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Opening of the Orient Bazar in Kairouan, Tunisia. A new crafts market initiative to strengthen the local economy and the protection of cultural heritage, supported by Cities Alliance and SDC.

Internal labour migration is a major phenomenon in Tunisia. It is directly linked to the socio-economic disparities between lagging regions of the interior and the dynamic, prosperous coastal regions. The interior regions are marked by high levels of unemployment and poverty (both stand at around 30%), with limited access to basic services and lower standards of living.

In contrast, the metropolitan areas of Tunisia’s three biggest cities (Tunis, Sfax and Sousse) make up 92% of the country’s industrial activity and 85% of its GDP.

 

Many young labour migrants from secondary cities in Tunisia’s interior – especially the highly skilled – are attracted to the large metropolitan areas in search of employment and opportunities for a better life.

 

Meanwhile, secondary cities such as Kairouan are receiving rural migrants for the same reasons. Local authorities are trying to find ways to integrate young labour migrants from rural areas economically, socially and culturally, while at the same time retaining residents who would otherwise migrate to the primary cities.

The city of Kairouan is exploring how it can become more inclusive and attractive to all its residents, including those coming from the rural areas and those who are contemplating moving elsewhere.  It is also looking at how to leverage its underexploited territorial potential and how city stakeholders can work together to achieve this goal.

As part of this process, the Orient Bazar crafts market was launched on 16 October by the mayor of Kairouan, Radhouen Boudenthe and the director of the Swiss Cooperation in Tunisia, Willi Graf. The market, the first of its kind in Tunisia, is part of a city initiative supported by Cities Alliance and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

The opening of the new market was an opportunity for artisans to showcase their work. As a start, five market stalls provide at least 25 artisans with an entrepreneurial space in the most strategic location – a public space next to one of the ancient entry doors to the Medina of Kairouan.

 

The stalls were designed based on traditional Kairouanese architecture using sustainable building materials.

 

Afef Hallous, a young Tunisian architect raised in Germany who returned to her hometown of Kairouan in 2012 after the Jasmine Revolution, shared how the idea for the Orient Bazar came about. Feeling a strong sense of responsibility and activism to make Kairouan more inclusive, she began an exchange with craftworkers on their needs and challenges. Through these discussions, the idea for the market was born. It is part of Ms Hallous' vision for translating the needs and ideas of young people into architecture that serves them. 

The National Union of Tunisian Market envisions scaling up the market with more stalls and sending it across Tunisia for different regional festivities. This way, it can provide a regular income opportunity for the artisans and showcase Kairouanese heritage and crafts around the country. 

 

Heritage as a driver of economic and social inclusion

 

The market’s opening ceremony was followed by a city forum that gathered a wide range of stakeholders, including the city authorities, representatives of regional state offices, civil society organizations, academia and the private sector, to discuss the potential of material and immaterial heritage as a lever for economic and social inclusion.

Participants noted that much of the knowledge and communication on the city’s rich heritage is oriented towards an external audience, notably foreign tourists. They explained that there are no major documents about the history of Kairouan accessible in Arabic.

 

Protecting the heritage and leveraging its potential needs to start by educating and raising awareness among the local population, and through that sparking interest in its conservation and promotion. 

 

A craftswoman and university lecturer highlighted the collaborative potential between artisans and academia when it comes to the design of appealing products. Researchers can support artisans by bringing innovations to the use of the materials in combination with traditional manufacturing techniques or by using innovative techniques with traditional materials. 

Young changemakers and youth from civil society organizations also noted that red tape is a considerable constraint to their activities. For example, authorizations for public space interventions such as music events or poetry slams are hard to obtain. They urged local and regional authorities to be more supportive and responsive to their work by simplifying procedures.

Young changemakers and youth from civil society organizations also noted that red tape is a considerable constraint to their activities. For example, authorizations for public space interventions such as music events or poetry slams are hard to obtain. They urged local and regional authorities to be more supportive and responsive to their work by simplifying procedures.

 

 

The Promoting Responsible Tourism for Better Economic, Social and Cultural Integration of Migrants project in Kairouan is part of our Global Programme on Cities and Migration, which focuses on migration management in secondary cities in low income countries. The programme is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

 

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