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« The Sad and Pathetic End of Obasanjo | Main | Nigerians are a Lot of Things, But Failure we are Not »

January 05, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #1 of 54: Algeria

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji (Seatle, Washington) --- These 54 introductory lectures, each an hour long, offered by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, PhD (UCLA), are meant to give students freshman level acquaintance with African countries. Thereafter, students are encouraged to take the 200 level courses (West Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, South Africa, North Africa, five courses).

Interested students are further encouraged to take the 300 level courses on specific African countries politics, history and economy.
The 400 level courses are deemed professional courses for advanced students. For the 400 level courses, students are expected to write a thesis of no less than one hundred pages on an African country or aspect thereof.
In all courses, to obtain grades, students are required to take an in class mid-term and final examination and to write a take home 20 pages (or more) paper. Of course, students can take the courses for interests only; such students are not given grades and, as such, are not required to take examinations.
(Grades are: 90-100= A; 80-90= B; 70-80= C; 60-70= D and 59 and under =Fail; Grade Point Averages: A= 4, B=3, C=2, D=1 and F= Fail.) This course lasts thirteen weeks, that is, one quarter. Credits: 4 credits
The lectures are in this order: 1. Algeria; 2.Angola; 3.Benin; 4.Botswana; 5. Burkina Faso; 6. Burundi; 7. Cameron; 8.Cape Verde; 9. Central African Republic; 10.Chad; 11.Comoros; 12.Congo; 13.Congo Democratic Republic; 14. Djibouti; 15.Egypt; 16.Equitorial Guinea; 17.Eriteria; 18.Ethiopia; 19.Gabon; 20. Gambia; 21.Ghana; 22. Guinea; 23.Guinea Bissau; 24. Ivory Coast; 25.Kenya; 26.Lesotho; 27.Liberia; 28.Libya; 29.Madagascar; 30.Malawi; 31. Mali; 32. Mauritania; 33. Mauritius; 34.Morocco; 35. Mozambique; 36.Namibia; 37.Niger; 38.Nigeria; 39.Rwanda; 40.Sao Tome and Principe; 41. Senegal; 42. Seychelles; 43. Sierra Leon; 44. Somalia; 45.South Africa; 46.Sudan; 47.Swaziland; 48.Tanzania; 49. Togo; 50.Tunisia; 51. Uganda; 52. Western Sahara; 53. Zambia; 54. Zimbabwe.
Each country’s vital statistics will be offered, followed with a brief introduction to its contemporary politics.
Each lecture notes is about five pages long; the fifty four lectures are about three hundred pages long. (Students can purchase the compiled lecture notes.)
The examinations will be based on the lecture notes and the assigned Textbook, Thomas Pakenham, The Scramble for Africa, 1870-1912. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1990.
Dr Osuji can be reached at (206) 464-9004;


Formal Name: Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria.

Term for Citizens: Algerians.

Capital: Algiers. Population: 2,861,000.

Date of Independence: July 5, 1962, from France.

Major Cities: Oran, El Djazair (Algiers).


Algeria is located in North Africa. It is bordered by Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya and Tunisia. Algeria encompasses a total area of 919,594 square miles, more than four fifth of it is desert. The Mediterranean cost is mountainous and relatively fertile and is the area of most of the population centers of Algeria. The Mid and Southern section of the country is mostly deserting. The coastal regions experience mild Mediterranean climate and mild winters and some rainfall. The desert is hot and arid.


Algeria’s current population is estimated at 31, 800,000; most Algerians live in the urban coastal lowlands.

Ethnic Groups:

Algeria has a mix of Arabs and Berbers. Arabs constitute about 80% of the population.

Languages: Arabic is the official language, with pockets of Berber language. Most educated Algerians, however, also speak French.

Religion: 99% of Algerians are Sunni Muslims. Christians constitute less than 1% of the population.

Education: Education is free at all levels, including compulsory free elementary education. Literacy rate is estimated at 70%.


The economy is mixed with the state playing a greater role in it. Agriculture accounts for less than 10% of the GDP. GDP estimate: $167 billion; Per Capita: $5, 300. Monetary unit: Dinar.

History and Government:

During the 19th century, France occupied what is now called Algeria and encouraged French persons to settle in it and displace local Arab and Berber population. Thus, a substantial French population settled in Algeria. The French took over Algeria’s choice real estate and pushed the locals to the country’s arid regions. Algeria was considered a department (administrative district) of France itself and ruled as if it was part of France. The local population resented been controlled by foreigners and the result was a war of independence against France. That war led to the toppling of the French government in Paris in 1958, and the return to power of Charles De Gaul and the formation of the fifth French Constitution/Republic. The victorious Arabs achieved their independence in 1962, and formed a government. The government is based on the French model, a strong presidential system, many political parties and separation of religion from state activities. However, fundamentalist Islamic elements strive for theocracy and law based on Sharia (Islamic law). This produces a situation where the secular government is afraid of democratic elections least the Islamic majority wins and imposes its theocracy on society. Indeed, the government has had to annul an election reportedly won by fundamentalist Muslims. There is tension between the religious and secular elements in society and this tends to lead to repression of extreme religious activities, out of fear of dragging the country to fundamentalist lines. Algeria is currently divided into 48 regions for administrative purposes. The elected president governs through a prime minister, who is in charge of the day-to-day affairs of government.


In 1834, France annexed Algeria and encouraged its citizens to emigrate and settle in Algeria. These immigrants displaced native Arabs and Berbers. As would be expected, this colonization policy did not sit well with the native population hence skirmishes ensued between them and the French occupiers. In 1945, pro independence demonstrations erupted throughout Algeria. Several thousand Algerians were killed. As a result, Algerians in exile formed the Front de Liberation Nationale, FLN and subsequently initiated a pro independence war. The Algerian nationalist, Ben Bella, led this war. In 1958, Charles de Gaulle came to power in France and promised to end the war in Algeria. In 1959 president De Gaulle released Ben Bella from prison. In 1962 Algeria was given independence by France. It is reported that over 100, 000 Frenchmen and 1,000,000 Algerians lost their lives during the Algerian war for independence.
In 1962 Ben Bella became the first native president of Algeria. In 1965 Houari Boumedienne sized power and placed Ben Bella under house arrest for fifteen years. In 1978, Boumedienne died in office and was replaced by Benjedid Chadly as President of Algeria.
Algeria is composed of Arabs and Berbers. Arabs are the majority and rule the country. The Berbers erupted in protestation of Arab rule in 1980. This revolt is still going on, as sporadic anti government rallies.
FLN has consistently ruled Algeria from independence to the present. Although it fought with France for independence, the FLN has tilted towards France and is secular in its orientation. The Arab population is mainly Sunni Moslem.
Aware that a free democratic election might result in victory for Islamic parties, the secular FLN resisted free and fair elections. In 1990, the ruling FLN tolerated a free election and the Front Islamique du Salut, FIS, apparently won the election. Afraid of Islamic theocracy, the Algerian Army cancelled the result of that election. This resulted in the Islamic elements forming an armed band, Group Islamique Arme, GIA, and resorting to armed struggle. A civil war ensued in Algeria. That civil war is still, in one form or another, going on. Over 150, 000 persons reportedly have been killed, so far in that civil war.
In 1994, the Algerian Army tried to extricate itself from government by appointing Liamine Zeroual as the president. In 1996, Zeroual outlawed religious parties from future elections and in 1999 held an election, an election where religious parties were barred from participating. Abdelaziz Bouteflika was elected the president. Election improprieties were alleged. Bouteflika won reelection in 2002, an election boycotted by opposition parties.
One party, FLN has essentially ruled Algeria since its independence from France in 1962. This party is secular and fears free democratic elections for it believes that in such elections fundamentalist Islamicists would win and proceed to transform the country into an Islamic theocracy. To avoid this happenstance, FLN is said to have either rigged elections or out rightly prevented religious parties from contesting elections.
On paper, Algeria has many political parties and, as such, would seem a democracy. There is Algeria National Front, Democratic National Rally, Islamic Salvation Front, and Society for Peace Movement, and many other political parties. Many pressure groups seem to exist, particularly religious interest groups, such as the FIS.
The political parties and interest groups exercise influence on Algeria’s bicameral Parliament (National People’s Assembly or Al- Majilis 389 members, and the Senate, 144 members; members of the Al Majilis serve five years and members of the Senate serve six years. The Senate is partly elected and partly appointed by the President.)
Law making seems democratic, that is, Bills are introduced, debated and voted on and must pass the two Houses and go to the President for approval or vetoing. In reality, it seems that Bills that make it to the President are those that serve the secular goals of the ruling party and its military supporters.
The struggle between the secular rulers and the Islamicists appear inevitable in Algeria and other Arab countries. It would seem that free and fair election would favor Islamicists since they appear to be in the majority in the population. Democrats would seem to like such free elections. On the other hand, given the theocratic nature of fundamentalist Islam, it follows that it could impose Sharia and other non-democratic ideas of governance on the country and thus eliminating the very democratic process that brought it to power. In this prickly situation, it seems that the West tacitly permits the secular rulers of Algeria to stay in power through antidemocratic means.
The Algerian economy is heavily dependent on hydrocarbon; hydrocarbon accounting for over 60% of the national budget, 30% GDP and over 95% of export revenues. Algeria has the seventh largest Gas reserve in the world and ranks second in exporting Gas. It ranks 14th in oil reserves.
Given the recent (2005) sky rocking of oil prices, Algeria is making substantial revenue from oil and is running trade surpluses. But despite this substantial revenue from oil, Algeria has a large population of poor persons. Many of these poor Algerian find their way to France and constitute a large percentage of the Moslem population in France.
Algeria’s international politics is generally limited to Arab issues. It supports the exiled Sahrawi Polisario Front in its struggle with Morocco. Morocco claims right to Western Sahara and the Polisario fights for independence of that country.
Over 165, 000 Western Saharans, Sahrawi Arabs, who have chosen not to live in Morocco administered Western Sahara, live in Southern Algeria towns like Tindouf, as refugees.
Algeria and Morocco have border claim issues. Algeria also has border disputes with Libya; the disputed lands with Libya contain substantial oil.
Armed robbers operating in the Sahara Desert sometimes make incursions into Southern Algeria and destabilize its towns. The Algerian Army is kept busy chasing these bandits out of Algerian Sahel territories.
It is clear that the rulers of Algeria have democratic impulse but is afraid of the consequences of a free and fair election, Islamicists control of the country. The rulers, mostly Arabs, are also afraid of the demands of the minority Berber population for that could lead to the bifurcation of the country. These fears appear to leave them little choice but to resort to undemocratic means in trying to be democratic and preserve their territorial integrity. There seem no easy and apparent solution to this dilemma at this time. Uneasy peace seems to exist in Algeria, peace that is likely to be disturbed at any time.

Ozodi Thomas Osuji, PhD
Weekly Lectures on African Countries

Posted by Administrator at January 5, 2006 01:08 PM


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