Within a year of the Covid-19 epidemic starting in Tunisia, the North African country has turned from a widely praised example of efficient crisis management to the “bad boy” of the Arab region and of the African continent. While the lightning spread of the virus in the country is putting a strain on an already shaky healthcare system, reversing the downward spiral would require more than a health-based response. Indeed, tackling the multifaceted crisis that has gripped Tunisia for the last months head on, would mean everyone facing up to their responsibilities.
On 13 July, Tunisia reached 500,000 Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic in the country in March 2020, setting a new record on the ever more alarming list of health indicators that have shaped the Tunisian news over the last few weeks. With an average of about 7,000 new infections per day; a rate of contamination consistently above 30%; and almost 200 deaths daily – in a country of about 12 million – the sanitary situation has outstripped even the worst expectations. Registering the highest per-capita death toll and one of the highest per-capita infection rates in the Arab and African regions, Tunisia now finds itself in a nightmare scenario that the country’s authorities had hoped to avoid. What can account for Tunisia’s dramatic failure in its fight against Covid-19?