by H.H. ARUN Partner
From mid-2009, I have spent about 5 years on business in Tunisia, a faraway country in Africa. It was a rather lonely trip, leaving my family in Japan. An Islamic country, there was also no entertainment. Tunisia is a small country on the Mediterranean Sea, with a population of 10 million. South of the country is the Sahara Desert, the kind of place where the sand shifts blow the wind that you would picture when you hear the word “desert.”
The official language is Arabic, as well as some French, because it was once a French protectorate, but no English. The Arabic is used with French words mixed in, and when the company employees do not want me to understand what they are saying, they decrease the ratio of French, and increase Arabic, which I understand very little. As soon as I leave, they switch back to the original ratio. In a way, they were linguistic geniuses.
Incidentally, with my job, I also visited the neighboring country Libya. Libya is 100% Arabic including the numbers, and I had a hard time because there were no signs in alphabet anywhere, even in the airport and traffic signs in town. This could be due to the policy of a now-deceased General Gaddafi.
The Arab Spring
Tunisia is where the Arab Spring started. The Jasmine Revolution which happened in 2011, had then spread to other countries such as Libya, Egypt and Syria. Please see the photos below.
Top Left: Former North African dictators. (From left, Ben Ali, Gaddafi, Mubarak)
Top Right: Many demonstrations which continued even after the revolution.
Center: What do you think this is? When cars are burned, this is what’s left. When the dictator fled to overseas (Saudi Arabia) fearing for his life, I was lucky to be in Dubai to attend a company meeting. The security deteriorated rapidly and the airport was shut down, which forced me to evacuate to Paris unable to return to Tunisia. When I finally returned, the four cars had been burnt in front of my house. It gives me shivers to think that if I were there at that time, I may not have been alive now. I also have heard gun shots for the first time in my life. I never expected them to sound so dry.
Top Left: One-year anniversary of the Revolution
Center: Assassination of the opposition leader in the capital, Tunis (2013).
Top Right: You may remember the hostage crisis in Algeria in January 2013. Many Japanese were victims as well. I also visited Algeria often, but the impact of this incident to the Japanese communities in North Africa was enormous. It happened near the Libya-Algeria border which is only 120 Km away from Tunisia, and 10 out of the 30 culprits who were the members of Al Qaeda (AQIM) were Tunisians. The photo shows the gunfights against AQIM in the suburb of Tunis in 2014, this year. A terrorist group who was hiding in a location 5 minutes by carfrom my house was captured by the security force. What a shocking event it was!
The Mediterranean Sea always give me a peace of mind. Dawn. The other shore is Italy.
CSR in the Islamic World
Changing the subject, the attempt to perform CSR in the Islamic world was rather difficult. One of the Islamic religion’s Five Pillars ( the religious obligations), is Zakat, or alms-giving. “You are well-off today, all thanks to Allah’s will and work. It was not possible to accomplish anything by yourself.” Therefore, as proof of their faith, one must share his wealth with the other believers. Our effort of CSR was limited to making a donation to the local museum in the form of hardware, such as a car to use for the archaeological excavation. The procedure was to write a letter to the Ministry of Culture asking to make a donation (Zakat), receive permission, and finally make the donation.
Despite my aspiration to try a unique CSR project, taking advantage of the fact that there was a main office of the African Development Bank and that I knew an authority on Japanese microfinance, I was not able to make it happen. I feel this is because of a lack of my knowledge and experience.
Although I have lived in Christian countries in the United States and Europe and a Buddhism country (Thailand), this was my first experience in an Islamic country. As a Japanese person, I felt a little bit of distance toward the spirituality of the religion. Even so, I need to remember that Mr. Yunus’s Bangladesh is an Islamic nation, and his Grameen Bank is active in English-speaking countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as in the Middle East and North Africa. The current reality is that in the societies with high unemployment rates, jobless youths pledge allegiance to the Islamic extreme organizations.
It is my sincere hope that one day, there will be social entrepreneurs born out of the African Islamic societies.