Hoping to preserve democracy, Tunisia woos foreign investors

TUNIS, Tunisia – International investors pledged billions of dollars on Tuesday as the Tunisian government tries to drum up funds at an investment conference to keep its young democracy from falling into economic collapse.

Qatar announced $1.25 billion dollars to help boost development in the North African country, with the emir of Qatar asking, “Are we going to help or … are we going to watch it face its troubles alone?”

More than 2,000 people — prime ministers, CEOs and other participants from some 40 countries including the United States and China — are in Tunis for the two-day conference. The government hopes the event can generate up to $30 billion for 145 projects over the next four years.

Investment Minister Fadhel Abdelkefi called on international investors to help anchor Tunisia “definitively in the ranks of democratic countries.”

Islamic State attacks last year targeting a beach hotel and a museum have devastated the tourism industry. Meanwhile, economic troubles that helped drive Tunisia’s 2011 revolution remain unresolved, with more than 30 per cent of young graduates unemployed.

France, Tunisia’s top economic partner, will add 250 million euros ($265 million) each year to the 1 billion euros promised by 2020 and convert part of its debt into development projects, notably a hospital in Gafsa, a poor central region, Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced.

“More than ever we must be at the side of Tunisia, the only example of a successful (democratic) transition after the 2011 Arab Spring,” Valls said.

As an “exceptional measure,” the European Investment Bank would provide 2.5 billion euros to help the public and private sectors achieve inclusive and durable growth that would benefit youth, the bank’s president Werner Hoyer said.

Company leaders from the United States to China were meeting with Tunisian authorities seeking financing for the up to 145 projects in the 2016-2020 development plan.