10/02/2011 / TUNISIA

On Sunday, February 6, a “convoy of thanks” left Tunisia’s major towns and cities and headed for Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of the popular uprising that toppled the authoritarian regime of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. It was a show of gratitude, but one also designed to put an end to the widespread inequalities between different parts of the country.
In Tunisia, wealth is concentrated within a handful of large coastal towns, to the detriment of the country’s inner regions. The main political and administrative establishments are based in the capital, Tunis. Sidi Bouzid, in the centre-west of the country, is one of the regions left behind by regional development policies: although it counts over 400,000 citizens, it does not boast a single university, and is one of the country’s poorest regions.
These disparities instilled a regionalist mindset in many Tunisians. Today, however, a growing number of voices are calling for these inequalities to end.

Contributors

“We were all, up to a point, complicit in these inequalities – the convoy is an opportunity to make amends”

Béchir Bouraoui, 30, lives in Tunis. He took part in the “convoy of thanks”.
 

The initiative was launched via an ‘event’ page on Facebook. We didn’t care very much about who was behind it, we were more interested in the gesture. The idea was simple, to head to Sidi Bouzid by hired buses or by car to thank the people of that region for having started our revolution.
Our convoy left from Tunis. We stopped three times on the way to Sidi Bouzid and were joined by people coming from other towns (Hammamet, Nabeul, Sousse, Kairouan…). The instructions were simple: everyone had to carry a Tunisian flag with them. But many also came with placards and banners carrying a messages of thanks.

We were greeted like kings, even though they are the heroes
We arrived at about 1pm. The welcome we received was incredible! At one point in the regional capital, the crowd was so huge that the convoy couldn’t move any further. Local residents, who knew that we were coming, had put up a banner saying ‘The men of the revolution welcome the free men of Tunisia’.  We were greeted like kings, even though they are the heroes
First we rallied outside the governor’s offices, where everything started on December 17. We then organised a three kilometre-long march which took us to the open-air theatre in Sidi Bouzid city. Many people delivered speeches of thanks to the residents, but some speakers also brought up the question of regional inequalities.
Everyone knows that there was a huge gap between the coastal towns and the regions of the interior. With the end of Ben Ali’s regime, the full extent of these inequalities was divulged. We have discovered how funds destined for the regions were diverted. The inhabitants never saw a single cent of public funds – they were diverted into politician’s pockets.
I think we were all, up to a point, complicit in these inequalities. The convoy was a chance to recognize our past errors and turn the page. Medical and food supplies were also distributed discretely the night before. But what we wanted the most was to highlight existing injustices.
An association will be created in the next few weeks with the aim of encouraging these sorts of exchanges with the regions to put an end to this segregation once and for all. Tunisia is a small country, let us not divide it further.”

Photos of the ‘convoy of thanks’

Arrival of the convoy of cars at Sidi Bouzid.
A participant waving the Tunisian flag and a photo of Mohamed Bouazizi.
At the open-air theatre in Sidi Bouzid.
All of the photos were posted on Facebook by Sabrine and Ramy Herrira.