NAI guest researcher Sofia Laine is a post-doctoral researcher in a research project YoPo: Youth and Political Engagement in Contemporary Africa funded by Academy of Finland.

Creative ways of resistance among youth

The revolution did not turn out as the youth had hoped. By creative means, they protest against and resist the new leaders. NAI guest researcher Sofia Laine looks at political engagement among the youth of the country.

Young people in Tunisia are growing inpatient. They were optimistic that the new order would bring job opportunities. Five years after the 2011 uprisings, youth unemployment is still high. The youth are disappointed and feel sidelined by the political parties, which, they feel, don’t take youth issues seriously.

“One good thing is that freedom of speech has improved after the revolution, and young people do make use of it to express themselves. Social media are particularly popular,” Laine observes.

Emotional description
Tunisa girl’ was the name of the famous blogger during the revolution who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.  One of Laine’s informants is another female blogger who officially writes about astronomy and global citizenship, but who in reality is providing a very personal and emotional description of her life as a young woman in Tunisia. For instance, she once wrote about her parents finding a partner for her to marry. However, she didn’t like him, and in her blog she recounts her thoughts about this episode as well as her frustration.

“She writes the blog in English to gain more international readers, but also because her parents will not be able to understand her,” Laine remarks.

Respectful resistance
Yet another way for young people to express themselves is by means of graffiti. Zwelwa is a youth group that daubs the walls with messages for the people. Zwelwa is Arabic for Les Miserables, the title of the famous book by Victor Hugo. The group also tags its work with a Z, as in Zorro. Although they can be very forthright in their criticisms, they claim to be respectful of elders and not place graffiti to any cultural heritage buildings. Zwelwa’s main concern is that the political parties have forgotten about poor people after the revolution.

“They will remind the government of this by painting the walls with graffiti. One slogan proclaims in Arabic: ‘The poor reached the water, but they did not drink,’ meaning that the revolution almost led to something good, but in the end never did,” Laine explains.

The poor reached the water, but they did not drink. Picture: Zwelwa

Scholars have used the concept of ‘waithood’ to describe the young people who are in a state of waiting to enter adulthood. They cannot get a job, without a job they can’t afford a flat, and without a place to live they can’t build a family. Thus, they remain at home with their parents.

Migration another option
Some of Laine’s young informants who have actually managed to get a job often find themselves in one of the many call centres established by mostly French companies. Wages are low and working conditions poor. Up to 20,000 young Tunisians work in such places. For a young person with a university education, working in sweatshop-type environment can be very frustrating. For those who are unwilling to accept the long hours in a call centre or live with their parents, migration is another option.

“The majority of my informants are middle class and have a university degree, so they have a good chance of migrating legally. Many of them already know Europe or the US from holiday trips or scholarships. However, all of them say they do not wish to live abroad forever. They plan to do so only temporarily to get a better diploma or a well-paid job, but still see their future in Tunisia,” Laine adds.

Include North African scholars
As member of an institutionally established network of European youth researchers, Laine sees an opportunity to influence the European Union on matters of concern to young people from the Mediterranean area. Naturally, this is linked to the current major influx of migrants into Europe.

“More and more young people will definitely arrive in Europe in the near future. We need to know more about them, their living conditions, and about North Africa in general. There’s a need for a pool of researchers, including scholars from North Africa, who can provide policy-makers in the EU with information and analysis,” she concludes.

Zwewla fights HIV/AIDS. Picture: Zwewla
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