Algeria: 49 years of independence and nothing to show for
By: La Septieme Wilaya
In a few days, Algeria will celebrate 49 years of independence. Yes, almost fifty years have passed since the Algeria gained its independence through the sacrifices of millions of brave men and women. However, in times like these, instead of celebrating, we need to look back and coldly assess the positives and the negatives; to see how far we have come and what we have accomplished as a country; to ask what have we done in this half-century of independence? And the assessment of our accomplishments leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth; it leaves me quite depressed. Since 1962, Algeria has accomplished very little. Not only have we accomplished very little, we have also regressed as a country and people on several areas.
Economically, Algeria is more dependent today on its oil rent than it has ever been in the past. Our economy is highly dependent on oil and natural gas exports—i.e., mineral resources rent. According to the World Bank and IMF data, it is estimated that rent from mineral resources accounts for roughly 60% of the budget revenues, 30% of the GDP, and over 95% of the export earnings. Moreover, Algeria’s food exports went from close to 20 % of total exports in 1968 to 0% of total exports in 2008-10, whereas our food imports fluctuate from 20% of total imports in 1970s to more than 35% in the 1990 and more than 38% in 2008-10. Briefly stated, since 1962, our agricultural policy has been an abysmal failure. Not only Algeria does not export any processed or raw food, but its domestic food safety is also highly dependent on foreign imports, shifts in the international markets of agricultural commodities, and on the availability of currency reserves. For more than 50 years, the Algerian government has been incapable of putting in place an efficient and sustaibable policy to increase agricultural domestic production and provide a minimal food safety for the population who still today lives at the monthly rhythms of food shortages.
The economic picture of manufacturing in Algeria is even worse. Algeria’s manufactures imports represent anywhere from 75% to 80% of its total imports. According to the World Bank and IMF data, its imports of manufactured goods and services in 2008 were close to $32.2 billions out of an annual GDP close to $140 billion. This means that more than 23% of Algeria’s 2008 GDP and more than 22% of its 2008 budget were spent on the imports of manufactured goods and services. What is wrong with this picture? This picture tells us that Algeria produces next to nothing, exports next to nothing (mineral resources notwithstanding), and imports almost everything.
These trends of a poor manufacturing base and a poor agricultural production have been consistent since the late 1960s. Our country is completely and totally dependent on foreign imports and on the fluctuations of international currency and oil prices. The country went through the so-called agricultural and industrial revolutions of the 1970s, and the results were disastrously negative. Then it went through the market-oriented reforms of the 1980s, and again the results were disastrously sterile. Since the end of the civil war in late 1990s, new reforms were introduced to spur some kind of domestic growth in manufacturing and agricultural outputs, and the results are still disastrously poor.
In the words of my former economics professor, “Algeria is the country of unsolvable everlasting problems.” Not because the problems are hard to solve, but because there is too much corruption, ambiguous policies, inadequate institutions, total opacity of the political system, a medieval banking system, and a flagrant and criminal lack of accountability. Algeria had a demographic boom post-independence. Every country that gains its independence has experienced some kind of a demographic boom with different magnitude. Thus, the Algerian demographic boom was a normal boom, and it should have been expected by our leaders. However, nothing was prepared and done to accommodate that boom; to accommodate the upcoming generations. Nothing. Most of the country infrastructure–inherited from the colonial era–has been put under a tremendous stress to a breaking point: schools are overcrowded; classes are overpopulated; neighborhoods are crumbling; hospitals are overcrowded and crumbling; universities are inadequately built and designed, and so on. The results, well we all know the results: chronic water shortages, chronic transportation shortages, chronic housing crisis, chronic under-performing schools, and a chronically high unemployment rate. You add to this already explosive brew our universities that rank last in Africa, a rise in criminality and violence, a society that is lost between tradition, religion, market economy, and an endemic corruption, and you have the recipe for an unbelievably angry society ready to explode at any moment. This is just a glimpse into a few problems that have been squeezing the living forces out of the Algerian people. These are the results of incompetent policies established by incompetent and corrupt politicians who have amateurishly led and run the country into the ground for the last 50 years.
Nothing can be hoped for from this bunch of politicians. Although Algeria has 150 billion USD in foreign currency reserves and a large stabilization fund, high corruption, bureaucracy, incompetence, clientelism, and patronage are hindering the growth rates, structural reforms, diversification of the economy, and slowly strangling and corrupting the people at the same time. Only a clean and surgical break from these bunch of kleptocrats could put Algeria on the right path of growth and prosperity again.
 Food comprises the commodities in SITC sections 0, 1, 4, and 22 such as processed food and live animals, beverages and tobacco, animal and vegetable oils and fats, and seeds, oil seeds, oil nuts, and oil kernels