'Unity, Faith, Discipline, Tolerance and Respect Can Bring Peace and Prosperity'
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Kamel Ghribi is one of North Africa's most successful and prominent businessmen, with a long and prestigious career in the petrochemicals sector. Since his first major role as vice-president of Olympic Petroleum Corporation in New York, at the youthful age of 29, he contemporaneously held the position of president of Olympic Management in Italy until he became president of Olympic Energy. Since 2005, he has devoted his time to his new company, Swiss-based GK Investment Holding Group. GK Investment Holding Group specializes in developing new business opportunities, largely in Africa and the Middle East, with a special emphasis on healthcare.
In recent years, he has been deeply concerned by the course of events in the Middle East and Africa: “In particular, I was disturbed by how the lack of understanding between certain nations was so deep rooted which seem almost impossible to overcome.” Referring to discussions of these matters with influential friends in political, industrial and cultural circles, he states, “What started as informal chats among friends soon developed into using my influence in the field of business and translating it into diplomacy.”
Ghribi has always been a patriotic Tunisian. Recently while talking about Tunisia’s former president Beji Caid Essebsi, who died in July 2019 at the age of 92, he reflected on the current state of the nation.
“The best way to honour his memory is to continue to uphold our delicate constitution and forge onwards with democracy, no matter how hard. We cannot move forward by destroying one another. We need to seek consensus.”
Speaking of the economy, Ghribi said, “There is no magic wand that will solve Tunisia’s economic challenge with a simple wave. The situation in Tunisia is complex. Tunisia is still in the process of economic reform and liberalisation. Although we have been historically blessed with a diverse market orientated economy, we faced many challenges following the 2011 changes, which slowed our economy and increased unemployment, particularly among the youth.”
Here too the role of political stability and consensus-building was paramount: “The government can do much to boost current economic conditions but must first address the issue of stability and security in the country if it is to encourage both domestic and foreign investors back.”
“The Tunisian economy has always been highly dependent on tourism. However, stability is difficult to guarantee if your neighbours are in civil war or fighting one form of terrorism or another. Long-term plans are difficult to make under precarious circumstances.”
To build this stability, cooperation was necessary on an international scale as well. “Short-term solutions need to be supported by our partners in the EU who can not only help us to stabilize the area as a whole by helping us to combat terrorism but also provide financial support to the government in the form of reduced borrowing costs on loans that can give Tunisia access to new markets and help open the domestic market to foreign investors,” said Ghribi.
He called for the diversification of the Tunisian economy, through both private and public measures.
“Tunisia must broaden its tax base and that means that its economy must diversify. I am not an advocate of everything being privatized, however, some parts of our economy need to be if we are to sustain growth and create employment. We must also create more opportunities for the educated members of the population to help build Tunisia into the country that it can become because a dissatisfied and disillusioned educated population is dangerous for any country.”
He further stated, “The deep sense of antipathy and disillusionment felt by many concerning the current state of affairs was very likely to result in violent consequences for the Middle East.”
“For example, I was very troubled and saddened to hear that young Tunisians were joining ISIS, a force of destruction, not hope, and one that is inconsistent with any religion. ISIS must be defeated and wiped out but that won’t happen unless we try to understand the desperation that drove so many young people from many countries to join such a malignant force. Unless we address the root causes of such movements, they will arise again and again.”
Ghribi is convinced that in order to be turned away from such ideologies, people need not merely employment, but meaningful employment that will allow them to live more meaningful lives.
“The lack of jobs is a major source of the problem but there were many educated people who joined ISIS, too. I think we must look beyond menial work but also at meaningful work. Employment must not only provide income but add to the purpose of life,” he said.
Ghribi has put forward a positive and optimistic vision of Tunisia's possibilities for social and economic development.
“Why can’t Tunisia become a centre for renewable energy and innovative housing models? Rwanda is making itself a centre of innovation for East Africa. What country is better suited than Tunisia to do the same in North Africa,” he said.
In recent months, via his role as vice-chairman of the board of Gruppo Ospedaliero San Donato, Italy's largest private healthcare supplier, Ghribi has been at the very forefront of the fight against the COVID-19 virus in Lombardy, one of the worst affected areas. Here too, he has witnessed first-hand how his belief in the need for cooperation between the public and private spheres and not just between nations, has been put into practice.
“COVID-19 concerns humanity as a whole,” he says. “No nation has been spared, and humanity as a whole must unite and face the situation as one if we are to defeat this invisible enemy. We must open our metaphorical borders even though our physical ones are being closed.”
He pointed out that the distinction in healthcare between rich and poor nations was being broken down here: “For too long now wealthy, developed nations have paid lip service to the difficulties faced in the less wealthy developing nations,” while sheltering behind advanced medical systems, but "COVID-19 is an invisible and unwelcome guest that respects no boundary and has swiftly and relentlessly smashed through all barriers, manmade or otherwise”.
Stating that “cooperation between nations is absolutely necessary if we are to effectively combat the virus” he went on to highlight Gruppo San Donato’s success in Lombardy, where although making up only 13 per cent of the health system it nonetheless treated 18 per cent of COVID-19 patients during the emergency. “Such figures demonstrate just how efficient the private sector can be in terms of responsiveness when properly integrated into the public system,” he said, while emphasising the need for governments to support and utilize private healthcare systems.
Looking both backwards and forwards, Ghribi says: “I firmly believe that the greater cooperation and dialogue we were successful in establishing at the highest level in the late 90s, helped to define the ideal framework for the rebuilding of impoverished economies and fractured societies. That is to say, dialogue and cultural awareness are key to the foundation of stable social and political systems in the Middle East and Africa. Only through the principles of unity, faith, discipline, tolerance and respect will we finally gain peace and prosperity in all nations.”