Tunisia: Bakers Union Leader Arrested as Bread Shortages Continue

by | Aug 16, 2023 | Economic, Social, Tunisia


On 16 August 2023, Tunisian authorities arrested the leader of the country’s bakers union, Mohamed Bouanane.

Bouanane, who leads the National Chamber of Bakery Owners, was arrested “on suspicion of monopoly and speculation with subsidized foodstuffs.”

His arrest comes as the Tunisian government continues to struggle to source the wheat that is used to produce the baguettes consumed daily by many Tunisians. The government recently cut off access to subsidized flour for “modern” bakeries in an attempt to conserve flour for the subsidized bakeries that operate in Tunisia’s working class neighborhoods. Modern bakeries are those that bake various types of breads for sale in addition to the traditional subsidized baguette. President Kais Said described the change as an effort to “provide bread to all Tunisians.”

Members of the union representing “modern” bakeries promised to resume protests against the move to limit their access to subsidized flour. In the following days, the government announced that some of the impacted bakeries would again be able to access subsidized flour, representing at least a partial reversal of the decision.

Russian’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent conflicts over wheat transportation in the Black Sea have exacerbated the supply issue in addition to flagging domestic production in a year plagued by drought across North Africa.

Former Prime Minister Najla Bouden was replaced after her attempts to identify solutions to the bread crisis fell short.


As multiple overlapping factors exacerbate the shortage of wheat and flour in Tunisia – including drought and Russia’s war in Ukraine – the government continues to search for answers.

With the bread riots of winter 1983-1984 that killed over a hundred people looming large over the issue, both the supply and price of bread remain critical. It is impossible to know how Tunisians would respond to a change in bread prices 40 years since those riots, but few Tunisian officials are interested to find out.

The arrest of Mohamed Bouanane as well as the change in prime ministers is unlikely to address the core challenges of supply and demand.  However, it serves to deflect the issue onto other actors.

Furthermore, as Tunisia continues to face down a budget shortfall not likely to be imminently addressed with an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan deal, the struggle to purchase wheat on the international market will only grow.

Our team is continuing to watch for how bread shortages will impact the risk environment in Tunisia.


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