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Algeria Poses a Serious Economic Challenge to Future Government

Besides the popular uprising at home, the current rulers must also keep an eye on regional hotspots, including neighboring Libya

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politics, africa, algeria
A protester chants slogans during a demonstration against Algeria's leadership, in Algiers, April 12, 2019. VOA

The tens of thousands of protesters who have taken to the streets for an eighth straight week aren’t the only crisis roiling Algeria. Helping to drive the unrest in Africa’s largest nation—and posing a serious challenge to any future government— is the economy.

Two months of mass demonstrations continued Friday, as Algerians pushed for a broader overhaul of the country’s system, despite elections set for July 4 by newly appointed interim leader, Abdelkader Bensalah. The protests have been largely peaceful, although there were some clashes reported this time along with scores of arrests, and police used water cannons and teargas in the capital Algiers.

“Bensalah, clear off, FLN clear off,” protesters chanted, referring to Algeria’s ruling party.

But many are also calling for a fundamental reboot of the country’s ailing, energy dependent economy that has failed to diversify and deliver jobs to its majority-young population. The unrest, in turn, is adding to Algeria’s economic headaches, analysts say.

“The economy is not in good shape,” said Paris-based Algerian analyst Alexandre Kateb. “The protests are the last straw, but the economic problems go deeper than that.”

algeria, politics
Tens of thousands of Algerians are seen gathered for a demonstration against the country’s leadership, in Algiers, April 12, 2019. VOA

Critics have long accused a power elite surrounding former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika of mismanagement and corruption, arguing a large chunk of the wealth is pocketed by a privileged minority. But for years, Algeria’s oil- and gas-rich economy served as a salve for a restless nation, helping to bankroll housing and other social subsidies.

It may be one explanation, some say—along with the country’s devastating 1990s civil war—why the broader Arab Spring uprising of 2011 failed to take off in Algeria.

Falling oil prices

But plummeting oil prices several years later helped to thin wallets and sharpen grassroots anger. Today, more than one-quarter of people under 25 are unemployed, and many Algerians work in the country’s vast informal sector. Successive governments have failed to privatize and capitalize on promising sectors for development such as tourism and agro-industry.

Earlier this week, the International Monetary Fund downgraded the country’s 2019 forecasted growth to 2.3 percent, from a previous 2.7 percent last October.

“The main motivation is still political,” analyst Kateb said of the protests. “But if the economic situation was better, probably the momentum would be less important. We would not have seen the magnitude of the protests that we see now.”

In the immediate future, Algeria’s economic woes may take a back seat. Besides the popular uprising at home, the current rulers must also keep an eye on regional hotspots, including neighboring Libya.

“From an interim government perspective, it’s just about maintaining stability and avoiding any real crisis beyond where we are at the moment,” said Adel Hamaizia, a North Africa expert for London-based think-tank Chatham House.

Algeria, politics
Young people chant slogans during an anti-government demonstration in Algiers, Algeria, April 10, 2019. VOA

“But whoever comes in really has to finally lead an ambitious economic program,” he added, “which helps Algeria realize its potential, develop an independent private sector, diversify, and attract investment on the correct terms.”

Those challenges are daunting. The ruling National Liberation Front or FLN party, in power since independence, has had little incentive to change a status quo that benefited them, many analysts say. Algeria’s business climate has been a turn-off for foreign investors. A case in point: a rule stipulating 51 percent of company shares must be owned by in-country nationals or businesses.

Although energy production continued to chug on during Algeria’s so called “black decade” of violence in the 1990s, further growth stalled. When he came to power in 1999, Bouteflika was credited for ushering in peace. At the beginning, analyst Kateb said, the former president also tried to reform the economy.

“I think he really wanted to give more freedom to entrepreneurs, he really tried to privatize the system,” Kateb said, adding subsequent financial scandals and the global financial crisis ended hope for change.

Inertia and bureaucracy

Kateb, who later served as an economic advisor to ex-prime minister Abelmalek Sellal, said subsequent reform efforts also stalled.

“If you don’t change the whole functioning of the system,” he said, “whatever you do at the margins will be completely absorbed by this inertia and black hole of government bureaucracy.”

algeria, politics
An elderly woman confronts security forces during an anti-government demonstration in Algiers, Algeria, April 10, 2019. VOA

If July elections go through as planned, Algerians will be strongly pushing for economic deliverables.

“I’m sure the many of the slogans are going to be centered around anti-corruption, inclusive growth, economic justice, diversification, and job creation,” said Hamaizia of Chatham House.

For the moment, there appear few clear candidates to champion such causes. Both the country’s ruling FLN and traditional opposition parties are largely discredited in the eyes of many Algerians.

Earlier this week, however, the interior ministry announced licenses for 10 new political parties, Reuters news agency reported, citing Algeria’s Ennahar TV channel.

Analyst Kateb believes the country needs a technocratic government to steer through needed changes, at least over the next few years.

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He believes there is no lack of talent to staff it, both in Algeria and abroad, where thousands of young professionals have flocked in recent decades for lack of opportunities at home.

“Now they’re not really considered,” Kateb said, “and this has to change.” (VOA)

Next Story

Big Business and Politics Mass-Mining Everyday Data from Facebook Likes to Online Subscriptions

There are people out there who are trying to figure out how you think

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netflix
FILE - The Netflix logo is seen on their office in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California. VOA

Big business and politics are mass-mining everyday data — from Facebook ‘likes’ to online subscriptions – for profit and power, according to a Netflix documentary released on Wednesday.

“The Great Hack” says personal data has surpassed oil as the world’s most valuable asset, and warns viewers that companies and governments are hacking into way more than computers.

“There are people out there who are trying to figure out how you think. If you don’t understand how you think, they will think for you,” said directors Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim. “It’s not just our computers that have been hacked, it’s our minds,” they said in a statement.

The two-hour documentary — showing on the Netflix streaming video platform — examines the state of privacy in the United States and Europe, where people spend much of their time online, volunteering countless nuggets of exploitable information.

Business, Politics, Data
Big business and politics are mass-mining everyday data — from Facebook ‘likes’ to online subscriptions – for profit and power, according to a Netflix documentary released. Pixabay

It centers on the Cambridge Analytica affair, which saw an international consultancy target undecided voters in the Brexit referendum and 2016 U.S. election, partly using Facebook data.

Facebook Inc agreed on Wednesday to pay a $100 million fine to settle charges by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it misled investors about the misuse of its users’ data related to Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook did not admit or deny wrongdoing in agreeing to settle.

“Social media companies harvest millions of people’s personal data and sell it to the highest bidder. Personal data is being used on a mass scale to manipulate and influence people,” said Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, a British civil liberties group.

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“Data-driven manipulation of populations is not only the reserve of shady start-ups, disturbingly, it is becoming the modus operandi in modern politics.”

Directors Amer and Noujaim first came to prominence for their Academy Award nominated film “The Square,” which looked at social media as a catalyst for the 2011 Egyptian uprisings.

“We ultimately made a film about whether we have free will. It’s about democracy and it’s about complicity,” they said of their latest documentary. “These are arguably the most important questions of our time.” (VOA)