In these times of financial crisis and looming recession, maybe ecodriving is a good metaphor for how a country should be managed. We must learn at what speed and gear our national machinery works best, understand how to accelerate and break more gently in order to save energy, choose the right fuel and keep the engine in good shape, design efficient motors and provide clear indicators that will guide us towards our best behaviour. And of course, practice anticipation.

In Tunisia, the small city of Mahres is considered a forerunner in terms of environmental consideration. The water is recycled and the power comes from solar panels. However, none of this is noticed by the tourists passing by. Instead, they probably observe the heaps of garbage lying around everywhere. Despite campaigns in schools and in media, waste management is high on few people’s agenda.

It sure is difficult to figure out how I as a tourist can contribute to sustainable development. Should I buy the wonderful soft leather bags (made in Libya)? Or the mass manufactured pottery and jewellery of unknown origin you see in every tourist shop? Or go on a speedy jeep tour into the vast desert (probably using petrol smuggled from Libya)? Or buy a hand-made woollen rug tied by women earning 2,5€ a day? There is only so much locally produced dates and olives one can eat in a day and I can’t afford the 7.500€ shimmering silk rugs.

Tunisia is one of the countries allowed to participate in the Sida-funded Advanced Training Programme “Putting Ideas to Work – Strategies for Innovation-led Sustainable Growth” organised by the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems. With its educational systems and high attendance-rate, the population’s excellent command of French and good grasp of other languages, as well as equal opportunities laws Tunisia stands more than a fair chance of continuing being a stable country and to prosper even more. Looking back, both the Phoenician and Roman versions of Carthage might serve as inspiration (and I don’t believe they sacrificed infants). Especially if introducing incentives for making better use of all the creative power among the large number of highly educated women.

Our bus-driver, Samir, demonstrated excellent eco-driving skills when he transported us to the Sahara and back. Maybe this could be a new line of Tunisian business: ecodriving courses in the desert! And by the way, riding a camel into the desert sunset is quite an experience!

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