Saturday August 27, 2022

Algeria and France — stormy legacy

Algeria and France — stormy legacy

Emmanuel Macron. File

As Algeria celebrated its 60th year of independence — a long violent battle was fought between France and Algeria because France refused to read the new reality that the time was up for colonialism — French President Emmanuel Macron visited France’s biggest colony this week. He was partly making up for his undiplomatic comment last year that there was no Algeria before France colonised the country. It introduced bitterness into a tense relationship. Macron said, “We have a complex, painful common past.
And it has times prevented us from looking to the future.” It is a plain fact that both needed each other. Said analyst Mansour Kedidir, “given instability in the Maghreb region, conflicts in the Sahel and the war in Ukraine, improving ties betwéen France and Algeria is a political necessity.”

There is also the war of numbers, about the number of dead in the long-drawn war of independence. French historians say half a million civilians and combatants died during the long, violent war of independence. Algerian authorities say a 1.5 million people died.

Algerian President Abdelmadjid’s office said 5.6 million during the colonial period, starting in 1830 when France took control of Algeria and 1962 when France was forced to walk out of Algeria. It has indeed been a bitter memory reflected in the early fictional work French writer and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature Albert Camus and the writings of Algerian political philosopher Frantz Fanon. The French intellectuals have indeed debated the colonial guilt of the French, and they seem to believe that it is a complex story and a simple verdict of guilty is not possible in the matter. But the sophisticated French intellectuals have not béen able to fudge the simple fact that they have subjugated another people and another culture, and there is no moral justification whatsoever for it. On their part, the Algerian intellectuals have been the proud inheritors of the French political and philosophical heritage of liberty, equality and fraternity. They now frame the issues of their existence in the French way. That is one of the reasons that Algeria chose to fight a violent internal war with the religious extremists, and Algeria remains a defiantly secular country. Whatever their other differences, the secular creed united Algeria and France.

Macron had another agenda — to seek Algerian gas for France on the wake of the Russian war in Ukraine. Algeria is the largest gas exporter to Europe, with direct gas lines to Italy and Spain. France wants to turn to its former major colony to tide over its energy problem. The mutual dependency of the two countries is obvious. Despite the bitter colonial past, Algeria and France do not have the luxury of brushing aside the other. It is the colonial subjugation that has moulded the Algerian consciousness. Algerian migrants to France are the highest, four million. This is a real issue and the Algerians whatever their bitter view of colonial history are not likely to let go the real opportunities. Algeria has much to gain from the new situation where the former coloniser is dependent for a raw material. In the colonial situation, the coloniser took what he wanted from the colonising country. Now France and Algeria will bargain hard for a fair deal. The Algerians will demand the just price of their strategic resource. The French may presume that the old colonial connect gives them a certain advantage. But this may not be the case. The Algerians will look to economic advantage, a choice they did not have during the colonial period.

The economic relationship will not heal the political and cultural scars of the Algerians and the French. Macron is the first French leader to have been born after the end of the Algerian war of independence in 1962. But this has not helped him to make a fresh start without the historical baggage. He displayed the habitual French arrogance when he talked of Algeria as the creation of France. No sensitive French political leader of an earlier generation would have displayed such insensitivity.

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