Africa Oil & Gas: Algeria’s oil and gas wealth

Algeria, whose president Abdelaziz Bouteflika will seek a fifth term in April, gets most of its income from oil but was hit hard by falling crude prices in 2014.

Some key facts about the North African country of 42 million people.

  • Former French colony – Algeria became a French colony in 1830 after three centuries of Ottoman domination. Independence came in July 1962 after a bloody independence war which lasted nearly eight years.

In September 1963, prime minister Ahmed Ben Bella of the National Liberation Front (FLN), which had led the struggle against French colonial rule, became the founding president of independent Algeria.

In 1965, Houari Boumediene, also of the FLN, overthrew Ben Bella and jailed him. He ran Algeria as a one-party state until his death in 1978.

Colonel Chadli Bendjedid was then elected president, a post he held until 1992.

  • Civil war – In October 1988, protests rocked the capital Algiers, prompting the authorities to declare a state of emergency.

The army clamped down on demonstrators, but introduced political reforms which brought an end to the single-party system.

However, when the country held its first multi-party legislative poll in 1991, the army stepped in to prevent the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) winning and setting up an Islamic state.

That sparked a civil war that claimed some 200,000 lives between 1992 and 2002, with the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) claiming responsibility for many large massacres of civilians.

  • Bouteflika clings to power – In 1999, at the height of the war, Bouteflika, backed by the army, won the presidential election.

Bouteflika launched a reconciliation programme that saw thousands of Islamist fighters lay down their arms.

In April 2014, Bouteflika, of the FLN, was elected for a fourth term with over 81 percent of the vote, despite a 2013 stroke that had confined him to a wheelchair.

His mobility and speech severely reduced, he has since rarely appeared and no longer speaks in public.

In May 2017 legislative elections, marked by a high abstention rate, gave the FLN and the National Rally for Democracy (RND) an absolute majority in parliament.

  • Oil dependant – Socialist until the early 1990s, Algeria’s economy remain’s subject to a high level of state intervention. The oil wealth subsidises fuel, water, health care, housing and basic goods.

Algeria is Africa’s third biggest crude producer and the world’s ninth producer of natural gas.

Those exports make up 95 percent of external revenue and contribute 60 percent of the state budget.

In late 2018 analysts at the International Crisis Group estimated that urgent reforms were needed to diversify the economy to avoid a crisis in 2019, election year.

It said the country can count on an external debt lower than two percent of gross domestic product and on support from partners.

  • Africa’s biggest country – A country of the Maghreb, Algeria is Africa’s biggest country.

Desert makes up more than five sixths of the country’s territory, but 80 percent of the population lives on the coast, including in the capital Algiers.

Algeria counts some 10 million Berbers, most living in Kabylie, a rebellious mountainous region to the east of Algiers.

The language of former colonial power France is not one of the official languages, which are Arabic and the Berber language Tamazight, but the country counts many francophones.

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