The Overstretched Superpower
Does America Have More Rivals Than It Can Handle?
Thirty-seven years of fighting, thirty-three years of Destourian leadership, ten years of independence: a propitious moment to draw up a balance sheet, to illuminate the ideas behind our actions. When I go back in my mind to the 1930s, and compare the Tunisia of those days with Tunisia now, I am filled with optimism and rejoice to think of what my country and my people will be by the end of this century, or even before. Colonized, humiliated, crushed by centuries of decadence and anarchy, their resources exploited by a foreign minority who tried to assimilate them and destroy their identity, the Tunisians responded to my call and became one man, to face a long, hard and unequal struggle. Finally, they won, and in victory gained not only the dignity of independence but also the necessary conditions for progress and development. We find in that struggle legitimate reasons to be proud, a source of inspiration and proof of the effectiveness of our approach.
After years of impoverishment and occupation, the first task was to rescue the country from its torpor, awaken it, make it see the causes of its weakness and the possibilities of achieving a real élan. I established direct contact with the people by founding a newspaper, surrounding myself with a team of young intellectuals and organizing public meetings, in spite of official bans. This remains today a fundamental part of my method.
That method arises out of a deep faith in man, the reasonableness and creativity which he will show once he becomes aware of his individual worth and of the common interest binding him to his fellow citizens and transcending his selfish concerns. I have always felt that the fault lies not with men, but with their education, their way of looking at things, their mental framework-and these can be changed for the better by dint of intelligent and persistent effort. In spite of the disproportionate forces we confronted, the strategy we adopted in 1934 was to be fruitful. Neo- Destourism succeeded in breaking two archaic tendencies which for decades had failed to advance the national cause one iota: the sterile verbalizing of some and the intransigent extremism of others.
The basis of our strategy was realism. We had to recognize our weaknesses, work to overcome them, consolidate our internal as well as our international position, and at the same time curry the favor of the French government, seize every chance for talks, and present a moderate, evolutionary program, acceptable to any man of good will. Thus our realism implies progress by stages. Such a policy is fully justified when the ideal solution is not immediately feasible, but it must always be dynamic, each step preparing the way for the step to follow. Our compromises maintain the revolutionary momentum, because, ineluctably, they clear a path to the objective, whether sooner or later. The policy is the more effective because it takes into account the psychology of the adversary, the forces he must deal with in his own camp, and makes compromise appear the lesser evil to all concerned.
The Neo-Destour Party has consistently been the great force around which Tunisians have rallied in support of the idea of national dignity, which grew out of independence and democracy. We had to force the Tunisian people to see the realities of occupation, to feel the humiliation of it ever more intensely, and to react collectively, logically and persistently. It took more than twenty years. The circle of militants grew steadily wider and included more and more of the populace as a whole. Twenty years of organization, psychological preparation, cruel shocks and stubborn resistance opened the way to the diplomatic battle, which in turn led to new tests of strength, and so on, until the final victory.
Today in the struggle for development it is the same story. The only difference is that instead of the policeman or the foreign flag that wounds our dignity, it is the spectacle of misery, ignorance and underemployment. The Tunisian feels himself part of a large family, most of whom never reach the point of satisfying even their elementary needs. This is an outrage, a challenge to each of us. We are mobilizing ourselves for a struggle more difficult than that for political freedom, because it calls for the combined use of both our material and our human resources. It forces men to master their instincts and their egocentrism, to transcend themselves, raising their vision and their action to the level of the national interest. The battle is first of all a conquest of self; it is impossible to build on hatred of others. Our goal is to enlist the coöperation of every citizen and to build a nation which is neither the game preserve of the bourgeois nor the dictatorship of the proletariat.
This is why the Party, since the days before independence, has enrolled various elements of the population in conscientious and responsible national organizations and in the professional movements which play a large part in the conception and application of Tunisian policy. This double environment, political and professional, is a harmonious, complementary system, providing a fruitful dialogue between the summit and the base and among the various social classes. The single-party régime has not been artificially imposed; it is the outgrowth of a long evolution. Neo- Destourism has worked because it incarnates the nation and its aspirations, and because through its mechanisms the people can express themselves freely and feel themselves masters of their destiny. By responding to the new imperatives that constantly evolve from this dialogue, the Party renews its mission and finds new courses demanding action. In this continuous interchange, rare in the third world, the Destourian Socialist Party finds support as the motivating force in Tunisian history. It is the crucible in which the vital forces of the country are fused, the center where basic choices are made. The Party's work is a matter of reflecting on the tasks which the nation assigns to it, conceiving the means, inspiring and directing their accomplishment.
This kind of democracy, different from the classic form known in the West, is more responsive to the actual conditions we face at our level of development, to the need for discipline, and to the difficult circumstances of our struggle.
As for relations between Party and State, they are relations between two parts of a whole. Their roles, certainly, are different. But their objectives and responsibilities are the same; and very often those responsible in Party and government are also the same individuals.
Since 1956, we have set ourselves resolutely to the task of building a state which is effective and respected because it serves its people. That was the first priority in a country which had lost its personality after long years of government by foreign despots and wasted itself in tribalism and anarchy.
Our state draws its power and stability from universal suffrage, its effectiveness from its modern structure. We have entirely decolonized the administration of the state and its principal institutions; thus they have become instruments for restoring our identity and promoting a sense of nationhood. We are trying to create a better society which by its structure and functioning will allow humanity scope to flower. That is why the activity of the state embraces every level of the population and acts simultaneously against every barrier to development.
Our achievements since independence are encouraging. In 1956 our G.N.P. was not above 265 million dinars ($508,800,000); in 1965 it reached 435 million ($835,200,000). Before independence its annual rate of growth was only 2.5 percent, just matching population growth. From 1960 to 1964, it rose at the rate of 5.5 percent yearly and last year at 6.5 percent, in conformance with the Four Year Plan of 1965-68. In the last few years domestic savings have grown considerably. Between 1960 and 1964 they grew 86 percent. Although capital formation represented only 10 percent of G.N.P. in 1956, it is now 23 percent, a rate generally observed in rapidly developing nations.
Substantial growth has been accompanied by far-reaching structural reforms. Agriculture has been modernized and diversified, and productivity increased. Before independence, agricultural output grew at an average rate of 1.5 percent annually; in recent years this rate has increased to 3.9 percent. We have taken concerted action to overcome the various obstacles inhibiting progress in the agricultural sector. The landed gentry is in the process of adapting itself to the exigencies of increased productivity. The Habous (once inalienable land whose revenues were assigned to an individual or an institution) have been abolished, and collective lands are being improved and exploited more rationally, in a coöperative framework. The old colonial plantations, reintegrated into the national patrimony, are provisionally being managed by a government bureau; later they will be used as the nucleus of coöperatives. Each unit, made up of small and medium-size individual farms, is to be large enough to make possible the full-time use of equipment, fertilizers and crop rotation and thus to bring the greatest profits.
At Sahel, the forest of olive trees is being improved and new orchards planted. In the south, the palm groves are being similarly looked after, and efforts are being made to develop new varieties. Irrigation is being extended, especially in the center and the south, where rainfall is insufficient. Crops until recently unknown there, such as beetroot and cotton, have already passed the experimental stages. Our vineyards present problems which we must tackle with vigorous, even radical, solutions.
In the past, almost all industrial products were imported. Today our national industries process a good part of our raw materials, supply more and more local substitutes for imports, and are already looking to the day when they can develop commercial markets abroad.
We have tried to avoid such false choices as between heavy or light industry, instead stressing industries which use native raw materials or meet a growing national demand. Thus the food industries have progressed remarkably, keeping pace with agricultural production. The search for minerals has been intensified; the oil which has been gushing in southern Tunisia since last year is being paralleled by the discovery of new deposits of minerals already in production, bringing new sources of energy and foreign currency. We also aim to increase the domestic use of our raw materials. In the north, a steel mill begins production just this year. Wool production justifies the building of the textile complex which is now under way. The cotton and synthetic fiber industry of Sahel and Tunis was established several years ago. In the south, the chemical industry will be based on production of nitrogenized manure. I have indicated the locality of some of the big industries to show that industrialization has not been a matter of "spontaneous generation" for us, but the result of a serious policy of regional development. Other industries continue to emerge in different parts of the country, and the new products they create increase the valuable contribution of this secondary sector. Nor can we overlook tourism, a rapidly soaring activity. In just a few years Tunisia has become an important Mediterranean tourist center.
Economic progress has been accompanied by a spread of education. The rate of school attendance in 1957 was 33 percent; today it is 70 percent; and basic education for all will be assured by the end of the decade. In addition, 250,000 adults have been taught to read and write. Scores of thousands of jobs have been created to absorb unemployed labor. Substantial progress has been made in sanitation and housing construction, particularly for lower and middle-income families.
Social security is guaranteed to workers and students. Fulltime hospitalization insurance provides adequate care for all levels of the population, and the quality of the care constantly improves. We are also experimenting with family planning, and since it has proved efficacious we shall make it generally available.
The fact that the government is working to build a modern, progressive nation explains why its prestige has remained intact in spite of the heavy responsibilities it has had to shoulder. Tunisia's progress in every area during the last ten years, which is to say since Tunisians assumed responsibility for their country, is visible to the naked eye; every Tunisian senses it and sees it all around him.
But although the young Tunisian state possesses much authority, it is not authoritarian or tyrannical. It respects the individual, protects his fundamental rights and aids his moral, intellectual and material growth. If it has succeeded in substituting discipline and effort for secular anarchy, it has always tried to do so by persuasion, made possible by the dialogue described above. Those were our fundamental objectives from the time the destiny of our country fell into our hands and even before, during the struggle for independence. Our sovereignty regained, we now plan our economy, investments, indeed our whole environment so as to liberate Tunisia from the oppression of need, ignorance and fear, and to create an integrated, coöperative and fully responsible society.
A responsible statesman must first and above all be honest, hiding nothing from his people. It happens that I was once at odds with a part of Tunisian opinion. During the Second World War, the majority of Tunisians, including some having high responsibility in the Party, were seduced by the prospect of an Axis victory. From my cell in Fort Saint Nicholas I threw all the weight of my authority into the effort to incline the people toward the Allies. History proved me right; I was able to save the national movement by contriving possibilities for action which contributed to the victory.
It is because we are organized and strong, supported and respected, that we can undertake reforms and permit attitudes from which others would recoil: the liberation of women, the modernization of the structure of society, adaptation of Islam to requirements of development. We also are able to take courageous positions on international problems which elsewhere provoke traumatic reactions or devious man?uvres.
The same fundamental choices which dominate our domestic policy are seen in our foreign policy. Our action here shows that we have neither an inferiority nor a superiority complex; we are realists animated by solid optimism about the future of humanity. We believe in the perfectibility of man and do everything to improve and elevate him; but we do not hesitate to punish those who show they are not perfectible-the minority who consciously or unconsciously balk the efforts of the whole nation.
I do not cry neo-colonialism or imperialism when difficulties arise in my country. Such an attitude I judge to be frivolous. Whatever happens, the task is to search out honestly our own weak points, to work to erase them and to decide what path we will take in accordance with the moral values and interests of the people.
It happens that, due to our geographic position and our Mediterranean civilization, we share certain values with the democratic world, especially our attachment to liberty. Having struggled most of my life against the colonial régime, having freed my country of its after-effects, I need not take lessons from anyone about colonialism. I do not tolerate that anyone, under the pretext of serving some special kind of revolution, shall meddle in the affairs of Tunisia. We know better than anyone else the highest interests of our country. We recognize the same right for others and respect their choices, which I would like to believe are determined by their own specific conditions.
The principle of noninterference is a fundamental condition for peace in Africa. And peace, in that effervescent part of the world, is a categorical imperative if there is to be development. Recourse to arms, ambition for power, intervention on ideological or military grounds, border disputes-all these use up large sums which ought to go toward the development of nations and peoples. Recourse to force cannot be accepted unless one has exhausted all chances for a pacific solution. I think that in this primordial domain of peace, the United Nations despite its inadequacies can play an important role. It is a great hope of humanity.
The United Nations can be effectively aided by regional or continental organizations such as the Organization of African Unity. Although still young, the O.A.U. is capable of becoming an instrument of peace and unity on our continent, on condition that it place stronger accent on what unites us than on what divides us, and that it is not too hasty in its efforts toward unity.
African unity will be a long, hard pull. It took more than twenty years to cement the ranks of the Tunisian people. What can one expect, then, from a whole continent, as diverse, balkanized and so long subservient as Africa? In these circumstances, when people talk to me about continental government for Africa, my answer is that such talk is premature. We must instead apply the test of realism, of moderation. We must recognize what steps are necessary, and we also must identify the seeds of division so as to destroy them one by one. First of all we must know each other, granting one another our mutual esteem and loyal cooperation. I see no other way to arrive at unity.
Witness the slow pace at which the Maghreb was built. Yet this region constitutes a distinct geographical bloc; we speak the same language, have the same beliefs, the same culture, the same past. Ethnically we are homogeneous; the frontiers separating us are artificial. In spite of all this, we step gingerly. Why? Simply because we must take into account that newly independent countries are still very jealous of their sovereignty. Thus we try in the economic realm to make our interests interdependent, and to adopt common positions vis-à-vis the Common Market, or in our own industrial planning. But in all truth I must say that even in purely economic matters the pace is still very slow. It is up to us to accelerate it, and we are doing our best. This is why, in spite of everything, I remain confident in the future of this group of nations.
There are no foreign bases in Tunisia, military or ideological. We coöperate with the great powers all the better for being really decolonized. What could be more natural than coöperation with the European countries which are our neighbors, and particularly with France, which marked Tunisia with its culture?
At Dakar, on my recent tour of West Africa, I launched the idea of a French- speaking Commonwealth. The idea has made its way; the countries concerned have given much attention to it, for shared language can be a factor in drawing peoples into closer relations, and from there to coöperation. It can be a bridge between us in spite of diversities and unequal levels of development, and permit more and more active interplay in cultural and economic matters.
I believe that in working to build a united Maghreb and a jointly responsible Africa, we can achieve substantial results. For the future belongs to groups of nations, based on their affinity and common aspirations.
But it will be necessary for the poor countries to rid themselves of demagogues, of verbalism and the sterile conflicts engendered by power complexes or the will to dominate. Let them recognize their true problems, which are essentially domestic and, more precisely, economic. Today, we should profit from the similarity of our problems to organize and reinforce our solidarity, especially in international affairs. We should establish a systematic dialogue with the advanced countries to find a lasting solution to one of this century's greatest challenges: the development of the two- thirds of humanity who live today with the shooting pains of hunger. Strong from her experience, and with her international prestige, Tunisia, in spite of her limited size and modest means, is ready to do her best to banish that menace.
As a result of technological progress, humanity for the first time is clearly conscious of its oneness. We live in the same house, even if we do not yet belong to the same family. It is in our interest, as it is our duty, to see that the house is solidly built and agreeable to all. We must work together that it may be done.