Algeria: No Cure For The Oil Curse

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April 16, 2014: The presidential election is held tomorrow and the voters are not happy at the fact that the incumbent (Abdelaziz Bouteflika) is being reelected even though he is too infirm (via age and a recent stroke) to campaign himself, much less govern. The give other candidates believe the government will rig the vote. Most Algerians want Bouteflika and his corrupt cronies out of power but that is not happening as long as Bouteflika still has the support of the security forces. He does have that support so he can hang on. As public anger grows there is a the growing risk of dissatisfaction spreading to the soldiers and police, who have a better sense of the public mood than the wealthy and corrupt officials and businessmen who surround Bouteflika. This could get ugly and to avoid losing power the government offered to change the constitution to, in theory, give more people more access to government decision making. Most Algerians see this another scam that provides the illusion of democracy while the reality is still rigged elections and bureaucrats doing what they want, not what the people need.

Bouteflika has been in power since 1999 and he held on mainly because the oil price shot up because of growing demand from India and East Asia. The Algerian government took in over $700 billion dollars during the last fifteen years and Algerians could not help but notice that senior politicians and their families became enormously rich while the rest of the economy stagnated and the unemployment rate kept going up. In response to this the government has been more active in prosecuting corrupt officials, but it’s always the lower ranking ones. The most senior people and their families are largely immune. These families became rich via the simple technique of adding 10-20 percent to the cost of government contracts and distributing that money among themselves. Nothing unique about that, nor about how as long as the security forces are well paid and content the plundering can continue indefinitely. Only a major uprising can upset this and that is very hard to get going as long as the people running the government know who to pay off, who to chase out of the country and who to imprison or murder. Many Algerians believe the current crooks running things are losing their touch and many Algerians see growing opportunities for another revolution. That, however, is no panacea because these rebellions against corrupt older rebels often results in a new generation of corrupt officials taking over. This is an ancient problem in nations that have lucrative natural resource exports. With lots of money flowing through a small group of people (the government) it is all too easy for those in power to take a cut and pay off enough subordinates to keep this scam going indefinitely, or until replaced by another gang of crooks.

April 13, 2014: About 120 kilometers east of the capital (in the largely Berber Kabylie region) troops ambushed some Islamic terrorists and killed two of them. Later in the day, further east (Khenchela, near the Tunisian border) troops killed four more Islamic terrorists.

April 12, 2014: Islamic terrorists released a video of one of the three Algerian diplomats taken captive by Islamic terrorists in Mali in April 2012. This is the first message from the kidnappers since January 2013. Originally seven Algerians were taken but since then three have been released and one killed. Now there is proof that one of the three is still alive. There has been no direct contact with the captors since a French led invasion of northern Mali in January 2013. It was believed the Islamic terrorists holding the Algerians were on the run and it was hoped that the French would find and free them. That has not happened and now the Islamic terrorists holding one of the Algerians feel secure enough to resume demanding ransom. The government does not want to pay ransom, so as not to encourage more such attacks.

April 11, 2014: More violence broke out down south in the oasis town of Ghardaia leaving two policemen and about ten civilians injured . Over the last four months the government has gradually sent more than 10,000 additional police to deal with the persistent unrest. In Ghardaia the violence between Arab and Berber residents is all about water rights, jobs, land, ethnicity and religion. Arabs also accuse the 800,000 Berbers in the south of supporting al Qaeda. The unrest has been going on since late December. Over a hundred people have been arrested and there have been over 400 casualties (including at least 13 dead). Over a hundred building has been burned down along with dozens of vehicles. Thousands have fled the city and many businesses stay closed for days or weeks at a time. The police, who are largely Arab, are accused of being biased against the Berbers. The ethnic tensions in this area, 600 kilometers south of the capital, have been growing since 2008 and there was another outbreak of violence in October 2013 that was put down. As bad as the ethnic tensions have been there are also disagreements over religion. The Arabs belong to the Maliki school of Islam while the Berbers are largely from the smaller Ibadi sect. About 30 percent of Algerians are Berber, but the percentage is higher in the south. Ghardaia is an ancient Berber city of 90,000 that contains many Ibadi shrines. The province Ghardaia is in is on the edge of the Sahara Desert and contains only 200,000 people.  Arabs got the unrest started by desecrating some of these shrines. This led to violent Berber reprisals, especially when images of the damage appeared on the Internet. The government is concerned for several reasons. For one thing there are oil fields are nearby. Worse, the sustained unrest among the Berbers could be the first breeze in an uprising that could engulf the entire country.  The government has seen this ill wind coming for some time. The tensions in Ghardaia continue despite strenuous government efforts to deal with it and more violence is expected, especially before the presidential election on April 17th. Berbers are found throughout North Africa, west of Egypt and down to the semi-desert Sahel (where the closely related Tuareg tribes live). The six million Berbers of Algeria are considered the most abused in the region.

Just across the border in Tunisia a roadside bomb wounded a farmer driving by on a tractor. The tractor was being escorted by an army armored vehicle which was apparently the target. Although twenty Tunisian soldiers and police were killed in 2013 while trying to clear Islamic terrorists out of this border area, things have been a lot quieter so far this year. But that changed today because in addition to the roadside bomb Tunisian warplanes found and bombed an Islamic terrorist camp in the same area where the roadside bombing occurred. Troops later reached the bombed site but found no bodies.

April 10, 2014: Just across the border in Tunisia a roadside bomb went off near an army patrol but caused no injuries.

April 8, 2014: In the south ( Ghardaia) more unrest between Berbers and Arabs left 35 people injured, including 17 policemen.

April 6, 2014: Some 320 kilometers east of the capital (Jijel) police raided an Islamic terrorist hideout and killed a female member of a local terrorist cell. Police seized several weapons, computers and other evidence.

 

 

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