February 18, 2019:
The war against Islamic terrorists continues to wear down the few remaining Islamic terrorist cells and keep them from doing much damage because all their time is consumed by efforts to avoid detection and arrest or death. A more important struggle is with the economy, which has been successful at coping with the collapse of oil prices after 2013. This struggle actually helped the cause of reforming the economy to make it less dependent on oil revenue. So there has been some progress there, but more out of necessity than government enthusiasm. Unemployment is stuck at 12 percent for the last few years and is much higher (nearly 30 percent) with younger Algerians. This is especially true with university trained professionals who have a low unemployment rate but see little opportunity for professional and financial growth because so many professionals are employed by the government. Since most of these doctors, engineers and so on speak French and/or English it is easier for them to get jobs in the West and a growing number are doing just that.
Four several years now China has been the largest supplier of imports, providing $7.9 billion worth (17 percent, by value of the total) in 2018. On the plus side, those goods were generally cheaper than alternatives and helped Algeria cut its trade deficit in half during 2018 (down to $5 billion). The main reason the economy is looking good is the 15 percent rise in oil prices. Yet, despite all that GDP growth for 2018 was only 2.3 percent, not the four percent the government had predicted. In response, the government predicts 2.6 percent GDP growth in 2019. This is progress because in 2017 GDP growth was only 1.4 percent.
The increasing dependence on Chinese imports and departure of Algerian computer specialists is made worse by Algeria ranking as the “least cyber-secure” nation on the planet (Japan was the most secure). This is not a major problem because there is not as much to steal (via the Internet) in Algeria because of the stagnant economy. But it makes Algeria a less attractive place for foreign investment.
With president Bouteflika incapacitated, but running for reelection his much less popular 60 year brother Said and Army chief-of-staff Ahmed Gaid Salah now appear to be in charge and that does not make the government any more acceptable. The younger brother has been a key aide, especially in supervising (and fixing as needed) his older brothers’ election campaigns since the 1990s. Because of that, it is not considered unusual that Said Bouteflika is the one who communicates with his older brother and passes on his instructions, or at least what Said believes are his brothers’ intentions. Efforts of the older brother to appear in public and speak, no matter how briefly, have not worked because the older brother, who turns 82 in March, is not recovering from his strokes.
One of Said’s intentions is apparently to succeed his brother as president, although that seems unlikely as he apparently has pancreatic cancer and has been out of the country more often to get it treated in France. Meanwhile Said has continued to supervise the effort to ensure that all the senior military and police commanders who might oppose the stealthy government takeover by someone in the Bouteflika inner circle are arrested and accused of corruption. For the last six years this slow-motion purge has apparently been supervised by Army chief-of-staff Ahmed Gaid Salah. Said Bouteflika knows who is corrupt because one of his jobs was to see to it that there were no unseemly feuds among senior officials over who got what in corrupt deals. Said Bouteflika never managed to gain enough key supporters, or popular support, to run for high office. Until now he has been content to be the kingmaker. That has changed and it appears Said now sees himself as a prime candidate to succeed his brother. Many believe Said Bouteflika has too many enemies for that, which adds to the unease about how the Bouteflika era will end. Most Algerians would prefer honest government and a lot less corruption but the Bouteflikas would prefer to keep things as they are. That attitude, shared by most, but not all, of those running the country, is the major obstacle to meaningful change in Algeria. Corruption prevents rewarding the most capable people and generating enough economic activity to make Algeria a place most young Algerians would want to live and work. Even if the two Bouteflika brothers die in the next few years, they have many like-minded associates willing to carry on. It should be no surprise why for a long time too many young Algerians either rebelled (at great cost to themselves and Algeria) or emigrate.
Algeria has been making some earnest efforts to reform its economy and government to cope with the long-term loss of oil income but actually changing the culture of corruption is proving difficult. One of the major problems is the government inability to clean up its own massive internal corruption. Despite positive press releases from the government, outside observers cannot see any real progress.
In 2018 Algeria ranked 105 out of 180 nations in a worldwide survey of corruption. That’s up from 112 in 2017. Progress, or lack thereof, can be seen in the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index where countries are measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (usually North Korea/14, Yemen/14, Syria/13, South Sudan/13 and Somalia/10) have a rating of under 15 while of the least corrupt (New Zealand and Denmark) are over 85.
The current Algeria score is 35 (up from 33 in 2017) compared to 17 (17) for Libya, 32 (31) for Mali, 43 (40) for Morocco, 43 (42) for Tunisia, 19 (20) for Chad, 34 (33) for Niger, 35 (32) for Egypt, 70 (71) for the UAE (United Arab Emirates), 62 (64) for Israel, 19 (19) for Angola, 26 (23) for CAR, 26 (26) for Uganda, 56 (55) for Rwanda, 17 (22) for Burundi, 36 (36) for Tanzania and 35 (37) for Zambia, 34 (35) for Ethiopia, 27 (28) for Kenya, 24 (20) for Eritrea, 14 (16) for Yemen, 13 (12) for South Sudan, 16 (16) for Sudan, 61 (61) for Botswana, 72 (75) for the United States, 25 (25) for Cameroon, 40 (39) for Benin, 41 (40) for Ghana, 43 (43) for South Africa, 45 (45) for Senegal, 41 (40) for India, 72 (73) for Japan, 38 (37) for Indonesia, 57 (54) for South Korea, 18 (18) for Iraq, 41 (40) for Turkey, 49 (49) for Saudi Arabia, 28 (28) for Lebanon, 28 (30) for Iran, 16 (15) for Afghanistan, 33 (32) for Pakistan, 28 (29) for Russia and 39 (41) for China.
A lower corruption score is common with nations in economic trouble and problems dealing with Islamic terrorism and crime in general. Algeria’s corruption score has not made much progress lately as it was 34 back in 2012.
The Fading Echoes Of Islamic Terrorism
Islamic terror groups are admitting they are losing the culture wars in North Africa all they can do is issue press releases condemning the unbelievers. The latest AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) Internet announcement decried the decline of “Islamic education” (learning to read Arabic, memorize scripture and not much else) in favor of what the unbelievers learn (a Western education). Meanwhile, Algeria, France and Mali used a secret 2017 amnesty agreement to persuade key AQIM and JNIM (Jamâ’ah Nusrah al Islâm wal Muslimîn, or Group for the support of Islam and Moslems) personnel to surrender. In Mali and neighboring states, most of the Islamic terrorists are not ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and are largely united. While Algeria has few active Islamic terrorists to the south, there are a lot more of them and most of the Islamic terrorist activity is in Mali and the work of JNIM, which was formed in early 2017. In part, this was a reaction to the growing threat from ISIL which is hostile to everyone who is not ISIL and will attack or recruit from the JNIM members AQIM Ansar Dine, FLM and al Mourabitoun (an al Qaeda splinter group). Another reason for the merger was to make it easier to pool resources (including information and advice) and coordinate with other Islamic terror groups in the area. This reduces friction and destructive feuding. Making a coalition like this work is always difficult, especially considering the importance of ethnic differences. The 2017 amnesty program was based on the one Algeria has been using successfully against AQIM, ISIL and other Islamic terrorists in Algeria. One interesting side effect of this is that many Mali Islamic terrorists seeking amnesty crossed the border to do so in Algeria.
February 13, 2019: President Bouteflika (or his handlers) fired the chief of the national police. Since 2013 there have been frequent firings like this. The security forces have a lot of competent commanders and the forced retirements of so many senior commanders provide promotion opportunities for those who appear most loyal (to the ruling families). The security services continue to be effective, making Algeria one of the “safest” (according to international security firms that monitor that sort of thing) in North Africa and the Middle East. Yet, the persistence of pro-reform officers in the security forces is a mixed blessing for the ruling families and a ray of hope for Algerians in general. The need for reform is also necessary to get the most out of being one of the “safest” nations in North Africa.
That designation does not mean being safe from the many corrupt practices that Algerian criminals (and local officials) impose on tourists and commercial visitors. One of the more visible examples of this is how many public beaches have been illegally taken over by criminal gangs that coerce tourists to pay illegal fees to park and be on the beach. Complaining to the police or local government often does not work because bribes are paid to ensure the gangsters are not interfered with. This sort of thing costs Algeria a lot of tourism income and efforts to clean up the corruption that makes it possible is still difficult.
February 10, 2019: President Bouteflika (or his handlers) have finally decided that the ailing (by strokes) 81 year old will run for a fifth term as president. The elections are on April 18th. The handlers said this would not be Bouteflika’s last term and the opposition interpreted that as Bouteflika seeking to be president for life.
February 8, 2019: Neighbor Morocco is withdrawing its forces (six warplanes and ground support personnel) from the Arab coalition force in Yemen because a Saudi TV network recently broadcast a documentary that cast doubt on Morocco claims to the Western Sahara territory that Morocco and Algeria have been feuding about for decades. Algeria tends to ally itself with Iran but tries to maintain good relations with Saudi Arabia as well. Morocco refused to get involved with the feud between Saudi Arabia and Qatar (an Iranian ally).