A battle over who can more ably underserve the expatriate community
Like many large developing countries, Algeria has an enormous diaspora. Several million Algerians and people of Algerian descent live in Europe, North America and Asia. They are valued for their remittances and professional skills. President Bouteflika has repeatedly appealed for overseas Algerians to return and contribute to the country’s economic and social development. Links with the community in France and Switzerland more pronounced than anywhere else, given their geographic and political proximity to the motherland. Overseas Algerians elect members of parliament by region, several coming from Europe, others from North America (competing for seats from Quebec to Virginia) and Asia.
Also as in many such countries, this community outreach requires work on the part of the government. Some countries have full ministries for expatriates or diaspora affairs; such is the case in Greece, Lebanon, and Syria for example. Earlier this week, adding more confusion to Algeria’s often befuddled matrix of ministries, President Bouteflika has divided these tasks between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, headed by the well seasoned Mourad Medelci, and the Ministry of Employment and National Solidarity, headed by Djamel Ould Abbas. Pres. Decree No. 08-162 delegates exclusive authority to the General Directorate of Immigration, within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This directorate is in full Algerian bureaucratic fashion divided in to sub-directorates responsible for different aspects of diaspora relations. The Ministry of Solidarity has, nevertheless, recently established a Supreme Council of Algerian Emigrants. The new directorate is intended to encourage Algerians abroad to participate in the country’s development, with special emphasis being placed on doctors, engineers, and other professionals, as well as to advocate for the rights of Algerians abroad, and to organize cultural festival and other recreational activities in the diaspora.
Needless to say, the Foreign Ministry is not happy and Medelci is taking the issue up with the Prime Minister. The new directorate will surely add confusion to the work of both the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Solidarity/Employment, whose work is heavy enough, with Algeria’s major employment problems. That Bouteflika approved the decision is a cause for minor concern. A man with long standing bureaucratic experience in multiple ministries over many years, including a notable and lengthy stint as Foreign Minister, should know not to over lap responsibilities, unless he intends to fully shift the duties regarding the diaspora over to the Ministry of Solidarity, which would likely give rise to more corruption within that enterprise. Giving Ould Abbas a slice of the responsibility might be a favor to a man with a reputation for corruption (“conspiracies” as he calls them). It could likely just be impolitic behavior by an ill-advised president looking to maintain as much personal loyalty as possible. Neither of the Ministers are military men; Medelci is a career bureaucrat and Ould Abbas a physician. The concern might be the fidelity of Medelci to Mr. Bouteflika, though this is doubtful as he has proved an able Foreign Minister and is known to be on good terms with the president.
Three things may happen after Ouyiahia reviews the issue (as I see it). The first is that he may undo the decision and cite the Presidential Decree. The second is that he will issue a statement on it, noting its potential implications, and then effectively table it, allowing Bouteflika and Ould Abbas to save face, and either disallowing the directorate to get off the ground or to operate in some crooked manner. The third is that he states that it is unlawful and uses it as a means of bolstering his own position, in hopes of gaining support for a presidential bid, upsetting Bouteflika’s position. The second possibility is the one I am betting on.