The African Country That’s Embracing the Racist ‘Great Replacement’ Theory

Tunisia has seen a surge in brutal racist attacks against Black migrants from sub-Saharan countries, and counter-protests, after President Kais Saïed claimed there's a secret campaign to separate Tunisia from its Arab identity.
Protesters gather in downtown Tunis in an event titled Crush Fascism: Tunisia is an African Land'
Protesters outside the International Organization for Migration (IOM). All photos: Paula González

TUNIS, Tunisia – In Bhar Lazreg, a poor neighbourhood in Tunis’ northern suburbs, Abdoulaye, originally from Guinea, is among thousands of Black migrants fearing for their safety. 

Abdoulaye, who we are not naming for security reasons, came to Tunisia in 2020 after his older brother, who was living here at the time, encouraged him to come over after a spate of violence rocked Guinea following contested elections. Within two months, Abdoulaye told VICE World News, people were regularly shouting racist slurs at him as he walked down the street.


“I kept hearing: ‘Kahloush, kahloush.’ I asked what that meant. I learned that it was the N-word,” he said as he sat in the one-bedroom apartment he shares with two friends from Guinea. 

Abdoulaye’s initial plan was to “find a job here, save up some money, send some back to my mom in Guinea, and keep working on my project to get to Europe or North America.” But he hasn’t made enough money yet working as a waiter and on construction sites to save up towards a residency visa. In the meantime, he said, children throw things at him, he’s been physically attacked in his own neighbourhood and he continues to face racist insults as he walks to work. 

Over the last two weeks, Tunisia has seen a rise in violent attacks and the arbitrary arrest of Black migrants from sub-Saharan countries. It came after President Kais Saïed made a speech at a National Security Council meeting in which he claimed that these migrants are part of a secret campaign to make Tunisia a “purely African” country in a deliberate attempt to separate it from its Arab and Muslim identity. 

He has accused Black migrants of being responsible for “violence, crime and unacceptable acts,” and claimed unnamed parties are complicit in a “criminal arrangement” to dramatically change the demographic makeup of Tunisia – a kind of North African version of the “Great Replacement” theory espoused by the likes of France’s far-right politician Eric Zemmour, and by Buffalo shooter Payton Gendron, who killed 10 people in a mass shooting in New York last year.


In fact, Zemmour – the president of the nationalist French political party, Reconquête! – has tweeted his support for Saïed’s speech, saying he supports Tunisia’s efforts to “protect its people.” 

Reports of violent attacks on and mass evictions of Black migrants in the country began to multiply the night of the speech. The country has also seen a rise in Tunisians openly using TikTok, Facebook and Instagram to spread hate for “Africans,” with pages dedicated to Tunisians making racist accusations that claim Black migrants sexually assault women and even eat cats. Multiple African countries, including Guinea, Gabon and Mali, have been forced to organise repatriation flights for migrants fearing for their safety. Hundreds have left already.

This all comes as President Saïed – who began to centralise all power after he dissolved parliament on the 25th of July 2021 – has in recent weeks been intensifying efforts to silence opposition figures, from politicians to judges and lawyers, with arrests and accusations of conspiracy against state security, which Amnesty International has called a “witch hunt.”

Political groups like the right-wing Tunisian Nationalist Party, officially recognised in 2018, have long campaigned against accepting migrants from other African nations. The Nationalist Party, who has endorsed Saïed’s speech, circulated a petition calling for the expulsion of all Black African migrants and an imposition of a special visa system for all people from sub-Saharan African countries.


On Sunday, in response to both local and international outrage, including from other African countries, Saïed attempted to walk back some of his attacks by saying Tunisia is happy to be an African country, but migrants have told VICE World News that it might be too late.  

The day after the President’s speech condemning migrants, Abdoulaye’s landlord told him and his friends to leave their home, as landlords had been ordered not to rent to migrants without residence permits. He was in utter despair and prepared to become homeless.

But Abdoulaye and his roommates were among the lucky ones; their landlord agreed to let them stay as long as they kept a very low profile. They hardly leave their house now, except to go to work. 

Outside the headquarters of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), migrants that have been evicted from their homes are camping out

Outside the headquarters of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), migrants that have been evicted from their homes are camping out

Discrimination against Black Tunisians has a long history in the country, due to ideas of racial purity imparted by everyone from Arab conquerors to French colonialists. In 2018, after years of anti-racist civil society advocacy, Tunisia passed a law designed to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination – the first Arab country to do so. The law requires the state to initiate programmes to raise awareness about racial discrimination, establish a public committee to monitor cases of bigotry, and institute fines and potential prison terms for racist actions. Nonetheless, racist epithets are often casually used to refer to Black Tunisians. The advocacy and research organisation Minority Rights, writes that Black Tunisians “remain almost wholly absent from public life and employment, including government positions and other senior roles. Despite this discrimination, there is still widespread reluctance in the country to admit that racism exists.”


In front of the Tunis headquarters for the International Organisation for Migration, a couple of hundred migrants expelled from their homes over the previous week set up an encampment, demanding help or relocation to another country. They slept rough on cardboard, under plastic sheets, bundled up in all the clothes they could carry to protect against the cold wind blowing in from the sea.

One of them is 20-year-old Fanta Hech Bangora, from Sierra Leone. She’s seven months pregnant, and had been in the camp for over a week when VICE World News met her. The day after the President’s speech, she and the others with her were suddenly forced out of their homes in the Tunis suburb of Roued.

“The landlord said we should leave, and Tunisians attacked us with knives,” she said quietly. “They stole our money and property. We left our homes and came directly here.”

Sitting next to her on the ground was Mariam Bangora who is also from Sierra Leone. Her baby, Francis, was restless and tried to crawl away as she spoke. She too was chased from her home, and subjected to sexual assault. “The boys that broke into my home beat up my brother,” Bangora told VICE World News. “They even tried to rape me, and film it. One put his finger inside my vagina.”

Just a few metres away, another Sierra Leonean man, Sufian Bangoa, said his wife had been arbitrarily arrested in February. “I was in the house,” Bangoa said. “She came outside to buy something and the police arrested her. The police kept her in the station for two days. Now she’s in a prison. I don’t know which one exactly.”


Bangoa said he had seen some Tunisians bring food and supplies to the encampment. It gave him a glimmer of hope. “Those Tunisians who are not racist, I congratulate them. I thank them so much. They are doing their best to fight against racism. But the government isn’t doing anything good for us,” he said.

Thousands of Tunisians are organising to fight against this creeping rise in anti-Black African sentiment. 


Last Sunday, Reggae boomed from a PA system along the broad Avenue des États Unis running through Tunis’ Lafayette neighbourhood. A few hundred people stood around outside the gates of the National Journalists’ Syndicate headquarters and in the garden, shaking hands, smoking, talking. Inside the elegant colonial-era building, a group of activists write slogans in different languages. They read: “Racism isn’t an opinion, it’s an offence!”, “All migrants are welcome,” and “Black Lives Matter” on placards. 

In the garden, a Tunisian activist jumped on the PA’s microphone, and launched into a speech, shouting “We need to stand together and end this racist system,” to applause and whistles.

“Let’s march!” she called out, and the growing crowd started to form a block of protestors on the Avenue.


The night before the anti-fascist march in Tunis, a group of activists, lawyers and academics had crammed themselves into an office in the headquarters of the prominent human rights organisation, Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights. They were coordinating with a group of migrants and European NGO workers in the southern Tunisian city of Zarzis via Zoom, discussing housing status, needs for legal assistance, medical care, food and more.

Debates emerged on how best to offer housing to migrants thrown out of their homes without the person housing them getting arrested. One Tunisian lawyer from the NGO Terre D’Asile recommended overloading police stations with requests for residency cards for migrants to jam up the administration and block possible deportation. A professor proposed gathering groups of university students to demand that the Ministry of Education make empty dormitories available to newly homeless migrants.

Saaida Mosbah

Saaida Mosbah

At the next day’s march, brought together by a Facebook event titled “Crush Fascism: Tunisia is an African Land,” Saadia Mosbah, president of the Tunisian anti-racist organisation Mnemty (“My Dream”), spoke about what brought them into the streets. “When the President spoke about the issue [of irregular migrants], we felt that a line had been laid down,” Mosbah said. “People say, ‘Oh I’m not racist,’ but then target sub-Saharan African migrants here, even though there are statistics that show almost equal numbers of other irregular migrants from North Africa here.”


Mosbah added: “This march is a scream of anger about what’s going on in the country. It’s a scream of anger against the behaviour of Tunisians towards sub-Saharan Africans: expelling them from their houses, attacking them physically, stealing their money.”

Fatma Ltifi, president of DamjThe Tunisian Association for Justice and Equality – has also been attacked for her ethnicity.  “Yesterday I found myself subject to a racist attack in [downtown Tunis’s main street] Avenue Habib Bourguiba because they thought I was a sub-Saharan migrant.”

“We have to put a hard stop to these attacks on migrants. The action we are taking today is for history – to show that Tunisians have refused the President’s discourse, that there are Tunisians working to stop this assault, that there are Tunisians who refuse for us to slide backwards,”  Ltifi said.

In the crowd was Henda Chennaoui, a longtime activist and journalist who helped organise the protest.

“After the President’s speech, a bunch of volunteers got together to create the Anti-Fascist Front,” Chennaoui told VICE World News. “ We’re setting up a hotline for migrants in danger.”

“It’s true that these regressive ideas have found popularity with many parts of the population,” Chennaoui added. “But there are… lots of people in solidarity, lots of people with deep humanity. Slowly but surely, we will organise ourselves. There’s always hope.”

As demonstrators marched towards the centre of downtown Tunis holding placards, a black flag waved high above them. Scrawled on the flag in red Arabic graffiti was a slogan that roughly translates to: ‘‘You’ve messed with the wrong generation.”