Though Abdulaziz Bouteflika was not a democrat, he nonetheless represented the last few remaining nationalist leaders of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FNL) that defeated the French army in the Algerian Revolution.
He contributed to Africa’s renewal such as transforming the Organisation of African Unity to the AU and the establishment of key African institutions.
Mentioning Algeria evokes pride in Africans. During colonialism and apartheid, the Algerian Revolution embodied an ideal response to oppression. In their books, Long Walk to Freedom and The Wretched of the Earth, Nelson Mandela and Frantz Fanon respectively, wrote fondly of Algeria as the symbol of liberation.
The Algerian Revolution fought between France and the FNL from 1954 to 1962 was seen by Mandela and Fanon as the heroic spirit of Africans to fight for freedom, equality and dignity in the face of white supremacism. The Algerian Revolution provided a template for fighting colonial oppression.
Why then is such a gigantic repository of African liberation careering towards an ignominious end? What will be the impact of the Algerian political and economic crisis for Africa and Europe? What lessons, if any, does the Algerian crisis teach nationalist movements?
The fear in the US, Europe and Africa is that Bouteflika’s fall might trigger a civil war. There are signals of elite fracture, that is in opposition to the rule of a dictator without any plan or unity of purpose among the opposition parties. The Algerian elite’s failure to agree on a leader and development plan could open the country to negative forces, namely terrorists and foreign powers, as was the case in Libya.
The impact of such a scenario will be felt across Africa. It will worsen the terrorists’ activities in North and West Africa. The crisis will add a significant number of migrants to Europe.
The situation provides us with several lessons for nationalist movements. Bouteflika’s fall is a consequence of inept leadership and, like the recent fall of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, has shown the dismal failure by nationalist movements in Africa to mobilise their people towards a national development.
While nationalists draw legitimacy from their heroic roles in the liberation from colonialism and apartheid, as governing movements they should adapt to their changed responsibilities. Economically, for example, Algeria remains dependent on the oil and gas sector and the dangers of such economic myopia has been exposed by the reduction of revenue for Sonatrach, the state-owned energy enterprise from $76billion in 2008 to $33.3bn in 2017. It does not help that 30% of Algeria’s GDP is from the oil and gas sector.
The leadership failed to expand freedoms to the populace. Fanon observed that the nationalist leaders tended to lose sight of ideals of freedom the moment they seized power. Thus, post-colonial leaderships fell short of being revolutions; they were replacements of the colonial personnel but left the oppressive edifice largely intact.
This was the case in Zimbabwe. Post-colonial leaderships failed to imagine innovative ways to open new frontiers of economic development in education, health, rural development and the expansion of infrastructure beyond that left by the colonialists.
The regimes invested heavily in state security instead of their people, the results of which we have in Algeria – the catastrophic fall of the once gigantic symbol of African nationalism.
* Monyae is the co-director of the University Of Johannesburg Confucius Institute.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.