A prominent figure in the Ivorian community in Tunisia was stabbed to death in the capital, Tunis, on December 23. Following his murder, many sub-Saharan Africans living in Tunisia took to the streets to denounce what they say is a hate crime.
Falikou Coulibaly, the president of the Association of Ivorians in Tunisia (AIT) was stabbed to death on Sunday night in La Soukra, a neighbourhood located in a northern suburb of Tunis. According to the Minister of the Interior, the murderer was trying to steal Coulibaly’s phone.
The police tell us that the violence is a result of the high rates of crime in the neighbourhood. However, only Ivorians are targeted. So these attacks definitely have a racist element. The young people who carry out this violence target our community because they know they won’t be punished.
Coulibaly's body was flown home to Ivory Coast on December 27, for burial in his hometown of Oumé.
Falikou was like a brother to everyone
Malicks Kamandie is a member of the AIT that Coulibaly led, and was one of Coulibaly’s friends. He was among the hundreds of people who paid tribute to Coulibaly at his home before his body was repatriated to the Ivory Coast.
We gathered in his home to welcome his body and to pay our last respects. We wanted to honour all the work he did to help sub-Saharan Africans living in Tunisia. We then accompanied his coffin to the airport.
Falikou was like a brother to everyone. His work helped the entire sub-Saharan African community. He was a real fighter. So, it would have felt like a betrayal if we had just stayed at home.
His murder sparked an unprecedented mobilisation among Ivorians living in Tunisia. On December 24, several hundred protesters gathered in front of Mongi Slim Hospital, where Coulibaly died, and marched to the Ivorian embassy. On December 25, they gathered on Bourguiba Avenue, which is located in the centre of the capital, to protest against violence targeting sub-Saharan Africans and the lack of response from Tunisian authorities.
This protest was held on Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis on December 25.
A banner held at the protest on Tunis's Bourguiba Avenue on December 25.
Falikou’s spirit brought us together
People continued to gather at Coulibaly’s home on Wednesday night, even after his coffin was taken back to the Ivory Coast, according to Ange Serisoka, vice-president of the Association of Ivorians Working in Tunisia, known by its French acronym ASSIVAT:
We set up chairs across from Coulibaly’s home. We shared a meal and talked. There were drums; it was a real Ivorian party. That’s our tradition -- once we stop crying, we celebrate.
Coulibaly’s spirit brought all of the sub-Saharan Africans together. At the gathering, there were people from Ivory Coast, from Cameroon and from Mali, as well as some Tunisians. I spoke. I asked all leaders and groups to come together to continue the fight. Our brother, Falikou, was skilled at bringing people together.
"Coulibaly’s death could change many things"
According to Tunisian police, the suspect, who was arrested the day of the murder, admitted that he attacked Coulibaly in an attempt to steal his phone. But Serisoka says that xenophobia played a part:
When we saw that he had been stabbed multiple times and that the perpetrators left behind his cell phone, we knew it was a hate crime.
Coulibaly’s death could change many things. He didn’t die in vain. Coulibaly is a leader and his fight was to call for justice and to end the penalty system.
Foreigners in Tunisia who fail to get a residency permit have to pay “penalties” when they leave the country. They are charged about 25 euros for each month that they lived in Tunisia without the proper papers. People were calling for an end to this system at each of the protests held in the wake of Coulibaly’s death. Many of the sub-Saharan Africans living in Tunisia do not have the proper papers.
That’s what makes racist attacks possible. Most people from sub-Saharan Africa in Tunisia are afraid of speaking up for fear of being arrested. [Editor’s note: because they are undocumented migrants].
If a person from sub-Saharan Africa [who doesn’t have the proper papers] tries to demand that his employer pay him, then he risks being arrested. I know a girl who asked her boss for a day off and he called the police and she found herself at the immigration service. Most of us don’t have leases where we live, because the landlords know that we are afraid to speak up because we don’t have our papers.