] ] Boute­flika and a legacy for Africa

Daily Trust - - VIEWS -

The re-elec­tion of Ab­delaziz Boute­flika to a fourth term in of­fice was widely an­tic­i­pated due to the en­trenched reach of the po­lit­i­cal ma­chine which nom­i­nated him as its can­di­date. The Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Front, FLN, fought a pro­longed and bru­tal war against France from 1952 to 1962. Over one mil­lion Al­ge­rian died.

Houari Boume­di­ene’s 15 years rule sus­tained a cul­ture of in­ten­sive use of in­tel­li­gence to an­chor daily ad­min­is­tra­tion and sur­vival in­her­ited from the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle. His “left wing’’ group in the rul­ing FLN adopted state so­cial­ism as its goal, thereby, spread­ing con­trol by the party over eco­nomic in­sti­tu­tions. Con­trol of power at the top of FLN guar­an­teed win­ning elec­tions. On 12th Novem­ber, 2008, Boute­flika’s group suc­ceeded in amend­ing the con­sti­tu­tion to end a twoterm limit for the pres­i­dency af­ter 2009. The view that the 2009 elec­tion was ‘’care­fully chore­ographed’’ seems plau­si­ble; while as­ser­tions that of­fi­cial turnout was raised by ‘’at least 45 per cent’’ were prob­a­bly lav­ish.

The de­cline in Boute­flika’s vote tally from 90 per cent in 1999 to 81 in 2014 - while turnout fell from 75 per cent in 2009 to 52 per cent in 2014 - in­di­cated a hint of that malaise in African pol­i­tics, namely: a grow­ing con­test be­tween rulers; their poli­cies, and life­styles, against le­git­i­macy in the eyes of the people. The people had spo­ken in 1992 through mas­sive sup­port for can­di­dates of the Is­lamic Sal­va­tion Front – a group whose re­sort to re­li­gious in­junc­tions had been nur­tured by Pres­i­dent Chadli Bend­je­did while he re­versed State So­cial­ism af­ter 1978. An abrupt and pan­icky can­cel­la­tion of the 1992 elec­tions by the army sparked a civil war which killed 200,000 people. A seed of Al-Qaeda was born. It killed 14 soldiers one day af­ter Boute­flika’s 2014 vic­tory.

In 1992, the prob­lem of gov­ern­ing Al­ge­ria was not longevity in power but that of fail­ure to over­come the French-set­tler cul­ture of us­ing po­lit­i­cal power to mo­nop­o­lise eco­nomic ben­e­fits by a mi­nor­ity. Un­like Cuba where a deep ide­o­log­i­cal and moral as­ceti­cism sus­tained com­mit­ment to people-fo­cused eco­nomic pro­grammes, the lead­er­ship of the FLN stum­bled in favour of serv­ing them­selves af­ter a ‘’right wing’’ group – to which Boute­flika be­longs – as­sumed dom­i­nance.

In those African coun­tries where power was not won through a lib­er­a­tion war, only Tan­za­nia es­caped the bur­den of por­ous lead­ers eas­ily eroded by eth­nic, re­li­gious strings and bribery by for­eign in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tives. The colo­nial virus by which only Euro­pean fel­low tribes­men of colo­nial rulers ‘’ate from power’’in ut­ter in­dif­fer­ence to the im­pov­er­ish­ment of the ma­jor­ity Africans – drowned the first gen­er­a­tion of in­de­pen­dence rulers. Mil­i­tary coups pro­moted by Cold War eco­nom­ics; in­her­i­tors of Europe’s ‘ real pol­i­tick’ and diplo­matic racism, of­ten in­jected blood­shed into power strug­gles.

It is not clear if this phe­nom­e­non urged FNL to cre­ate a scheme for train­ing cur­rent and fu­ture lead­ers. Kwame Nkrumah and Mwal­imu Ny­erere built such struc­tures, with Ny­erere achiev­ing greater suc­cess in con­duct­ing con­stant train­ing of party of­fi­cials un­der TANU’s ‘’Lead­er­ship Code’’. It barred lead­ers from own­ing houses for rent; buy­ing shares in busi­ness en­ter­prises; and own­ing landed property, etc. It was dif­fi­cult to up­hold in the face of a cul­ture of ‘’it is our turn to eat’’ ram­pant in neigh­bour­ing Kenya; and in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tives from racist regimes in South­ern Africa and NATO who de­tested Ny­erere’s stub­born sup­port for lib­er­a­tion move­ments against apartheid and racist rule. The scheme never crossed Tan­za­nia’s borders.

Tan­za­nia lacked the hu­man, fi­nan­cial and tech­no­log­i­cal re­sources to un­der­take map­ping fu­ture change across Africa; let alone mea­sures for en­gi­neer­ing both de­fen­sive and pro­mo­tional change. A failed mil­i­tary coup of 1964 en­abled it to dis­band the colo­nial army and re­cruit only TANU mem­bers. Sub­se­quently, the mil­i­tary could vote among them­selves for their rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the na­tional par­lia­ment. It is not clear if TANU and FLN ever con­ducted such joint po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing.

The dis­as­trous col­lapse of po­lit­i­cal man­age­ment in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo de­spite its strate­gic lo­ca­tion in Africa and what Nzon­gola-Nta­laja calls the “scan­dal’’ of abun­dant nat­u­ral re­sources in it, was para­dox­i­cal. De­spite be­ing a di­rect neigh­bour of Tan­za­nia -which hosted the African Lib­er­a­tion Com­mit­tee - Ny­erere fo­cused on fight­ing racism in the south rather than Mobutu’s mega­lo­ma­nia and cor­rup­tion next door. Che Gue­vara’s brief war in East­ern Congo to de­pose Mobutu may have en­joyed TANU’s bless­ing. The OAU’s Lib­er­a­tion Com­mit­tee lacked a man­date to lib­er­ate Africa from failed gov­er­nance; and ca­pac­ity for map­ping out con­flict-preven­tion diplo­macy.

Con­flict res­o­lu­tion came to mark Boute­flika’s ca­reer. Af­ter ex­clu­sion from in­ner cir­cles of power af­ter 1978, he would be re­called in 1994 by the mil­i­tary to as­sume the pres­i­dency. The FLN was fac­ing a bru­tal chal­lenge by the Is­lamists. On be­ing elected in 1999, he pi­o­neered a road to in­ter­nal peace. In 2000 he won peace be­tween war­ring Ethiopia and Eritrea – led by Ze­nawe and Afew­erki, who prob­a­bly re­ceived in­spi­ra­tion from Al­ge­ria’s lib­er­a­tion war against a pow­er­ful NATO.

I first met Boute­flika’s name in 1972 in­side the New York of­fice of a diplo­mat tak­ing up a United Na­tions job in Geneva. It would save him from death if he obeyed an or­der to re­port at the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs in Kam­pala. It was a re­ward for match­ing the depth of dis­ci­pline shown by Al­ge­rian and Cuban diplo­mats. Al­ge­ria has, how­ever, not yet es­tab­lished an in­sti­tute for train­ing ‘ Lib­er­a­tion panAfrican diplo­macy’.

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