decentralisation process.
Despite these political developments and a relatively strong annual GDP growth rate averaging 3.28 per cent from 2001 to 2017, Tunisian cities continue to face multiple challenges.
Cities and regions lack the resources or autonomy to foster local development, and they also face a high unemployment rate, urban sprawl, a lack of urban and land use policies, and low citizen participation in political, economic and social issues, especially among youth and women.
The Cities Alliance initiative is a clear commitment to helping bolster the democratic process and the decentralisation initiatives begun by the national government, strengthening the new civil society, and positioning cities as the engine of local democracy and inclusive urban development.
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Several Cities Alliance members have activities underway at the national and city level to help implement the decentralisation process and support capital investment in cities, notably Agence Française de Développement (AFD), the World Bank and the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).
Others are also providing direct assistance to cities and civil society organisations to support local governance and involve citizens in the process, including the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ); Danish Cooperation; and VNG International, the international cooperation agency of the Association of Netherlands Municipalities.
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Tunisia has seen significant political and social turmoil in recent years, and the Cities Alliance initiative is a clear commitment to helping bolster the democratic process and the decentralisation initiatives begun by the national government.
These initiatives include a new Constitution that fully recognises the role of local governments and the need for citizen participation. With the technical and financial support of the World Bank, a five-year, USD 630 million Municipal Investment Plan has recently been set up with a view to providing grants to municipalities for funding critical infrastructure projects provided they meet certain requirements.
Provide a platform for consultation
There is a lot of energy now in Tunisia behind the decentralisation process, and the government is keen to advance it. Adding to the momentum is the fact that many external donors are actively supporting participatory urban planning in country. However, there is still little communication among all of these different groups and organisations, and better coordination would increase their impact and leveraging effects.
The Country Programme is a good opportunity to build on these initiatives and bring many of the development actors working in Tunisia together through a common platform for dialogue and consultation.
Target lagging non-coastal cities
Over the years most investment has gone to Tunisia’s coastal cities, where 75 per cent of the country’s urban population lives and the bulk of its industry exists. Many smaller inland cities and towns have largely been left behind, with unemployment rates far higher than those of coastal cities. The result has been large regional disparities in infrastructure, access to services, investment and job opportunities.
The Country Programme will help by building capacity within these cities to plan strategically, a key precursor for attracting investment and sparking sustainable, long-term, equitable growth. It will also open up spaces for dialogue so that city leaders and residents can work together to shape their city’s future.
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The programme is by necessity very flexible; people at all levels are heavily involved in the decentralization process, and things are evolving very quickly.
The Tunisia programme is being structured around three main pillars:
1. Scaling up strategic city planning
There are many different actors engaging in strategic city planning across Tunisia’s 264 municipalities – external donors, city federations, local governments, communities and NGOs. The problem is that they often aren’t aware of similar activities going on, and there are missed opportunities for scaling up the city planning process and learning from each other.
The Cities Alliance Country Programme aims to bring these different actors together and help them collaborate to strengthen the strategic planning process, with a particular focus on non-coastal cities. At the same time, this cooperation helps establish a platform for consultation so cities can exchange views, learn from each other, and participate in the urban debate that is taking place throughout Tunisia.
2. Setting up participatory approaches to city management
In the past, there was little interaction between cities, communities and the national government in terms of urban planning. Decentralisation is changing that, and the government is committed to fostering participatory city management. Local governments are required to produce five-year municipal investment plans and provide evidence that they are building transparent, participatory mechanisms in order to receive funding for key infrastructure projects.
There is a national programme to help, but due to a lack of technical and financial resources this support remains in the initial phases with a focus on training staff to support local governments in building their municipal investment plans.
The Country Programme will seek to bring additional resources to streamline implementation. Again, there are many different actors engaged in supporting the government in this area – including GIZ, the European Union and the World Bank – and a major component of the Country Programme is bringing them together for greater impact.
3. Informing the national urban debate
The Country Programme aims to help Tunisia prepare for dealing with key issues related to cities that it will likely confront in the near future, moving beyond reform of city management codes, regulations and tools. This includes reflecting on cities, what they mean for development, and what a national urban policy would mean, building on the experience of the Association of Tunisian Urban Planners and feeding into the work undertaken by government.
Many different organisations are actively supporting development in Tunisia at this time, and one way the Cities Alliance Country Programme has stood out is by building coherence of effort and bringing these various stakeholders and groups together around concrete projects for more effective engagement.
It has played an instrumental role in building strategic and operational partnerships between Cities Alliance members and partners – a role that is recognised at the national and international level. The programme has demonstrated its potential to serve as a key platform facilitating dialogue and strategic thinking around urban matters, and its Steering Committee has become a valuable space for discussing urban development issues.
The Country Programme has also shown a promising leveraging effect. After less than a year of implementation, the momentum created by the programme’s Madinatouna city development strategy (CDS) project led an additional city to mobilise its own resources so that it could join the strategic planning process.
In 2018, the Tunisian government announced plans to expand the Country Programme's CDS initiative to all 365 municipalities nationwide.
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