“First” African Monetary Sovereignty Conference Opens in Tunis

Main Photo: Fadhel Kaboub gives the opening presentation at the conference on African Monetary Sovereignty at Culture City in Tunis, November 7, 2019. Photo by Meshkal News Team.

 “First” African Monetary Sovereignty Conference Opens in Tunis

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Tunis – Fadil Aliriza

A three-day conference on the topic of monetary sovereignty in Africa kicked off Thursday morning at Culture City in Tunis, with high profile speakers from around the world scheduled to speak. More than one hundred people were present at the opening, which was also live-streamed online, in what organizers from the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation called the first conference of its kind on the continent.

“With this conference we want to make these debates known to an African public. We want to ask critically if they can contribute to overcome the neocolonial monetary structures that African economies are suffering from,” Ivesa Luebben, the head of Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s North Africa office said in her introductory remarks. “We also want to make the African perspective known to the representatives of MMT [Modern Monetary Theory] and other progressive thinkers in Europe and in the global north in order to overcome the implicit eurocentrism.”

The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, a German political foundation linked to the Left party, organized the conference together with the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity, a public policy think tank led by President Fadhel Kaboub, the headline speaker at the conference which is scheduled to run until Saturday evening.

High Tunisian officials, including the recently elected President of the Republic Kais Saied, as well as the head of the Central Bank and the head of the Finance Ministry, had been invited by organizers to open the conference. However, Saied had more pressing engagements related to continuing efforts to form a government, the Central Bank chief was attending another event, while the Finance Ministry did not respond to an invitation according to organizers of the monetary sovereignty conference.

“We invited [Kais Saied] because we think that we need policy makers to hear about the real problems and the root problems of the economic situation. We want them to be with us in the debate on how to shift the neoliberal paradigm we are living today in Tunisia,” Maha Ben Gadha, the Economic Program Manager at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation North Africa Office, told Meshkal on the sidelines of the conference.

Other prominent Tunisian political figures were, however, in attendance on Thursday include Jamila Ksiksi, a recently reelected member of parliament for the Ennahdha party, and the head of the state’s Truth and Dignity Commission, Sihem Bensedrine.

In his opening presentation, Fadhel Kaboub presented a case for using Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), an approach that sees states as the source of money creation through the issuing of currency and taxation as the destruction of that money supply. In this formulation, states don’t use taxes to fund policies, but rather they create funding through issuing currencies and taxation is used to curb inflation or disincentivize social practices that are seen as harmful, such as pollution or extreme inequality.

Fadhel Kaboub (R) sits next to Maha Ben Gadha, the Rosa Luxemburg North Africa office Economic Program Manager, at a conference on monetary sovereignty in Africa in Tunis, November 7, 2019. Photo by Meshkal News Team.

Kaboub argued in particular that developing countries, including Tunisia, have been stuck in a downward economic cycle of increasing trade deficits and increasing external debt as a result of previous economic and monetary theories starting from the 1970s that have focused on boosting exports to bring in foreign currency or curbing domestic spending through austerity. He advocated, instead, the promotion of older, less capital-intensive technologies and what he called “employment-led growth.”

“After the revolution in Tunisia in 2010-2011 I had a lot of hope. But that hope was immediately gone because I realized that all the political voices on the scene had the same list when it comes to their economic solutions,” Kaboub, an associate professor of economics at Denison University in Ohio, said after his presentation at the question and answer session.

“I have a little bit more hope today because of the resetting of the political scene in Tunisia in particular. But I’m also nervous and anxious because I don’t see an alternative vision for economic development. I’m worried that the same solutions of the same trap are gonna be put in place, accelerated, done maybe with a little bit less corruption, but as they say do it a little harder this time, it’s not going to fix it.”

MP Ksiksi asked Kaboub a question after the presentation, suggesting that while politicians know the need to reshape the economic model, Tunisia’s culture and its citizens need to change in order to allow this change.

“All the politicians are conscious that we need a radical change, structural change in our whole economic model and monetary policy,” Ksiksi said. “In my opinion, the cultural project which needs to accompany it needs to rest on the participation of citizens, social engagement to eradicate corruption…we need to work a lot more, and we must above all sacrifice.”

Ennahdha MP Jamila Ksiksi asks a question of Fadhel Kaboub at a conference on monetary sovereignty in Africa in Tunis, November 7, 2019. Photo by Meshkal News Team.

Kaboub said he agreed that there would need to be social changes to correspond with economic policy shift, however, he responded that “we’re not going to have a shift in the cultural orientation unless we have some leadership that provides this alternative vision.”

“I can speak about this for the next ten months in Tunisia and I’m not going to create a cultural revolution, or a new political direction. But it takes one member of parliament maybe, or the president or a prime minister setting up an agenda and saying let’s have a national conversation about this,” Kaboub said.