It is traditional at this time of year to submit some sort of post of prognostication for the following year. Most bloggers have learned to keep these suitably loose and vague so that it will not become some type of literary hostage to fortune.
Not so the Oligarch Kings! Pundits have had a bad time in 2016 but no! Oh no indeed, this year we will make a prediction! So brace yourselves.
And seriously, this is the big one.
Now, for our American readers, the real hot spot in world terms during 2017 politically, is without doubt going to be Europe. In America Trumpy – poo will be bedding in so beyond a lot of liberals grumbling there should be no great surprises in store. In the Middle East – Russia and Turkey are slowly dealing with Syria, so that will simply rumble on going nowhere fast. It is to Europe that attention must be paid. 2017 is the annus mirabilus here, because elections will run from France to Germany and Holland as I discussed here This is of especial interest to the USA who need for a focussed Europe next year, so any incidents that might push Europe off course are of concern. At the very least this prediction should be interesting.
The guy seen above is Abdelaziz Boutetlika, the President of Algeria, the largest country in Africa by size, but by population and GDP a small, but not hugely well off country in the Maghreb of North Africa, on the southern shores of the Mediterranean. And clearly, as you can see, Abby is not a well man. This is obvious even in the photo. I mean, look -what is staring back at us is the brain-dead gaze of a stroke victim unable to feed himself or go to the toilet unaided. This is not an effective President. The poor old bugger simply cannot be believed to be in any real control. Since his stroke the elite pump him full of medication and have the old guy wheeled out, about once a year, simply to prove he is still alive so they can try to keep the ship stable. But it cannot last. There is no plan B. Here is an old man now 80 who took a stroke back in 2013 and has been rendered utterly useless by its effects. As is so usual with the Strongman school of rule Boutetlika has no effective succession plan. His sons and cronies argue over a still living corpse. When he goes there will be Civil War.
He disappears every so often to a clinic in France for treatment but was recently sent back home. Sent home many believe to die.
OK, it’s all very sad, but how does that interest us?
Algeria is a tinderbox. Years of rule by an autocratic strongman have left an electorate champing at the bit for reform, for change, for an end to corruption, cronyism, financial fiddling, incompetence and a lack of investment. Bouteflika is surrounded by a sea of troubles. In the past Bouteflika’s answer to these demands has been to throw money at the problems in the hope some of it might stick to the poor. He has previously been bouyed up by hydrocarbon riches in the deep south of his country to fuel this excess of generosity. However he struggles to control large swaths of the south which may now be beyond his effective control. Poor oil prices of late are hurting him and the regime is starting run out of money. Algeria lost 50 billion USD from its GDP last year alone equivalent to 22% drop in GDP. Their austerity measures put in place to stem the flow of cash are unpopular with a population used to generous food and fuel subsidies. There are undercurents of discontent.
ISIS see Algeria as a low hanging fruit simply waiting for just the right moment. Recognising his weakness and trying to counter this threat, Bouteflika’s plan has been to try to buy off the Islamists with a gloriously tacky vanity project building Africa’s largest mosque in Algiers. Only now the money for this nonsense is also starting to run thin. Work has stopped.
Algeria is not blessed. Apart from the oil there is little more than dates and tourism, and tourism is not really an option in any Arab country at the moment. Indeed, only on 13th December the US Department of State warned against any travel to the south or east of Algeria and especially Kabylie on the grounds of the threat from terrorist. Frankly the way things are they could not even grow potatoes.
To make matters worse ISIS sympathisers are now increasingly entrenched in the south, right where his oil is.
Twenty-five years ago Algeria had its last civil war which killed in the region of 150,000 people when Islamists last took on the state. Many then became homeless and were disposed. There is no reason to believe it would be any different when the next civil war breaks out. The population of Algeria has risen to 40 millions, so even a conservative guess at the number of displaced would be north of 150,000 maybe even millions. And ISIS is better trained, better armed and far more aggressive.
Except this time round we should not expect these displaced people to remain within Algeria. Not when crossing the Mediterranean to France would be such a tempting option.
And a flood of French speaking “refugees” from Algeria to the old colonial power France could very well upset a delicately balanced political apple cart not just in France but throughout Europe. It would also open a further corridor for migrants of all kinds to flee to Europe. Boko Haram who are active in Northern Nigeria below Algeria are dispersing all sorts of peoples there and the military action ongoing may trigger famine. Famine as is being seen in South Sudan which could be a further source.
So finally, to summarise. When (not if) Bouteflika dies, there will be chaos in Algeria and very likely a civil war and ISIS intervention. This will generate a flood of refugees that will target Europe in general and France in particular. Whenever this happens it is a headache for Europe. If it happens early in the New Year before the 2017 Election season gets going in April it will be a disaster.
Bonne Annee mes amies.
Copyright David Macadam 2016