Rich But Poor – Algerian Life Under the War Shadow

If your country sucks, and the president has been in power for fifteen years, would you like it to change? In Algeria, people are “afraid of change,” and sadly, they are not able to change eitherthis is according to Nour Sami, an Algerian now living in Prague. He shared his perspective with Sensa Nostra about what is happening in his homeland after the civil war, and the influence it has had on the nation over the past decade.

It was all about the civil war.

In 1991, when I was seven, the Algerian civil war broke out, and it lasted ten years. In my mind, I can still clearly hear the sounds of bombs and bullets flying from my childhood—at which time we couldn’t go out from 5 p.m. till 6 a.m., otherwise we could get shot. Over 200 000 people were killed during the war, including my aunt. She was killed by the ‘terrorists’: the Front Islamique du Salut (Islamic Salvation Front), who won the election that year. However, the army claimed that democracy would be ruined by the Front Islamique du Salut because of their religion, so they started the war.

A few years later, I asked myself a question: “Who were the real terrorists?” We were lost in the war. We were brainwashed by the government, and didn’t realize that the army were the real terrorists, because they didn’t respect the choice of the people, even if they thought things would go wrong. This was not democracy.

Now, president Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been in power for fifteen years, and the country has remained stable. Bouteflika will keep his position for five more years. He just won the election, and under his rule, Algeria has become one of the richest countries in the world due to oil and gas. We can say that everything is going well, but under this splendid mask, the country is still stuck in dark times.

Corruption has spiraled out of control. Bribery is everywhere: for jobs, for schools, to get a licence, to see a doctor, or to appease the police. Everywhere. The law, which should be the most holy rule, is also part of the corruption. If someone is rich, nobody can touch them. They break the law and they pay, then it is made to look like nothing happened.

This is not real democracy! People think it is, but its not. I can say whatever I want, but unfortunately, not in the media. The media is controlled by the state—even the private media. The government decides what should be published and what should not. The media want to survive, so they have to listen. For example, three years ago the minister of the energy department stole about 300 million dollars from the government, and I saw the news in the foreign media. In Algeria, no media was reporting on him! They couldn’t.

Even if you want to invest in a valuable business venture that would benefit society, the government will come and ask you to work with them. They don’t let you work individually. If you are against them, they make trouble with your bank account, documents, taxes, and so on. Therefore, people who want to earn money have to cooperate with the government, which means being a good, well-behaved child.

It happened to me few years ago. I met a guy in the Czech Republic, and we wanted to return to Algeria to start a business offering high-speed Internet connections, but the government stopped us. They said it was not permitted to have a private Internet company in Algeria. What the fuck? The Internet situation here is the worst in the world, with speeds of only about one or two megabytes per second; slow enough for the government to control all information going in and out of the country. People can’t reach the world, let alone start a revolution.

After this happened, I decided to move to the Czech Republic. I was fed up.

Back in 2003 when I finished dental school, I went to the Czech Republic as a tourist and studied the Czech language. When I first arrived, I was more than shocked. It was such a poor country compared to Algeria, but they were much more developed than us. In my eyes, they were human in their soul, instead of dolls controlled by the state apparatus. What impressed me were not only significant issues but small things, like their respect for punctuality. My experience taught me to be desperate waiting for official documents. For example, in Algeria it would take four months to get a passport, but not in the Czech Republic. They won’t tell you to come tomorrow one hundred times in a row like Algerian officers do. The infrastructure, public transportation, and industry were also all much better than in Algeria.

I was so jealous! But at the same time I was thinking, “Why is Algeria so rich, but still in the third world?”

One month ago, the newspaper wrote that Algeria spent 600 billion dollars during fifteen years, which is a huge amount. But nothing changed. Nothing is managed well, the buildings are unsafe, the roads are battered and the administration has no efficiency. I don’t know what they spent money on? Maybe it went to powerful people’s pockets. Many government officers are outside the country at the moment, in Switzerland, in the US, anywhere other than Algeria… They are enjoying their lives and ignoring their people.

Since I got older, I gradually realized that it is the Algerian government that makes life intensely difficult for the Algerian people, to keep them focused on struggling to make money, to get a car, to get married, or to get official documents. Everybody is focused on their own lives, and that’s it. No one has any energy left to focus on how to make the state work better.

I would like my country to move in the right direction, but people are scared of change, even though 70 to 80% of the population are young people. In elections, the government has not only created a ‘fake opposition’ to make people believe there is democracy, but also threatened voters by saying that if they lost, the civil war would start again. The government knows what people want: peace. I totally understand, because at the time of the civil war, when I walked through the streets, dead bodies were always around me. Sometimes they were only heads. That memory haunts my life.

However, I don’t think the civil war would start again easily, because the war was actually created by this government. How can it be possible that the civil war ended only three months after the president intervened? It was them who started the war, and stopped it. The government made people rely on them by scaring them, and then “made life safer for them again.” That was how they could stay in power for twenty years.

That is why I moved to Prague and rarely go back. It has already been nine years. I have a new life there. It’s a bit sad, because I really love Algeria’s traditions and culture, but not Algerian life. At heart, I would like to stay in my country and earn tons of money, spending time with my friends and family. But I can’t. I don’t want to lose my freedom, even if I could make a lot of money in Algeria. Democracy is more important to me than money—more important than anything.

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