Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was born on September 3, 1936 in Hammam-Sousse, to a family of moderate means, which brought him up to respect tradition and imbued him with a sense of dignity, patriotism and respect for others.
From these values he developed a propensity for simplicity, hard work and rigor, as well as a sense of moderation and tolerance. While still in the Sousse secondary school, Ben Ali responded to the call of patriotic duty.
Outraged by colonial oppression, he became active in the nationalist movement, acting as liaison between the regional structures of the Neo-Destour Party and the armed struggle. As a result, he was imprisoned and excluded from all educational establishments in Tunisia.
Yet he did not give up his studies and soon resumed them with enough energy and determination to persevere into tertiary education after completing high school. Recognizing Ben Ali’s outstanding qualities, the party sent him abroad to pursue his higher training as part of a group that was to form the nucleus of the future national army.
He first graduated from the Special Interservice School in Saint-Cyr (France), then from equally prestigious schools: the Artillery School in Châlons-sur-Marne (France), the Senior Intelligence School (Maryland, USA) and the School of Anti-Aircraft Field Artillery (Texas, USA).
He also holds a degree in electronic engineering.“My interest in computer science,” he was later to say, “has had a considerable impact on the way I work, giving me a definite taste for Iogic, rigorous analysis and long-term planning which shuns improvisation.”
The second stage in Ben Ali’s career was marked by a steady increase in responsibilities, due to his sense of duty, his readiness to Iisten to others and his capacity for rigorous analysis. Prior to making any decision, he would carefully consider available information, analyze situations and compare results.
Once the decision is made, he personally sees it through to a successful conclusion thanks to diligent action and close follow-up.Summarizing this process to an American newspaper, he said in a nutshell: “I listen, I ponder, I act.”
In 1964, while still a young staff officer, he created the Military Security Department which he directed for 10 years. ln 1974, he was appointed military attaché to Morocco and Spain. He was then assigned to the office of the Defense Minister before becoming Director General of National Security (December 1977).
In April 1980, he was appointed Ambassador to Warsaw. At the end of his tour of duty in Poland, he returned to Tunisia in 1984, to serve, first, as Director General, then as Secretary of State (October 29, 1984), then as Minister of National Security (October 23, 1985). On April 28, 1986, he became Minister of the Interior, and in June of the same year a Member of the Political Bureau of the Socialist Destourian Party (PSD).
He was soon appointed Assistant Secretary General of the PSD. Promoted to the rank of Minister of State in charge of the Interior in May 1987, he was appointed as Prime Minister on October 2, 1987, at the age of 51, while keeping the Interior portfolio.
By the same token, he became Secretary General of the PSD.President Habib Bourguiba at the time was weakened by old age and illness, and was surrounded by seraglio intrigues. Ben Ali, however, remained above rivalries, and acted rather to ease the political climate, to promote openness to organizations such as the Tunisian League of Human Rights and to establish contacts with opposition parties.
This won him the sympathy and respect of the entire political class, which considered him a man of dialogue and openness.As Prime Minister, Ben Ali took charge of a country in crisis. He confronted the situation with determination, foiled intrigues and took endless calming measures.
He strove to restore confidence, advocated logical and realistic solutions, and invariably made the higher interests of Tunisia prevail. During that disturbing period, President Bourguiba was increasingly subject to frequent lapses and was eventually disconnected from the realities of the country.
On the strength of a medical report drawn up by seven specialists treating President Bourguiba, attesting to the latter’s incapacity, and by virtue of Article 57 of the Constitution, Prime Minister Zine El Abidine Ben Ali assumed the highest executive office on November 7, 1987.
The ensuing transition went smoothly and in full respect of constitutional legality, and the former president was treated with all due respect.From the moment of his investiture, President Ben Ali has made every effort to honor the commitments contained in his Declaration of November 7th: rule of law, sovereignty of the people, national reconciliation, respect for fundamental freedoms, democracy, pluralism, social justice, solidarity, hard work, openness and modernity.
This program received the support of the overwhelming majority of Tunisians as it met their expectations.First of all, Ben Ali restored the vitality and credibility of the old Socialist Destourian Party (PSD), which had fallen into lethargy.
Renaming it the Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD), he renovated its structures, modernized its action methods and reformulated its discourse. The RCD opened up to the young, renewed its cadres, and restored free debate and a sense of initiative for the rank-and-file. This reinforced its credibility and its grassroots outreach, and widely enlarged its constituency.
On the political plane, a climate of détente and national concord set in and numerous measures were taken to establish true democracy and lay the groundwork for the rule of law. The Constitution was amended to do away with lite presidency and automatic succession.
The Economic and Social Council was re-structured, its prerogatives extended and its representation broadened to promote national consensus on major development options. A Constitutional Council was created soon after the Change of November 7th to guarantee, in both letter and spirit, the constitutionality of the laws.
In 1998, a constitutional law provided that the opinions of the Constitutional Council be binding on all powers and all authorities.Freedom of expression was guaranteed, and the Press Code amended three times to modernize and liberalize public reporting conventions, and to provide journalists with adequate conditions to exercise their profession.
Specific measures were taken in favor of the opinion press. A new reform of the Press Code was announced in 1999.A new law on parties was adopted in 1988. It redefined the procedure governing the establishment of political groups, giving pluralism a new impetus and an irreversible character. The early presidential and general elections of April 2, 1989 were the first in the country’s history to take place in absolute transparency and perfect conformity with the law.
As a candidate of all Tunisians, across party fines, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was elected that year President of the Republic. The consensus in support of President Ben Ali was confirmed by his re-election on March 20, 1994, and on October 24, 1999, with a very large majority.
The amended Electoral Code also promoted the multi-party system in the 1994 general elections, as it enabled, for the first time since Tunisia’s independence, the entry of the opposition into the Chamber of Deputies.
The introduction in 1998 of new amendments into the Electoral Code allowed the opposition to win 20% of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies after the legislative elections held on October 24, 1999. The opposition won the same proportion of seats in the municipal elections held in the year 2000.
Other amendments lowered the minimum age of candidates for the office of Deputy and guaranteed the right to run for office for all electors born of a Tunisian mother while, previously, only the elector born of a Tunisian father could be a candidate.
The Constitution was also amended to allow for several candidates to run in the country’s presidential elections. For the first time in Tunisia’s history, the incumbent president was challenged by opposition candidates, during the elections held on October 24, 1999.
President Ben Ali made Tunisia a pioneer country in the protection of human rights, seeing to the implementation of a comprehensive policy combining economic, social and cultural rights with civil and political rights.Just two weeks after the Change, a bill laying down the rules for pre-trial custody and preventive detention was adopted.
The State Security Court and the office of State Prosecutor were abolished and so was hard labor.The 1984 United Nations Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Punishments or Treatments was ratified without reservation. The rights of the child are now protected by law, and the culture of human rights is promoted and widely disseminated.
A new law was enacted in 1999 with the aim of reducing the period of pre-trial custody, instituting public service work as a sentence instead of imprisonment (provided that the convicted person accepts it freely); and defining torture according to international standards.
The purpose of the law was to harmonize national legislation with the relevant United Nations Convention which Tunisia had ratified unreservedly. Moreover, a bill was submitted to the Chamber of Deputies to establish the rule of dual jurisdiction in criminal cases and to create the position of magistrate in charge of the implementation of sentences.
Authority over detention facilities and their administration were also transferred to the Ministry of Justice. Since November 7, 1987, President Ben Ali has expressed his unwavering commitment to the emancipation of women and his determination to further women’s rights.
The National Pact, a culmination of the national reconciliation drive engineered by Ben Ali, was endorsed by all the country’s political and social tendencies and currents, thus sanctioning national consensus. A general amnesty law was decreed.
President Ben Ali announced, on February 13, 2002, the introduction of a major constitutional reform bill aimed at consolidating the bases of the republican system of government, further anchoring democracy and promoting human rights and public freedoms. The proposed reform is considered the broadest and most far-reaching in the history of post-independence Tunisia.
The reform bill gives a high profile to human rights and freedoms within the body of the Constitution, consecrates pluralism in presidential elections, and introduces a greater role of Parliament in the oversight of government activity, while preserving the characteristics of the presidential system of government.
Among the other provisions of the reform bill is the creation of a second legislative body beside the Chamber of Deputies. The reform bill broadens the role of the Constitutional Council, consolidates its independence and entrusts it with the task of monitoring presidential and legislative elections at all stages.
Based on his deep belief in the will of people as an over-riding imperative, President Ben Ali decided to submit the bill, after its adoption by Parliament, to a popular referendum, so as to make sure that the intended reform truly reflects the people’s choices and aspirations.
To put the country back to work, President Ben Ali succeeded in clearing the social climate by rehabilitating the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), instituting dialogue between management and labor, and making labor a cardinal value.
This was done out of the conviction that there cannot be any social justice or progress without the creation of wealth and without a concerted effort to ensure production and creativity.The economic reforms introduced against this background have enabled the country to achieve a sustained economic growth rate of about 5 percent and to lower the inflation rate to 2.7 percent.
A national program for modernization and upgrading of the industrial fabric has been developed in collaboration with the European Union, with which Tunisia signed an association and free-trade agreement in 1995.
The country’s modern infrastructure, favorable legislation and climate of stability and growth have attracted an increasing number of foreign investors. The economic success of the Tunisian model is recognized all over the world and some observers have even called it “the Tunisian miracle.
“In June 2000, Tunisia was ranked as the most competitive country in Africa by the World Economic Forum 2000-2001 Report. in 2006, it reiterated the,feat by being ranci ed.as the most competitive country in Africa and in the Arab world by the same WEF. For period 2007-2008 Tunisia still took first place in Africa.
No doubt the humanistic approach to social realities will prove to be one of the dominant features of President Ben Ali’s personality and record. A man of the people, he constantly listens to citizens, and espouses their concerns and expectations. What he has accomplished in this respect is based on a genuine sympathy with the underprivileged and a rejection of exclusion, together with investing in disadvantaged regions and creating equal opportunities for all.
As a result, the poverty rate has been lowered to 4.2 percent and the middle classes now account for 80 percent of the population. Thus it is deep appreciation, even affection, that Tunisians feel when they see their president making impromptu visits to deprived districts, steep mountain areas or social, educational and economic institutions.
Ben Ali strives to give concrete expression to the concept of national solidarity, which is the foundation of his social policy. His visits are invariably followed with immediate action, sometimes in the form of a cabinet meeting the same day, which he chairs in person, to make appropriate decisions.
It was after such a visit to one of the remote areas of the country in December 1992 that the president decided to create the National Solidarity Fund, commonly known as “26-26 Fund” after its bank account number.
This decision was warmly welcomed by Tunisians, who demonstrated their solidarity by responding to the appeal of the president with generous donations to the fund.The mission of the “26-26 Fund” is to end isolation, improve living conditions in deprived areas and enable their inhabitants to undertake income-generating projects.
Building on the exceptional success of this fund in fighting poverty, a new fund, the National Employment Fund, also known as the “21-21 Fund”, has been launched for the purpose of creating job opportunities.In addition, the creation of the Tunisian Solidarity Bank and the establishment of a micro-credit system have made it possible to finance thousands of small projects every year, create jobs for young graduates and promote enterprise.
The educational reform which made school attendance compulsory until the age of 16, has raised the schooling rate for 6 year-old children to more than 99 percent, fostered openness, tolerance and innovation, and has further promoted equality between men and women.
Such equality has been reinforced by a host of avant-garde measures taken by Ben Ali. The Code of Personal Status, one of the most advanced in the world with respect to women, has been strengthened and gender equality is now a feature of daily life. After the 1999 legislative elections, the number of women in the Chamber of Deputies has virtually doubled.
As a result of the numerous presidential initiatives in favor of women, and particularly the measures of August 13, 1992, Tunisian women, more than just having their gains and basic rights guaranteed, became full partners to men in all fields of development.On the foreign plane, President Ben Ali has instituted an active and dynamic diplomacy.
Working for the integration of the entire Maghreb, the establishment of an inter-Arab consensus and the creation of a Euro-Mediterranean area of co-development, Ben Ali is actively contributing to the search for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. His chairmanship of the Organization of African Unity highlighted his commitment to seeking negotiated solutions to the conflicts afflicting the continent and to preventing new ones.
In September 2000, the UN General assembly adopted this humanitarian project, paying tribute to this initiative which aims at establishing a mechanism for the consecration of universal values and ensuring a better future for the whole mankind.
UNESCO’s designation of Tunis as Regional Cultural Capital in 1997 marked Tunisia’s growing cultural influence and its ability to contribute to dialogue among civilizations. At the instigation of its president, Tunisia’s entry into the arena of new communication technologies has been facilitated by numerous government incentives.
All universities and high schools are connected to the Internet. A program has been launched to connect public libraries to the worldwide web.In 1998, upon an initiative of Tunisia’s President, the International Union of Telecommunications( ITU), an organization affiliated to the United Nations, decides to hold a World Summit on the Information Society.
The Summit took place in two distinct phases, being hosted by Geneva in 2003 and Tunis in November 2005. By many accounts, the Tunis Summit which is also known as the ” Summit of solutions” was a tremendous success both at the organizational and the conceptual levels. It will be crowned by the adoption of two major texts: the ” Tunis commitment” and the ” Tunis Agenda”.
President Ben Ali is married and is the father of six children. His wife, Mrs Leila Ben Ali, is active in a number of Tunisian and international charities, working to promote the causes of women, families and children.
The other presidents in the running included Zambian President and current Chairperson for SADC nations, Dr. Levy P Mwanawasa, SC. who came in second, Namibian President Nifikepunye Pohamba in third place, President Armando Guebuza of Mozambique in fourth place, President Mamaduo Tandia of Niger for fifth place, President of Botswana Dr. Festus Mogae in sixth and President John Agyekum Kufuor of Ghana as seventh …
Special thanks go to our friends at Tunisia Online, the World Economic Forum, The Global Peace Index Group, Global Competitive Index Group, Economic Times, Time Magazine, Financial Times, CBS, WSJ Online and many others too numerous to mention … thanks a trillion. Brainwave R Mumba, Sr.
CEO & President – Zambian Chronicle
Copyrights © 2007 Zambian Chronicle. All rights reserved. Zambian Chronicle content may not be stored except for personal, non-commercial use. Republication and redissemination of Zambian Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Zambian Chronicle. Zambian Chronicle shall not be liable for any errors, omissions, interruptions or delays in connection with the Zambian Chronicle content or from any damages arising therefrom.
Zambian Chronicle is a wholly owned subsidiary of Microplus Holdings International, Inc.
Copyrights © 2007 Microplus Holdings Int., Inc.