Talking About Revolution in Africa

Protest in central Algiers earlier this year. Credit: Tin Hinane El Kadi.

The article we have excerpted here was originally published by the Review of African Political Economy. To see the full article, click here.

To discuss the extraordinary events in Sudan and Algeria that have shaken these countries – and the continent – to the core in recent months, has asked some of our contributors to debate the significance and meaning of these revolutions. Both countries are confronted by a challenge: are the movements pacified in the interests of the local and global ruling classes or do the revolutionary movements successfully take-on and overturn these deep-rooted and brutal states. The contributions below look at the challenges faced by these revolutions  and the possibilities of creating lasting and fundamental transformation.

Revolution and counter-revolution in Algeria

By Tin Hinane El Kadi 

The counter-revolution in Algeria is well on its way. Under mass popular pressure, the army has decided to sacrifice former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to keep the regime alive. Bouteflika’s removal on 2 April represents a significant victory for the popular movement, yet it falls short from fulfilling the people’s central demand of radical regime change. In New York in 1917, while large numbers of Russian migrants in New York celebrated the fall of the Tsar, Leon Trotsky and a few radicals around him, remained skeptical. Genuine transformation in people’s lives was still far away. In Algeria today, the challenge of profound change is elusive.

The regime insists on the need for Algeria to remain in a situation of constitutional legality to avoid ‘state collapse.’ In its attempt to survive, the army, which has historically been a core centre of power, has favoured activating article 102 of the constitution which posits that in case of the president’s incapacity to rule, or in case he resigns, the head of the Senate becomes the head of state for a period of 90 days to organize elections. As such, the regime has announced that presidential elections will take place on 4 July this year. By remaining within the constitutional framework, the regime sacrifices a few figures, but largely maintains power.

The constitutional solutions suggested by the army, headed by General Gaid Saleh, does not seem to satisfy Algerians who have remained mobilized in their millions demanding a complete rupture with the old system. The emblematic slogan of ‘Yetnahaw ga3’ (all of them will be removed) resonates in the streets as strongly as ever. Algerians seem to have learned from their past, and the experiences of neighboring countries and are determined to continue the struggle until meaningful change is achieved. Change that would positively transform the lives of the people who made the revolutionary movement possible.

On the other hand, since Bouteflika stepped down the regime has shown an increased willingness to repress the mobilization. The peaceful demonstrations of 12 April were ruthlessly repressed by the police causing the tragic death of Ramzi Yettou, a 23-year-old protestor. Recent student protests were marked by police brutality and  excessive use of tea-gas. Political activists and human rights lawyers have been arbitrarily arrested for several hours in an attempt to intimidate them. The message from the regime is clear: ‘We have removed Bouteflika, and promised the organization of elections scheduled soon, so now go home.’

While the people’s level of political consciousness and capacity to gather in spectacular numbers is reassuring, the lack of structures able to represent the movement pauses a severe threat for the success of the revolution. Parties, trade unions, local NGOs and associations have for the most part been repressed or co-opted during Bouteflika’s years in power, creating a vacuum in representation. In Tunisia the Tunisian General Labour Union played a crucial role in the transition and in Sudan, the Sudanese Professional Association is currently emerging as a leading force, structuring the movement. However, in Algeria, the movement has so far remained unrepresented. The absence of an organization with the capacity to define the movement’s demands and bargain on its behalf puts the revolutionary movement at high risk. Until some structure emerges, let us hope that this historical mobilization persists and achieves real popular sovereignty, social justice and emancipation.

Tin Hinane El Kadi is a member of Le Collectif des Jeunes Engagés (The Collective of Young Algerian Activists), an Algerian organisation advocating political change and youth involvement in public affairs. Her detailed analysis of Algeria’s revolution on is here.

To read Lee Wengraf and Magdi El Gizouli on Sudan and Heike Becker on continent-wide revolutionary energies, please proceed to the original and full publication here.