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Is Tunisia’s Authoritarian President Kais Saied Also A Racist?

Updated: Mar 4, 2023

Africa | Commentaries | Tunisia February 28, 2023

The outspoken authoritarian President Kais Saied of Tunisia has said that migrants from Africa South of the Sahara alias native African migrants are conspiring to change the demographic composition of the northern African nation. That was reported by some African media on February 26, 2023.

More specifically, President Kais Saied (65) who in the recent past systematically amassed political power through making amendment to the country’s Constitution, as well as cracking down on critics and political opponents, reportedly observed that influx of native African migrants into Tunisia presents a campaign to make the country purely African hence a change in the country’s identity. As such, the president is said to have ordered expulsion of all undocumented migrants from Africa South of Sahara. Majority of the migrants in question are said to be from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Mali, and Guinea.

President Kais Saied’s utterance is said to have sparked racist and xenophobic attacks on native African migrants in Tunisia by his supporters. In response, the migrants are said to held demonstrations in the capital Tunis on February 25, 2023.

The highly controversial president’s utterance has been castigated and condemned in many quarters in Africa including the African Union (AU) as irresponsible and racist.

If President Kais Saied’s utterance is indeed racist as purported, that will not be surprising though. Some Africans of Arab descent are known to embrace the racist demographic classification concepts of “black” and “white”, and they classify themselves as “whites” and see native Africans as “blacks”. The racist concepts are metaphoric, aimed at elevating the social status of those claiming to be “whites” despite non-existent of people with white skins (bodies) in the world, and derogating those categorized as “blacks” even when their skins (bodies) may not be black.

It is absurd that the AU has not yet banned the use of the two racist concepts in Africa.

More generally, while President Kais Saied’s utterance and order to expel native African migrants from Tunisia is appalling, the AU per se lacks coherent policy or at least stance about migration within Africa. That has resulted in African countries to treat African migrants arriving in their countries in manners that often violate human rights especially freedom of movement.

For instance, AU has so far failed to ensure that African migrants within Africa are given legal status and benefits by countries receiving them. Only Morocco is said to be doing that at the moment. In other countries throughout the continent African migrants can be confined to segregated refugee camps without residence and working permits for decades before eventually been repatriated to their original countries. Some of those repatriated could have been born and grown to adulthood in the camps. This is shameful to Africa that is known to often blame countries outside Africa for maltreating African migrants. How could the continent dare blame any non-African parties for that while it does even worse things to the migrants internally?

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