A young man who is mentally challenged, physically disabled, and financially strapped, is dead. He is the victim of a hit and run accident on the GP 3, leading from Tunis to Gafsa. He is actually the victim of a failing system, and a community that is all too busy in-fighting through manipulation and greed.
At the local levels, this story encompasses everything that has, and is going wrong, with most rural poor communities. It covers every aspect of our legal, administrative, and socio-economic aspect of post-revolution-transition Tunisia. This story happened on Thursday July 21, 2011. This story could have happened anywhere on the 320 km stretch, but it happened in the town of Jelma. It is a story about a young man who was forced by his retired school-director father to work for the municipality (hadhira) and collect around 120 Dinars per month. It is a story about the local “mafia” guy who receives kickbacks from the over 1300 people registered in Jelma to perform “hadhira” work for the municipality, although only about 300 of them actually do anything that resemble work. It is the story of a failed government system that turns the other cheek, rationalizing that keeping these people “busy” and “happy” is better than making them actually accountable for work they get paid for. They rationalize, correctly, that this is freedom, finally. It is a story of a failed roads department that does not enforce driving laws or posts signs alerting drivers and pedestrians. It is a story of the complete absence a fair justice system. It is the story of a selfish driver who disregarded all laws and cut through a center of town at 140 km/hour instead of the customary 50 km/hour. This is the story of the ones that rule are the ones with money and influence.
This story is anything but unique. Young people have died in the way to a hospital on donkey backs because the ambulance was being used for personal airings. In some cases the abuse is so pervasive that the tires to the other local ambulance were sold off.
It is a story of a mentally handicapped person being forced to register for Hadhira work so that his older brother can benefit of his salary. It is a story of an entire section of a town, about 54 families to be exact, receiving money for selling their votes to political parties. It is a story of every government representative being on the take, either for money reasons, or in exchange for security. It is the story of money and equipment allocated for the local hospital gets diverted or sold on the open market. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.
At the national level, this story repeats itself in more little towns than one can imagine. I have spoken to individuals responsible for overseeing such complaints by citizens and non NGOs. Almost to the person, they all shrugged they shoulders and accused me of naiveté. The reasons are too long to list as most are waiting for the hand-over to the next government. Most mentioned the lack of funding, as others mentioned the lack of oversight. I came away believing in a way we have gone backwards in how we deal with each other. Respect between the individuals is no longer there. Dignity, which was the motor of this revolution, is nothing more than just a word for many. For they have lost their dignities without even knowing it.