Kerkennah is an archipelago in the Gulf of Gabes around 20km from the city of Sfax. The islands are dependent on fishing and agriculture (1).
In 2006, Petrofac, a British oil and gas company, acquired the Chergui gas concession (2), in a corrupt deal with then president Zine El- Abidine Ben Ali, testimony to the way in which land and resources in the Maghreb are repeatedly sold off for foreign exploitation.
Petrofac opened for business in 2007 and first commercial gas began flowing on 8 August 2008.
The 2010-2011 Revolution saw movements led by the youth, and in particular the unemployed youth challenge voice grievances at the deep rooted structural socio-economic challenges they faced. Kerkennah, like other resource rich sites across the Maghreb is plagued by foreign and crony exploitation while local populations are excluded from any benefits.
In 2011, Petrofac agreed to an agreement aimed at getting unemployed graduates working following the revolution. Under the scheme, Petrofac promised 266 unemployed graduates payments of TND300-450 ($131-196) per month to carry out environmental work and assist in public services. Yet, recipients were not given contracts or benefits (1).
In early 2016, Union of Unemployed Graduates (UDC) led a sit-in in front of the Petrofac factory, partially halting production, demanding that the company honour its engagements in local development and employment creation. The sit-in lasted two months, until the hundred protesters were violently evicted by a police contingent of several hundred strong (3). The eviction impelled citizens to join the protesters in forcing the police off the island and to push police vehicles into the sea (4). 250 demonstrators attacked security forces with stones and Molotov cocktails, burning a police station, two police cars and two national guard posts. Police were forced to withdraw after five officers were injured.
On September 22, after nine months of protests, disruptions and failed talks, Petrofac announced it was leaving Tunisia.
However, the next day, the company announced an agreement had been reached and production resumed on September 27. Since then there have been more than a dozen protests staged against the company including the blockage of Petrofac trucks (1).
Disruptions to Petrofac’s production during the first nine months of 2016 cost the government about USD100 million.
In 2014, Petrofac attempted to appease its relations with the islanders by donating a community olive oil press worth TND 275,000 ($120,000) to the people of Kerkennah. It appears that the meagre gesture was insufficient, and the questions raised by protesters remain the same: “How is it possible to be unemployed when all this oil and gas wealth is being created on the islands? What happened to the promises of the 2011 revolution and the demands of social justice and national dignity?” (3)