Friday, January 14, 2011

High Unemployment, Food Prices Spark Unrest in Tunisia

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Published Jan 13, 2011 9:12 PM

Unrest over the impact of the global economic crisis has struck another North African state: this time Algeria, a former French colony that won its independence after a protracted armed and mass struggle during the 1950s and early 1960s. After winning state power under the leadership of the National Liberation Front, the country became a major producer of oil and natural gas.

Despite these tremendous reserves, the Algerian state has not been able to keep apace with the growth in demands for jobs, housing and affordable foods. Since December there have been mass demonstrations and rebellions in various parts of the country in response to the escalating price of food and the shortage of housing. The cost of flour and salad oil has doubled in the last few months while unemployment is officially acknowledged to be at 10 percent.

The Algerian government reported that two people had been killed in the disturbances and some 400 injured. According to Interior Minister Dahou Oul Kablia, “More than 300 police and gendarmes have been wounded, while on the other side there are fewer than 100 hurt.” (, Jan. 10)

Another report released by the Algerian Press Service and published by the Xinhua News Agency, also on Jan. 10, put the death toll at four with 736 policemen and 53 civilians wounded. This report claimed that unrest was continuing in the Annaba province, some 600 km east of the capital of Algiers.

The government of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has announced in response to the demonstrations and violence that measures would be put in place to reduce the prices for staples by the middle of January. Trade Minister Mustafa Bin Badeh stated, “Those behind the rise in basic food items have been greedy merchants.”

In another government statement, the Bouteflika administration emphasized, “Nothing can cast doubt on the resolute will of the state, under the direction of the president of the republic, to intervene whenever necessary to preserve the purchasing power of citizens in the face of any price increase.” During the recent unrest people have attacked government buildings, police stations, banks and foreign-owned firms, including a franchise for Renault automobiles.

The most violent clashes between youth and the police have occurred in the capital of Algiers, where more than 100 people were reported injured. Police were said to have used tear gas and batons against crowds across the country in demonstrations which erupted again in the western city of Wahran on Jan. 5.

Some of the earliest accounts of unrest in the recent period were reported on Dec. 30, when it was revealed that dozens of people had been injured and arrested in unrest over inadequate housing in Les Palmiers, a suburb of Algiers. The injured included 52 security officers and one civilian, according to the Algerian Press Service. (Al Jazeera)

Economic crisis spreads to Tunisia

These demonstrations and rebellions are taking place at the same time as protests in neighboring Tunisia, where unemployment is also high and inflation has driven up the price of food and other consumer goods.

In renewed clashes between workers, youth and the police in Tunisia, some 14 people were reported killed over a three-day period, according to an Associated Press report on Jan. 10. In Tunisia, where official unemployment stands at 14 percent, the Western-backed government has been shaken by the demonstrations.

Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has called the demonstrators “terrorists.” In a statement made over national television on Jan. 10, Ben Ali said, “I am clearly telling all those who seek to harm our country’s interests that the law will prevail.” (Associated Press)

The Western imperialist states that have substantial economic ties with both Tunisia and Algeria are following the political situation in the region very closely. Tunisia had been celebrated for its market-friendly approach to relations with European countries and the U.S.

Recently the World Economic Forum based in Davos, Switzerland, named Tunisia as Africa’s most competitive state. Nonetheless, this relatively small nation, in comparison to Algeria — the second-largest geographically in Africa with a population of 34 million — has not been able to create enough jobs for its people nor maintain stable food prices.

Algeria’s substantial mineral wealth in oil and natural gas continues to maintain the interests of the U.S. and European Union countries. The country is reported to possess the 14th largest reserves of petroleum in the world and the 8th largest in natural gas deposits.

In a recent commentary written by Roula Khalaf and published in the Financial Times of London, the concerns over developments in North Africa are deepening with the growing unrest. Khalaf notes, “The dramatic events in North Africa should be a warning to others in the region, particularly countries where the number of young graduates is rising much faster than jobs are being created.” (Financial Times, Jan. 10)

Khalaf also points out that events in Tunisia and Algeria have implications for the staunchest ally of the U.S. in the region, the regime of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. The Financial Times article states that “Egypt, where economic reforms have yet to trickle down to a needy population, should take notice, especially as it has seen its own wave of small but regular strikes over the past year.”

This same article then points out that “in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, young people have been showing solidarity with Tunisians and Algerians, spreading their message of discontent across the internet.”

Consequently, the imperialist countries may be forced to make some serious decisions about their alliance with certain regimes in the region if they prove incapable of curbing unrest in response to the global economic crisis. Under the so-called “war on terrorism” the U.S. and France are escalating their military involvement in various regions of the African continent.
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