Tunisia does not seem to have changed much at least by way of economic policy and dynamics since the Arab spring in 2010. Almost a decade after the uprising, policies in Tunisia do not seem to have changed much to help mitigate the challenges of youth unemployment and a sluggish economy.
Tunisian bitcoin entrepreneur Mohamed Jaziri spoke of the current debacle in a recent interview with CoinTelegraph.
“Tunisia is a country that applies capital controls. We have an inflationary currency that is constantly trending down. Tunisians have no right to possess any form of foreign currency (no dollar, no euro, no yen…). So Tunisians cannot go on Amazon or eBay to shop online. Bitcoin is a huge opportunity for Tunisians to get back their financial freedom and be able to protect themselves from inflation.”
Despite this, the existing policies in the North African nation do not seem to actively promote the use of cryptocurrencies. Jaziri believes the government should adopt a proactive attitude as opposed to the current lackluster approach.
The Tunisian bitcoin community held a conference with the government in November 2015 with an aim to announcing official public backing for the digital currency. It, however, turned out that the government was reluctant to make such a move.
Jaziri says: “They are not going to issue a law to make it forbidden but they are not going to authorise any business to operate in this field either. I launched an exchange that was working very well but I had to close it down because of government pressure”
Irrespective of this hurdle, tech-savvy Tunisians view bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as an apt solution to their financial exclusion quagmire. Many Tunisians currently rely on bitcoin as a store of value as well as for remittance purposes.
50 percent of the Tunisian economy remains largely informal. Comparing this figure with other nations on the continent that average between 80 to 90 percent informal economy, it would seem like quite an impressive figure. But the Dinar (Tunisian local currency) is not a free currency thus bitcoin dealers tend to charge 20 to 30 percent premium to offset the risk of the local currency’s non-convertibility.
Jaziri is of the view that bitcoin demands are usually higher in countries where capital controls are stringent. However, he is hopeful of more positive outcomes with regards to cryptocurrency policies soon;
“Bitcoin will grow because it is useful for Tunisians looking for financial freedom. It is a must in Tunisia, we do not have any other way to transfer money freely or engage in cross-border transactions. Tunisians don’t have access to Paypal and Credit Cards. Neteller used to be available but not anymore. The only alternative is bitcoin”
The young tech entrepreneur is upbeat about the eventual mainstream penetration of cryptocurrencies in his country. He says Tunisia will be the heartbeat of cryptocurrencies on the African continent in the next couple of years. He further adds that the plethora of young Tunisian talent he comes into contact with on a daily basis help to keep his hopes alive.