Algeria: The High Cost Of Cheap Oil

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December 20, 2014: The government faces a major crises because the price of oil had declined 50 percent since 2013 (from $1110 to $55 a barrel). Oil and gas are nearly all (97 percent) of the country's export revenues, and 40 percent of GDP. This oil revenue is an essential tool for keeping an increasingly unhappy population quiet. For example in 2011 the government announced huge (over $200 billion) investment plans for the rest of the decade, to build infrastructure and support job growth. But such promises had been made before, and somehow never panned out. This time the charm offensive was more sustained and extensive. Local officials were ordered to try harder, a lot harder, to do something for the poor and unemployed who come to them for aid. This resulted in a sudden surge of reports from all over the country about how cranky officials had suddenly taken happy pills and undergone amazing transformations. This time the investment plans have largely been fulfilled, at least so far and that had managed to keep a lid on popular discontent. Current government spending plans assume an oil price of $100 a barrel. Some programs can be cut or delayed while some money can be borrowed. But not enough of this will make up for revenue lost when oil stays at $55 a barrel. If that happens, the situation gets dangerous and possibly ugly as the populations suffers more economic privation.

Meanwhile there is the other danger from Islamic terrorists operating just across the borders with Libya, Tunisia, Niger and Mali. Fortunately Tunisia has its Islamic terrorism problem under control and in Libya the current civil war (between Islamic terrorists and everyone who opposes them) has kept the pressure off the Algerian border. The current threat is mainly from the south (Mali and Niger) and that is where the government has deployed the most troops and police to improve border security. The government has made life much more difficult for smugglers along these borders. For example in one recent week on the Niger border police arrested over 150 smugglers (nearly all of them from nations to the south), seized over twenty vehicles along with 210 tons of food, 55,000 liters (13,000 gallons) of fuel and over fifty tons of other goods. Dozens of weapons were also found, but these appeared to be for self-defense not resale. Some smuggler hideouts and storage sites on the Algerian side of the border were also found and seized. What the government is mostly concerned about is Islamic terrorists moving back and forth across the border. But most of the traffic is smugglers of goods and those are taken down as they are encountered.

Then there are the efforts made to deal with the aftereffects of past conflicts. Last month army personnel cleared nearly 3,500 mines along the eastern and western borders. Many of these mines date back to the 1950s and 1960s. The landmine search has been was more stressful than the terrorist sweeps and gets a lot less publicity.  The number of mines cleared each month increased dramatically in 2007 when the French finally turned over the colonial era maps of the minefields. France planted over three million French mines in the late 1950s. The 1,200 kilometers of mine fields were created to make it more difficult for Algerian rebels (against the French colonial government) moving across the Tunisian and Moroccan borders.  Most of those mine fields are in remote areas, and have never been cleared. But each year those tending herds in the border areas are killed or injured by the mines as are their animals. The mines in more traveled areas have been removed soon after Algeria became independent in the 1960s. But now with accurate maps of the mine fields, the mines in remote areas can be cleared. That has been expensive, as the mines are now covered with more sand, or have shifted position because of rain and wind. The mine field maps were never a major issue between the two countries but France never offered to provide them until 2007 when the French army saw an opportunity to improve its relationship with Algeria. Since the 1950s, the French army has been particularly hated by Algerians, because of the rough tactics used during the late 1950s and early 1960s, before France finally left. But over the decades, the hatred has died down. Before 2007 over a hundred Algerians were killed or wounded by these old mines each year. These losses have been greatly reduced since 2007. So far over 750,000 mines have been cleared and the current rate is about 50,000 a year.

December 18, 2014: The government announced continued close cooperation with the United States in efforts to deal with Islamic terrorism. This involves new measures for which details were not released.

December 17, 2014: In neighboring Tunisia Islamic terrorists released a video in which Tunisians loyal to ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) took credit for the murder last year of two secular Tunisian politicians and promised more killings of those who oppose ISIL. .

December 14, 2014: France announced that in the last year its forces had killed nearly 200 Islamic terrorists in Africa. This was carried out by 3,000 French troops deployed in Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad. Most of the French activity is in northern Mali along the Algerian border. France and Algeria also recently announced more cooperation in fighting Islamic terrorism, especially along Algeria’s southern borders.

December 12, 2014: In the southwest (213 kilometers from the capital) Islamic terrorists murdered the mayor of a town. Exactly why the man was killed was not revealed nor were details of the Islamic terrorist connection.

December 11, 2014: The government revealed that they had recently found and killed a second Islamic terrorist involved in the killing of a French tourist last September. In November police revealed that they had identified an Islamic terrorist killed in October as one of those Jund al Khalifa members responsible for the beheading of a French citizen in September. Since early October the government has been seeking fifteen members of Jund al Khalifa, including the group’s leader, for their role in the September kidnapping and videoed beheading of a French tourist. All fifteen of the wanted men are Algerians and most of them veterans of the Islamic terrorism campaign in the 1990s. The government believes the Jund al Khalifa crew are the ones responsible for most of the Islamic terrorist attacks west of the capital in the last few years and now these guys have made themselves hated by most Moslems by taking credit for this grisly murder and aligning themselves with ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) . The government wants Jund al Khalifa found and destroyed and apparently many Algerians agree with that approach.

December 2, 2014: A second batch of seriously wounded Libyans was allowed to cross the border and receive medical treatment. The first batch (of 39) was let in during November. Algeria has allowed thousands of Libyan refugees in as well. Taking the wounded is done in cooperation with Libyan medical organizations. Algeria has sealed itself off from the current civil war in Libya.

December 1, 2014: Just across the border in Tunisia Islamic terrorists kidnapped an off-duty policeman and his brother, who were driving together when halted by the terrorists. The brother was later released but the policeman was beheaded.

November 29, 2014: More ethnic violence (between Berbers and Arabs) broke out down south in the oasis town of Touggourt where two men were killed and twenty wounded during demonstrations (against unemployment, housing shortages and insufficient drinking water) that turned violent. Such violence has been common down here for over a year, but until recently most of it was in the nearby city of Ghardaia. The most recent unrest there was in October, which left two civilians dead and several building burned. Violence last April left two policemen and at least ten civilians injured in Ghardaia. Earlier in 2014 the government sent more than 10,000 additional police to deal with the persistent unrest and that helped keep things quiet. 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 province of Ghardaia is on the edge of the Sahara Desert and contains only 200,000 people. The unrest has been going on since late 2013. Over a hundred people have been arrested and there have been over 400 casualties (including at least 17 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 violently. 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. Nearby Touggourt has a population of about 34,000. 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. Ghardaia Arabs got the recent 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.

 

 

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