Listening to Our Revolutionary Ghosts: Resisting Anti-Black Racism and Comprador Colonialism in Tunisia



A few weeks after Tunisian President Kais Saied’s racist speech against Black Africans living in Tunisia, we asked Nadia Ben-Youssef to reflect on the current political climate in Tunisia, sixty-seven years after the emancipation of the country and twelve years after its revolution. Building on the living memory of her grandfather, anti-colonial revolutionary Salah Ben Youssef, she offers us tools to reanimate his spirit of Third Worldism for solidarity futures.

Ben Youssef Funambulist 2
Salah Ben Youssef speaking the dreams of the people in a political speech to his Neo-Destour comrades in the late 1940s. Seated behind him are Farhat Hached, the head of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), and Mongi Slim, member of the Destour leadership who later became Interior Minister under Habib Bourguiba.

There was a time, not so long ago, when North African leaders spoke coherently about revolution. When Palestinian and Black American comrades found refuge in our cities and the heads of our movement for collective liberation articulated the irresistible dreams of the people: an end to colonization and the dismantling of human hierarchy, in all of its forms.

How heartbreaking then, to listen to the racist rhetoric of Tunisian President Kais Saied. How wretched, when we find ourselves, yet again, subjects of a hateful dictator who exploits mass suffering to consolidate power. In February 2023, President Saied testified before the National Security Council about the so-called “hordes”’ of violent, Saharan and sub-Saharan migrants who were committing crimes and posing a demographic threat to Tunisia. His dehumanizing tropes resonated with far too many people, and unleashed a pogrom against Black Tunisians, who make up at least 15% of the country, and the other 21,000 Black Africans living, studying and working in Tunisia. 

Saied’s vitriol that stoked violence against the most marginalized startled both Western pundits as well as some of the President’s remaining supporters among the Tunisian Left. Where was the mild-mannered, former constitutional law professor, elected to steward the country into economic stability and its rightful democratic future? Despite watching Saied freeze Parliament in the summer of 2021 and name himself head of every branch of government, his regime’s descent into the most hateful fear-mongering seemed to come to many as a surprise.