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2011
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The spatial influence of Tunisian cities via the diffusion of innovative multi-site companies

Amor Belhedi
Cet article est une traduction de :
Le rayonnement spatial des villes tunisiennes à travers la diffusion des entreprises multi-établissements pour l’innovation

Résumé

The spatial influence of cities can be apprehended from the way in which innovation diffuses, from the presence of modern and “rare” or out-of-the-ordinary activities, and from the networks formed by companies operating a number of sites. The analysis of these diffusion patterns casts light on the spatial dynamics in Tunisia in recent times, on the explicative models, on the changes occurring in the urban hierarchy, and on the inexorable decline of certain centres in favour of others.
This article sets out to analyse the diffusion of innovative, modern and out-of-the-ordinary activities and their business networks between 1997 and 2004. It shows that the spatial diffusion observed is coherent with a hierarchical pattern on national scale, while on regional scale it is proximity that has the greatest influence. Further to this, the city of Sousse appears to be strengthening its position in relation to the second city, Sfax, while the coastal zone continues to be favoured by these processes, prefiguring the Tunisia of tomorrow.

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Texte intégral

Introduction

1Spatial dynamics give a picture of the continual adjustment of spaces in response to the ever-changing needs of society and the economy, to the demands of the social actors and the other forces present, and to alterations in the urban hierarchy and in the corresponding zones of influence. These dynamics can be reflected by numerous indicators, and studied in various approaches or in reference to different issues (Belhedi A. 1992a, 1996b, 2004, 2005). The spatial diffusion of services and innovations and the localisation of company representations (or sites) is a valuable way of approaching the spatial outreach of cities.

2Diffusion is both the action of propagating and disseminating across time and space, and its result, and it can be apprehended by the way in which innovations move across space and the processes underpinning their expansion. The establishment of a new activity or a new form of activity, a new amenity or a new service in one or several localities generates spatial distribution patterns that require study in order to understand the logic, the different stages, the forms taken on, and the processes involved, and to observe the effects on the space concerned, the cities, and the urban system.

3To explore this dynamic, we have chosen to examine the spatial diffusion of activities complying with three criteria, jointly or separately: activities that are modern, such as the new Information and Communication Technologies (ICT); activities that are “rare” or out-of-the-ordinary, such as haute couture, fashion, consultancy services, or medical equipment; or innovative activities that are recent, such as advice bureaus for study and employment abroad. These activities are typical of the most dynamic centres in the Tunisia. Their spatial implantation is selective, and reflects the differential attractiveness of the different cities and spaces. An analysis of the localisation of these activities provides information on the adjustments operated within the urban system, both in the hierarchy, and in the relationships that become established between the different centres.

4The diffusion of technological innovations, rather than being equated with the process of modernisation (which involves a wider definition that integrates mentalities, behaviours and practices), is seen here as being able to provide us with information on the centres that are the most receptive and the most attractive in the country. It involves simply analysing the localisation and diffusion patterns of these innovations in relation to the urban system and the spatial structure of the country.

5In addition, businesses and companies with representations (i.e. branch agencies, industrial plants, high street sites, subsidiaries, retail outlets, etc) are a means of spatial cover in which the different representations or sites are interlinked, enabling head offices and the cities in which they are housed to command genuine networks. These company networks are one quite important component in the urban hierarchy, which is in fact the product of a combination of numerous inter-related, diversified networks of institutions, influences, individuals, organisations and companies, both public and private, ancient and modern, and engaged in both “ordinary” and “out-of-the-ordinary” activities.

6The analysis of the stages in the spatial diffusion of these activities and networks enables diffusion patterns to be apprehended, and a follow-up of the changes that occur in the hierarchy, in particular at the top; it also enables differential dynamics to be observed among cities, by way of alterations in rank, even if only slight, prefiguring the spatial order of the future.

7How does this spatial diffusion of innovation operate, and through what channels? How does the spatial diffusion of company representations occur, and how are their retailers distributed? Is it a hierarchical diffusion percolating downwards, with leaps across the urban system, or is it more a proximity diffusion process, a spreading to the nearest neighbourhood, where distance produces a slowing by friction?

8The notion of diffusion is classically associated with that of innovation, i.e. the introduction of something new, hitherto unknown, in an already established order, an environment that will inevitably be irreversibly affected. There is sufficiently abundant literature in this field for there to be little need to dwell on these issues, from the work by T. Hägerstrand (1953, 1966) to the most recent work in the form of specific case studies (Agossou N, S-A.N 2004, Assalin S 1999, Aydalot Ph 1984, Berry B.J.L. 1992, Dumolard P. 1999, Eliot E. 1999, 2000, Ferderwisch J & Zoller GH, Foltête J.Ch. 2002; Gay J.Ch. 2001, Haggett P. 1973, Hudson J.C. 1972, Planque B. 1984, Rémy G. 2002, and others).

9It is true that numerous aspects are worth exploring, so complex is the question - for instance the nature of the companies concerned and their structure, detailed analysis according to activity, their legal status, the labour involved, or the type of production. This article will be restricted to the study of diffusion processes of modern, recent, and “out-of-the-ordinary” activities, and the establishment of company networks in Tunisia, attempting to capture both the probable future impact, and the inertia of the past within the urban system and its spatial functioning. Before broaching these issues, the methods used to analyse the diffusion process and apprehend the spatial outreach of the towns and cities in Tunisia need to be specified.

Methods of approach

10Modern and out-of-the-ordinary activities are characteristic of the space considered, and they prefigure the patterns of the future. They include for instance of ICT, fashion, large retail outlets, cosmetics, haute couture, specialised company outlets, universities and targeted courses, finance and leasing, study advice bureaus, distance education and telecommuting. These activities are both vectors of the emergent spatial order, and strongly linked to the consumer market (concentration of the population and level of urbanisation) and to the standard of living of the population.

11These different activities organise space by way of their system of representations (branch agencies, subsidiaries, company sites, retailers etc), which means that the different sites become parts of a network, polarising the space differentially in favour of certain centres that house the head offices of these networks, or provide relays (branch offices, subsidiaries etc).

  • 1 The majority of the Tunisian dailies and periodicals were reviewed to determine the location of fir (...)
  • 2 The first findings from this work were published in A.Belhedi 2001: Littoralisation et mondialisati (...)

12In this paper we set out to analyse the spatial diffusion of modern, out-of-the-ordinary and recent activities and their company representation networks over a period of seven years from 1997 to 2004, based on a systematic analysis of the national press1, the Yellow Pages, and business and telephone directories in Tunisia2. The task consisted in noting the localisation of the different sites and any evolution, and the type of link with the company (head office, agency, subsidiary, after sales services, showroom, retail outlet etc). New sites or representations merit special attention even if the nature of the activity is not new, for instance the chains of large retail outlets such as Monoprix or Magasin Général: their site network has been more in line with the requirements of the 1960s and 1970s than with the patterns of present-day urban dynamics; their location after 2000 however reflect present-day urban and spatial dynamics, and give a picture of the patterns of the future.

  • 3 Union Tunisienne de l'Industrie, du Commerce et de l'Artisanat (UTICA)

13It is true that the sources used are not exhaustive, but the analysis of data from professional sources3 shows that the representativeness of our database is around 60%.

  • 4 World Summit on the Information Society, the first phase occurred in Switzerland, the second in Tun (...)

14The Annuaire Tunsien des Entreprises TIC (Tunisian ICT directory), published on the occasion of WSIS 2 in Tunis in November 20054 mentioned the presence of 625 firms in the ICT sphere, among which 325 were in computing services and engineering with a labour force of 6124 individuals. This Directory gives a list of 360 firms, yielding a representativeness of 57.6% for the sector on the basis of the Directory figures (MTC, 2005).

15With regard to the quality of our information, we consider that most of the main companies are represented, since they are advertised in the written press, are present in the Yellow Pages, and also in the above-mentioned Directory.

  • 5 After-sales services may be in a different location from the head office or the other business site
  • 6 A subsidiary is a firm that is created by the "mother" firm, and it often has separate legal status (...)

16Three hierarchical levels among company representations were defined: 1) the company head offices, whether it is a single or multi-site company 2) direct company representations, grouping the high-street sites, branch offices, agencies, subsidiaries, show-rooms and after-sales services5; 3) retailers and their outlets6.

17This distinction makes it possible to refine the analysis of the nature of links among urban centres, in the absence of other data such as employment, investment or production, liable to capture the intensity of economic command patterns more efficiently (Hayder A. 1985, Belhedi A. 1992a). On account of the data generally available, there is no analysis of company outreach and diffusion according to the nature of the company (public or private, limited, family etc).

18If the localisation of head offices and their numbers express the degree of outreach of the urban centres that house them, their representations (of all types without distinction) give an idea of the space affected by their outreach and the networks formed across that space. On average, a company possessing representations amounts to three establishments or sites (head office, agency, high-street site, after sales service or show-room etc) so that the place (city) housing the company head office exerts its influence over three or more places under its command, and thus gains a degree of power over those places.

19In most cases, population density, the standard of living of the inhabitants, and the size of the urban centre seem to underpin this spatial dynamic, the differential implantation of innovations, and the development of company networks. The diffusion of these innovations is certainly linked to past and present spatial divides, and it also gives a picture of the patterns of the future.

A shift from the north-south divide to an east-west divide

20The inequality between north and south, generally ascribed to the natural environment and to history (settlement, colonisation) has been succeeded by a more marked and more symbolic inequality between east and west in Tunisia since Independence (Belhedi A. 1992a, 1999, 2005).

21In the space of half a century, Tunisia has shifted from a north-south divide to an east-west divide. The north-south divide is shaped by the natural environment, resulting in particular from the pedological, hydrological and edaphic characteristics that form a north-south resource gradient across three natural regions (Tell, Steppe, and South). There is also a contrast between east and west, but it is less marked, and its origins are more historical than natural, linked to the early settlement along the coastal areas, particularly in the north. Colonisation, which involved above all the north, where the land was more fertile, reinforced the north-south gradient, while long-standing settlement patterns explain the east-west gradient. The map for population density clearly reflects this dual north-south and east-west gradient of population, and the distribution of densities has not varied markedly over time (map 1).

Map 1. Population density according to Governorates

Map 1. Population density according to Governorates

22The evolution of Tunisia following Independence has been characterised by a dual spatial divide: the development of the coastal area, and the strengthening of the capital city Tunis (Belhedi A. 1992a), and this applies to agriculture, to industry and services and to infrastructures (tourism, ports, airports).

  • 7 Numerous indicators express this divide, in particular the level of expenditure, the level of devel (...)

23The degree of urbanisation provides a synthetic indicator of the level of socio-economic development reached by a given region or space, notwithstanding the various reservations that can be made. The map of urbanisation rates clearly shows the east-west divide7, with an intermediate situation in the south where the clustered habitat and the scatter of towns are marked features (Map 2).

24Further to this, the distribution of towns and cities clearly shows the divide between the coastal areas and the interior, and the concentration of towns and cities on the eastern littoral, in particular in the north around Tunis, and in the centre around Sousse, while the city of Sfax remains isolated (Map 2).

Map 2. Urbanisation and towns or cities with a population of more than 8000 in 2004

Map 2. Urbanisation and towns or cities with a population of more than 8000 in 2004

25Whether it is the population density or the level of urbanisation that is considered, it is consumer forces that appear to drive the diffusion of innovations and modern and out-of-the-ordinary activities, and, following on from this, the development of company networks

Modern, out-of-the-ordinary and high-tech activities

26The majority of the activities considered in fact belong to a three-fold process: the diffusion of innovations, the improvement of the population’s standard of living and the satisfaction of new social needs:

  1. Certain activities demonstrate the diffusion of innovation by way of new or out-of-the-ordinary products and services such as ITC – computing services, websites, Internet (Publinet, cybercafés, computing clubs for children, etc), Internet providers (Planet, Globalnet, Topnet, Hexabyte, Tunisnet etc), telecom and mobile phones (Netphone, Starphone, Syscom, TTA, ElectroCom, FonoGSM, GSM House, GSM Services, Maalouf Telecom etc), and software (GPS, SIM, Ideryet, Majoul etc).

  2. Other activities are more a reflection of the improvement of the population’s standards of living, and the development of the consumer market, as in the case of household electrical appliances, air conditioning, cars, cosmetics, haute couture and off-the-hook fashions (Makni, Du Pareil au Même, Fantasia, Gasoil, M Barkous, Mabrouk etc, including labels well-known across the world such as Celio, Benetton, Certo, Yves Saint Laurent, Yves Rocher, Dior), or financial and leasing activities (Tunisie Leasing, ATL etc).

  3. The market system has responded to this trend by way of the development of both specialised and integrated trading activities, for instance the specialised retail outlets that have appeared recently, particularly in the capital Tunis. Examples are outlets specialised in do-it-yourself supplies, swimming pools, gardening (Espace Vert, Naturland), pleasure boats, or computing (Media Stores).

27Some activities are more the reflection of a saturated labour market, in which individuals with higher education diplomas have for some years been encountering difficulties in finding jobs. It should be noted that Tunisian universities deliver more than 40000 diplomas yearly, which is well above the ability of the labour market to absorb them. On this account, coaching for entry into the job market targeting higher education graduates has been developing over the last 10 years. Numerous services have been set up recently to meet the need, such as Employment Consulting (CE) and Emigration consulting (to Canada in particular).

28In higher or specialised education, numerous advice bureaus for study abroad (Conseil pour les Etudes à l’Etranger – CEE) have appeared, in particular for study in Ukraine and Russia, later Canada, and more recently Germany and France: TunisAfrica Services, WSC, El Faouz, CEE, Access Canada, Mahfoud International Services etc. It was first of all fairly distant spaces that were the focus, which explains the need to set up services of this type on account of the administrative difficulties encountered by candidates for study abroad. There is also the fact that the destinations were new for Tunisians, who had seen the traditional receiving countries close their borders to them from the 1970s, in particular France which was previously a choice destination on account of the language, the presence of a large Tunisian community, and historic links between the two countries.

29It should be noted that study at university in Tunisia has been managed since the 1970s by an orientation system following the Baccalauréat examination, which means that numerous holders of this diploma do not obtain the courses of their choice, and those with the financial means to do so prefer to continue their study abroad in courses in which their marks would not enable them to enlist in Tunisia, such as medicine, pharmacy or sport. Since obtaining a visa and enlisting for a course abroad are sometimes almost impossible tasks, the numerous advice bureaus set up cater for this need (preparing the application, enlisting, finding accommodation, insurance etc). A similar process also concerns jobs abroad and permanent emigration (selection, visas, work contract, identity papers etc).

30The data collected shows the importance of the ICT sector, and the appearance of new forms of trade (Table 1) that were not on the scene just a few years earlier, in particular in Tunis where the process is more advanced than in the other Tunisian cities such a Sfax, Sousse or Nabeul. The ITC directory lists some fifty call centres, mainly established in the capital (MTC, 2005).

Table 1.: Distribution of companies according to sector of activity.

Sector

Number

Sector

Number

Sector

Number

Computing

19

Air conditioning

8

Advisory services for study

3

Internet

4

Household electrical appliances

8

Advisory services for jobs

2

Telecom

8

Cars

4

Specialised outlets

3

Scientific equipment

2

Cosmetics

4

Security

3

Medical equipment

2

Haute Couture

6

Swimming pools, pleasure boat

2

Others various activities

32

Photography and graphics

3

Banks

2

Sources: the press, directories, data processed by the author

  • 8 Mainly computing, telecom, internet, scientific and medical equipment
  • 9 Mainly air conditioning, household electrics, haute couture, cars and cosmetics
  • 10 Represented by specialised outlets, advisory services for study and employment, security, photograp (...)

31Nearly two thirds of the companies fall into three categories: modern, high-tech8 activities account for nearly 26%, activities relating to the improvement of the standard of living of the population9 account for 27%, and new businesses10 account for 13%, with the other activities accounting for the remaining 34% (Table 1).

A space of command and a diffusion space both markedly concentrated

32The space of command – reflected by the presence of head offices – and the commanded space – represented by the sites of subsidiaries, agencies and other representations - show a marked concentration on the capital, Tunis, and on the top-ranking cities in the country.

All the head offices are located in the first three cities

33All the head offices of the companies studied are concentrated among the top three cities, Tunis, Sfax and Sousse (115 companies in 2002 and 135 in 2004). The capital houses 87% of the head offices, leaving very few to the two other cities of Sousse and Sfax, which house 7% and 6.1% respectively (Map 3).

34No other urban centre emerges, and towns like Gabès, Bizerta or Nabeul have attracted no company head office. While a certain degree of de-concentration can be observed at the bottom of the scale following various de-concentration measures and university and administrative decentralisation from the start of the 1970s, and the wider diffusion of “ordinary” services and amenities, it can be clearly seen that there is a concentration phenomenon in the sector of modern, leader, high-tech, and out-of-the-ordinary activities. For the head offices of companies with representations, Sousse appears slightly more attractive than Sfax (7% versus 6.1%), the situation of which seems to have declined in relation to the 1970s and 1980s (DAT 1973, Belhedi A. 1992a), thus altering the relationship among the cities at the top of the hierarchy, probably as a result of greater vitality of Sousse with respect to the domiciliation of head offices.

Map 3. Head offices and representations commanded by the cities of Tunis, Sfax and Sousse

Map 3. Head offices and representations commanded by the cities of Tunis, Sfax and Sousse

35The space in which the company representations commanded by the capital are located is shown in map 4: company sites with their head office in Tunis are located either in Tunis itself (empty circle) or in the other centres (shaded circles). The space thus delineated is mainly concentrated on the littoral, and more particularly in Sfax and Sousse.

36The city of Sousse appears to attract more head offices of companies possessing representations than Sfax (Map 5), although the difference is very small in terms of numbers. This slight advance of Sousse is relatively new, if the evolution of the two cities is examined on the basis of other socio-economic and socio-collective amenity indicators used in different studies (Belhedi A. 1992, DAT 1973, COGEDRAT 1985, DGAT 1996). The advance can probably be attributed to a stagnation of the country’s second city (Sfax) and/or the (relative) renewed vitality of Sousse, the third city.

  • 11 Private universities have been authorised since 2004 and receive students with the Baccalauréat by (...)

37The gap between them is thus far only small or even negligible, but it is possible to discern the beginnings of a reshaping of the Tunisian urban system, albeit on a minor scale, whereby Sousse is gaining ground in comparison to Sfax. This situation appears to be confirmed by the creation of private university establishments11 and a private radio in 2006.

Map 4. Representations commanded by Tunis

Map 4. Representations commanded by Tunis

38In a different field, the tourist centres (Hammamet, Sousse, Jerba) also demonstrate a relatively marked attractiveness for their size and their position in the national urban hierarchy (Map 7, see § 5.2). The touristic development of Sousse (tourist resort of Kantaoui) is probably connected with the relative attractiveness of this city over Sfax.

39We consider that this constitutes a serious line of research for the future, liable to cast light on the situation of the urban structure in Tunisia, to detect its recent evolution, and to capture present and latent mutations.

Map 5. Command of Sousse and Sfax in 2006

Map 5. Command of Sousse and Sfax in 2006

A diffusion space that is also concentrated: 77% in the first three cities

  • 12 They num

40The space commanded by these companies is formed by the implantation space of their corresponding representations, (outlets, subsidiaries etc). The distribution of the 425 commanded representations12 shows that 45% are concentrated in Tunis, 19% in Sfax and 13% in Sousse.

41The first three cities in the country account for 77% of the company representations, thus showing a very marked concentration of the commanded space. There also is a considerable hiatus between the capital and the two cities of Sousse and Sfax. The hiatus is likewise very large between these two cities and the other towns or cities in Tunisia – Bizerta attracts only 14 and Nabeul only 13 representations (Table 2).

Table 2: Distribution of the 415 company representations across the different cities

Cities

Number

Cities

Number

Cities

Number

Tunis

187

Gabes

8

Mahres, Beni Khiar, Bembla, Slimane, Fahs, Tozeur, Tataouine, Jendouba, Mateur, Grombalia, Ksar Hellal, Gafsa, Sahline, Henche, Bousalem

1

Sfax

79

Kairouan

7

Sousse

54

Monastir

4

Bizerte

14

Sidi Bouzid, Kef, Mahdia, Beja

3

Nabeul

13

Msaken

2

Hammamet

10

Jerba

9

Sources: Directories and press, data processing by the author

42In reality, the distribution of head offices and the representations relating to their activities clearly reflects the Tunisian urban hierarchy, which is characterised by the very marked predominance of Tunis, and the very secondary role of the intermediate cities (Belhedi A. 1992, 2004). Table 3 shows the close relationship between the demographic weight of the main urban centres and the number of commanded representations located in them.

Table 3. Population in 2004 and numbers of representations commanded by the main urban centres

City

Population 2004

Nb of Command outlets

City

Population 2004

Nb of Command outlets

City

Population 2004

Nb of Command outlets

Tunis

2072375

187

Nabeul

92246

13

Tataouine

59346

1

Sfax

475649

79

Kaserine

76243

-

Beja

56677

3

Sousse

203933

54

Monstir

71546

4

Msaken

55721

2

Gabes

153156

8

Zarzis

70895

-

Mahdia

54902

3

Bizerte

149539

14

Jerba H Sk

64892

9

Moknine

48389

-

Kairouan

117903

4

Hammamet

63116

10

Ml Bourguiba

47742

-

Gafsa

114393

1

Mednine

61705

-

  

  

  

Sources: Directories and press, data processing by the author

  • 13 The relationship is as follows: E=0.0943 P + 0.3794 where E is the number of establishments, P the (...)

43An analysis of the 20 main towns and cities, most of which are the seats of the Governorates, tourist centres, or active industrial centres (Zarzis, Ml Bouguiba, Moknine, Msaken) shows that the number of businesses is strongly correlated to the size of the town or city, with a correlation of 0.96 for an explained variance of 93.2%.13 Towns such as Gabès, Kairouan, Gafsa, Mednine, Zarzis or Ml Bouguiba appear under-represented in relation to their populations, while Bizerta, Nabeul, Hammamet and Monastir, tourist centres close to Tunis or Sousse, have a relatively large number in relation to their size. The weakness of Moknine, Ml Bouguiba and Zarzis can probably be explained by the proximity of larger centres, Monastir, Sousse, Jerba, Bizerta.

44This urban concentration is also associated with a marked spatial concentration favouring the coast, both for the location of business and for the type of representation.

The vitality of the coastal areas

45The analysis of the locations of company head offices with or without representations shows that the dynamics focus on the coastal area.

Concentration on the coast

  • 14 This includes computing companies)

46Map 6 shows the general predominance of the eastern coastline, and the particularly prominent positions of Tunis, Sfax and Sousse in the implantation of computing companies (map 6.1.) and companies possessing representations14 (map 6.2.). The towns and cities in the interior do not appear at all for computing firms, and only very marginally for companies with representations. In addition, the evolution of the spatial distribution of companies with representations since 1997 (map 8) clearly shows that the coastal clusters are even more marked.

Map 6: Distribution of computing companies and companies with representations

Map 6: Distribution of computing companies and companies with representations

The prominent position of tourist centres

47Tourist centres such as Jerba or Hammamet attract some ten company representations (table 2) and take precedence in this respect over larger centres such as Gabès, Nabeul, Bizerta or Kairouan which only house 7 or 8. This situation is explained by the consumer market in tourist cities, which attract this type of activity linked to a higher standard of living, and to a larger consumer and communication demand. The example of cosmetics is representative of this trend, where the town of Hammamet for instance has two Biogénie outlets compared to one in Jerba and one in Tunis. Map 7 gives two examples of spatial diffusion along the coast: one concerns Motorola GSM, and the second, linked to the tourist centres (Tunis, Hammamet, Sousse end Jerba) concerns cosmetics (Biogénie and Chevignon.

Map 7. Two examples of spatial implantation

Map 7. Two examples of spatial implantation

The weak position of towns and cities in the interior - a significant, symbolic divide

48The weak position of the towns and cities in the interior is indisputable. The first city to emerge is Kairouan with 7 company representations, while Sidi Bouzid, Kef or Beja attract only three. Gafsa in the south-west comes last with just one. Of a total of 425 representations, only 20 are located in a town or city in the interior, amounting to 4.8%, showing a contrast that is all the more serious because the activities concerned are the modern, innovating activities that will shape the economic space of the future. The Tunisian ICT directory for the end of 2005 notes 13 out of a total of 345, amounting to 3.8% (MTC, 2005).

49The divide between the coastal areas and the interior is highly symbolic of the present-day and future face of Tunisia, and it is likely to become even more marked with the increasing integration of the Tunisian economy into the world economy, and the opening-up of its borders towards the European Union since 2008 . The different maps clearly show the predominance of the coastal areas and the east-west divide. The large retail chain store Bonprix is present only in the coastal zone; the computing company Aster for its part demonstrates the divide in different manner, with the company head office and its representations located along the coast while the retailers tend to be located in the interior and the south.

50The analysis of the location of company head offices in 1997 (map 8) and in 2003 (map 6) shows that the concentration process became even more marked between these two dates.

Map 8. Head offices of companies with representations in 1997

Map 8. Head offices of companies with representations in 1997

51The east-west divide in reality merely reproduces the historic diffusion patterns for innovation in Tunisia over more than a century, with a dual space demonstrating divergent trends: an extroverted space attached to the coast, and a neglected fringe in the interior (Belhedi A. 1980, 1996c).

The reproduction of an existing diffusion model

52In a study on the railway network (Belhedi A. 1980) we have demonstrated that the routes taken by the railways in 1902 (map 8a) already prefigured the future Tunisian space, and the main road (map 8b) was to follow the same route (Miossec JM. & Signoles P. 1976, Belhedi 1981).

  • 15 The motorway network, dating back only to the 1980s, returns to exactly the same layout along the c (...)

53The analysis of the different networks, such as the road network and later the motorway network15, shows that the mechanisms of spatial accumulation are markedly in favour of the well-provided, wealthy areas, and underpin the process of spatial divergence between the costal zone and the interior on the one hand, and between the capital Tunis and the rest of the country on the other (Belhedi A. 1992, 2005).

Map 9. the development of the railways 1880-1930 and the road in 1930
9a. Diffusion of the railway network 1880-1930

Map 9. the development of the railways 1880-1930 and the road in 19309a. Diffusion of the railway network 1880-1930

9b. Diffusion of the road network in 1930.

9b. Diffusion of the road network in 1930.
  • 16 Prior to this date, Tunisie Telecom held a monopoly on the sector of landlines and mobiles, and pro (...)

54An observation of the present-day network of the second mobile phone provider (Tunisiana) which set up in 200316 shows a diffusion pattern that is allied to that of the railways, the roads, and the motorways: an eastern coastal axis with east-west penetration routes following the Mejerda valley in the north and the diagonal axis Tunis-Gafsa towards the south-west (maps 10a, b and c). This pattern developed in just two years, as compared to fifty for the railways and thirty for the roads.

55On different scales, the diffusion of innovations always favours the best-located spaces, although to a variable degree, and in the absence of spatial regulation . This establishes a vicious circle of spatial divergence around the attractive, dynamic central spaces, bypassing the marginalised peripheral spaces, thus enabling certain centres to gain a power by way of their territorial outreach and their economic command.

56Maps 10: Evolution of the Tunisiana GSM network cover from 2003-12004

57This predominance of the coastal zone and the first cities in the country perpetuates the spatial divide, with a differential spatial outreach for the spaces and the cities that are better equipped to exercise command over the rest of the country. It establishes a certain degree of spatial inertia, benefiting the well-provided, best located spaces at the interfaces between the various socio-economic systems (world economy/local economy, heads of the various networks, receiving/propagating innovation cores, etc), thus providing the centres involved with assets favouring their economic, territorial outreach.

Economic territorial impact

  • 17 It is also possible to add the retailers, who have an indirect representation link with the company (...)

58The economic, territorial impact of a city can be measured by way of the number of company representations commanded by the head offices that it houses - branch agencies, outlets, subsidiaries etc. The network formed by a company’s representations can be subdivided into at least three parts, formed by the company’s head office, the agencies and other sites belonging to the company, and its subsidiaries17. The relationships between these different levels expresses the degree of outreach of a company, and its ability to circumscribe a territory, and thereby the outreach of the city in which the head office is located. The stronger are the relationships, the greater the outreach of the company (and the city) towards its environment, the larger are the spaces commanded, and the more numerous are the centres involved. This involvement takes the form of orders issued (production, marketing etc), and also the employment commanded, the salaries distributed, the income derived, or the investments made in the implantation sites of the company’s representations, subsidiaries and even the retail outlets for its goods and services.

59Tunis has a central role in this occupation of the national territory, since it houses 87% of the company head offices, 45% of business establishments overall, and 42% of the company representations; the ratio of the number of representations to the number of head offices is 1.87. As most of the business enterprises in Tunis are related to local companies, it can be said that on average a company comprises two business establishments, one of which is frequently located in the same place as the head office. The situation is different for the other two cities, where the ratio is far higher (11.3 for Sfax and 6.75 for Sousse) which expresses a marked dependency of these sites, whose head office is often in Tunis.

60The position of Sousse appears relatively more favourable than that of Sfax, since the relationship representation/head office is 6.75 compared to 11.3 for Sfax (Table 4). While the number of head offices is virtually the same (7 and 8), this ratio shows that Sfax is a space that is more markedly under the command of Tunis than Sousse for the number of representations per head office (whether in situ or outside). This situation probably confirms the relative attractiveness of Sousse mentioned earlier (see § 4.2).

Table 4. Head offices, total number of company representations, and commanded company sites in Tunis, Sfax and Sousse.

City

Head offices

Total number of representations

N° of representations ouside Ho

Ratio representations/Ho

Tunis

100

187

87

1,87

Sfax

7

79

72

11,3

Sousse

8

54

46

6,75

Sources: Directories and press, data processing by the author

61The differential spatial implantation of innovations in the field of physical communication infrastructures (rail, road, motorway), of immaterial communication facilities (GSM), and of the representation networks of companies engaged in recent, modern and out-of-the-ordinary activities generates a differentiated spatial dynamic on national, regional and urban scale. The analysis of the patterns of spatial diffusion over time can give us more information about this process.

Diffusion processes: hierarchy first, then proximity

62This exploration of the diffusion over time of several activities and company networks shows that the dominant model for spatial diffusion tends to be hierarchical. It is however often upset by processes relating to proximity diffusion, in particular around the main receiving-disseminating centres like Sousse and Sfax.

At national level it is the hierarchical process that operates

  • 18 The Batam chain is a Tunisian example of the spectacular recent success of large-scale retailing an (...)

63The diffusion process operates via the urban hierarchy, which is the main vector for the diffusion of innovations, and of representations, by a percolation process. Tunis forms the disseminating (or propagating) core for innovations, and is the relay for most of the innovations introduced from abroad (representations of certain computing brands, cosmetics etc). It is then, in most cases, the second city Sfax, followed by Sousse, that comes into play. Thereafter we find cities like Bizerta or Gabès, and sometimes smaller towns engaged in certain more ubiquitous, less unusual activities such as retail distribution (the Monoprix or Magasin Général chains), or mobile phones. The examples of the Fatales network (cosmetics) and Media Stores (the Batam chain18 computing stores), although restricted to four towns, also exemplify this hierarchical diffusion process (Map 11).

Map 11. The stages in the implantation of the Fatales outlets – hierarchical diffusion.

Map 11. The stages in the implantation of the Fatales outlets – hierarchical diffusion.

64There are exceptions to this hierarchical model, in particular in favour of certain centres such as Sousse or Kairouan, and at the expense of other less important centres; this is explained by numerous factors, such as the geographical origins of the business managers or owners, and family links.

Diffusion by proximity on regional and local scale

65At regional and local level, diffusion tends to occur by proximity, from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, around the large receiving centres which in turn become centres adopting and propagating innovation.

66In this respect, the outreach of Tunis extends to all its surroundings, via towns and cities in its outer ring such as Bizerta, Nabeul, Hammamet, Slimane, Fahs, Mateur or Grombalia, and even beyond to places such as Beja, Bousalem, Jendouba, and Kef. The city of Sousse disseminates towards the Sahara region by way of centres close by, such as Monstir, Mahdia, Msaken,Ksar Melal or Sahline, while Sfax disseminates via the nearby centres of Hencha and Mahres, or larger, more distant centres like Gabès, Gafsa, or Sidi Bouzid.

67At regional level, the neighbourhood process is predominant, while at national level it is the hierarchy that dominates, and this leads to patterns that are often complex.

A fairly complex diffusion process

68In fact the diffusion process is far from simple, and it obeys no single logic, whether economic, spatial, hierarchical or proximity-based. There are several factors that interfere, generating patterns that are frequently mixed.

A combination of two patterns

69The two diffusion mechanisms are often intertwined in time and space, making the dissemination pattern fairly complicated depending on the city or town, and on the activity envisaged. The proximity mechanism comes into play at regional level, while the hierarchical pattern is more predominant at national level. The diffusion from the capital, Tunis, of three networks provides instances of the combination of these two processes:

  • The example of the Bonprix outlets (chain of large retail outlets) is significant of the evolution of the economy (commercial chains and holdings), of society (development of consumerism and frequentation of large retail outlets), and of the territorial space (the development of networks) in Tunisia in recent years. The diffusion of the network operated from Tunis (Map 12) following a hierarchical pattern, first reaching the country’s second city Sfax, and then diffusing to centres closer to Tunis like Bizerta, Nabeul and Hammamet in a second stage. The third stage involved a centre that was even closer (Zaghouan), and only in the fourth stage did the process reach more distant centres like Sousse, and even further away Jerba and Mahdia, successively in stages 5 and 6. This diffusion nevertheless occurred alongside the reinforcement of the cores already in existence, Tunis, Sousse and Sfax.

  • The network formed by the Aster representations (computing equipment) and retailers shows that after a hierarchical diffusion via the three cities of Tunis, Sfax and Sousse, there is a diffusion towards centres that are close to Tunis such as Bizerta and Hammamet.

  • The example of Fujitsu-Siemens (computing equipment) is also an example of this interplay between the two diffusion processes. The hierarchical model took precedence in the implantation of the network, first of all in Tunis, then Sfax and finally Sousse. In a subsequent stage, the network set up around the city of Sousse, in particular Monastir and Kerouan (Map 13).

Map 12. Mixed diffusion patterns: the Bonprix outlet network

Map 12. Mixed diffusion patterns: the Bonprix outlet network

Map 13. Mixed diffusion patterns: Fujitsu-Siemens retailers

Map 13. Mixed diffusion patterns: Fujitsu-Siemens retailers

The geographical origins of the management or ownership

70The geographical affiliation of the management or ownership of these companies also explains some of the variants in the diffusion pattern, giving predominance to certain localities towards the bottom of the urban hierarchy, or distant from the receiving-disseminating centres; this affects at once the stages in the diffusion process (the timing), the scale on which it operates (size and number of sites) and the location (the choice of several places). Towns and cities like Grombalia, Nabeul, Mateur, Jerba, Sahline, Msaken or Mahdia thus appear in certain networks, while this favourable positioning in the diffusion process is not explained by the urban hierarchy, proximity, the local economy or the standard of living. The geographical origins of people in charge of the companies concerned thus introduces a bias both in the simple basic pattern (hierarchical or proximity-related) and the combined model (hierarchy and proximity).

Conclusion

71The spatial diffusion of modern, out-of-the-ordinary activities, alongside the establishment of the networks of companies with representations (agencies, high-street sites, subsidiaries, after sales services, showrooms, retailers) reflects the spatial dynamics operating in the Tunisian space. To a certain extent these processes prefigure the space of the future, and are a reflection of the forces present and a differential dynamic among the urban centres.

72The analysis of the implantation of different networks has shown that the space of outreach and command of the company head offices is very concentrated in the capital city, which is very far in advance of the cities of Sfax and Sousse, while Sousse, although only marginally, shows slightly more vitality than Sfax. Further to this, the divide between the littoral and the interior is likely to aggravate in the coming years with the opening-up of the country to the global economy, and the establishment of the Customs Union with Europe (Belhedi A. 2001).

73This study has shown that spatial diffusion tends to comply with a hierarchical model on the national scale, and a proximity model on regional and local scale. The geographical origins of certain management staff or business owners also play a part in determining the implantation of certain sites in locations that are not prominent in the hierarchy, nor close to the centres of command and propagation, but rather exhibit a proximity arising from individual affiliations, allegiance, or favouritism, and this is a phenomenon that merits further study.

74The exploration of the diffusion of communication infrastructures, both underway and planned, such as the motorway network or the Tunisiana mobile phone network, have clearly shown that the processes occurring today amount to a reproduction of the past and present spatial order, prefiguring to some extent that of the future. The motorway project is the substrate of tomorrow’s mobility, that of the car-owning population and favours the best connected, best positioned centres in the network: even if its effect is small, it still contributes, albeit marginally, to the decline of the centres that are not linked up. The map for the diffusion of the Tunisiana network gives priority to the coastal zone and the east-west penetration axes along the Mejerda in the north and GP3 towards the south-west, thus coinciding with the space that has always been the most densely served and the most dynamic, and forming a replica of the spatial order already set up by the railways and the road network: the difference is that the rate at which this is happening is much faster.

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Notes

1 The majority of the Tunisian dailies and periodicals were reviewed to determine the location of firms, their representations, subsidiaries or retailers: La Presse, Essabah, Es Sahafa, Le Renouveau, Le Temps, Les Annonces, Le Qotidien, Réalités, L'Expert, L'Economiste etc

2 The first findings from this work were published in A.Belhedi 2001: Littoralisation et mondialisation. L'état des lieux et enjeux. RTG,30, 1996, pp 9-52

3 Union Tunisienne de l'Industrie, du Commerce et de l'Artisanat (UTICA)

4 World Summit on the Information Society, the first phase occurred in Switzerland, the second in Tunis

5 After-sales services may be in a different location from the head office or the other business sites

6 A subsidiary is a firm that is created by the "mother" firm, and it often has separate legal status, either totally or partially different, while a representation is a branch agency of the mother form, or a regional or local managing body. A retail outlet (or retailer) is an independent company engaged in retailing and distribution of products from another company, and with separate legal status.

7 Numerous indicators express this divide, in particular the level of expenditure, the level of development, collective social amenities and household equipment. See Belhedi A 1999a & b, 1998

8 Mainly computing, telecom, internet, scientific and medical equipment

9 Mainly air conditioning, household electrics, haute couture, cars and cosmetics

10 Represented by specialised outlets, advisory services for study and employment, security, photography, and leisure

11 Private universities have been authorised since 2004 and receive students with the Baccalauréat by way of an orientation system which had hitherto only concerned state universities. In the university guide in 2004, there were 13 establishments and 11000 students in Tunis, 2 with 1165 students in Sousse, and 2 with 825 students in Sfax (MESRS, 2004).

12 They num

bered 465 at the start of 2005

13 The relationship is as follows: E=0.0943 P + 0.3794 where E is the number of establishments, P the population in thousands (see Table 3)

14 This includes computing companies)

15 The motorway network, dating back only to the 1980s, returns to exactly the same layout along the coastline, with transverse penetration routes just like the railway a century earlier. The general structure is comprises the coastal route from Tunis to Msaken, to be continued on to Gabès and the Libyan border ( (11th development plan 2007-2011); the Tunis-Bizerta link is already complete, with a transverse route along the middle Mejerda valley towards Beja, and Jendouba opened in 2006.

16 Prior to this date, Tunisie Telecom held a monopoly on the sector of landlines and mobiles, and provided the cover for the whole territory. In 2003, a private provider entered the market, represented by Orascom (Egypt) which markets the label Tunisiana

17 It is also possible to add the retailers, who have an indirect representation link with the company in places where the company cannot be present. The instance of the Aster network is significant in this respect. The company's agencies are located in the coastal area (Tunis, Sfax, Sousse, Hammame, Bizerta), and also Kairouan in the interior, while the company's retailers (official dealers) are mainly located in the west (Kef, Gafsa), and in the south (Gabès, Jerba), in addition to the coastal centres of Tunis, Sfax, Mahdia and Monastir.

18 The Batam chain is a Tunisian example of the spectacular recent success of large-scale retailing and specialised outlets (although it has recently encountered serious difficulties). It has a varied chain of large outlets (Bonprix), household electrical appliances (Kindeland), goods for children (FutureKids, and computing equipment (Media Stores)

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Table des illustrations

Titre Map 1. Population density according to Governorates
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cybergeo/docannexe/image/24872/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 14k
Titre Map 2. Urbanisation and towns or cities with a population of more than 8000 in 2004
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cybergeo/docannexe/image/24872/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 14k
Titre Map 3. Head offices and representations commanded by the cities of Tunis, Sfax and Sousse
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cybergeo/docannexe/image/24872/img-3.png
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Titre Map 4. Representations commanded by Tunis
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cybergeo/docannexe/image/24872/img-4.png
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Titre Map 5. Command of Sousse and Sfax in 2006
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cybergeo/docannexe/image/24872/img-5.png
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Titre Map 6: Distribution of computing companies and companies with representations
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cybergeo/docannexe/image/24872/img-6.png
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Titre Map 7. Two examples of spatial implantation
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Titre Map 8. Head offices of companies with representations in 1997
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cybergeo/docannexe/image/24872/img-8.png
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Titre Map 9. the development of the railways 1880-1930 and the road in 19309a. Diffusion of the railway network 1880-1930
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Titre 9b. Diffusion of the road network in 1930.
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Légende a. May 2003
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Légende b. June 2003
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Légende c. 2004
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Titre Map 11. The stages in the implantation of the Fatales outlets – hierarchical diffusion.
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Titre Map 12. Mixed diffusion patterns: the Bonprix outlet network
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Titre Map 13. Mixed diffusion patterns: Fujitsu-Siemens retailers
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cybergeo/docannexe/image/24872/img-16.png
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Amor Belhedi, « The spatial influence of Tunisian cities via the diffusion of innovative multi-site companies », Cybergeo : European Journal of Geography [En ligne], Espace, Société, Territoire, document 575, mis en ligne le 16 décembre 2011, consulté le 16 décembre 2017. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/cybergeo/24872 ; DOI : 10.4000/cybergeo.24872

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Auteur

Amor Belhedi

Faculté des Sciences Humaines & Sociales de Tunis. 94, Boulevard 9 avril 1938. 1007 - Tunis.

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