In Africa’s largest country and Europe’s greatest hope for importing renewable and fossil fuel energy, Algerian leaders have skillfully used concessions to quell protests in this nation suffering the backlash of its Dirty War.
The Dirty War is a colloquial term given to the bloody civil conflict endured by Algerians from 1992 – 2000 which left over an estimated 200,000 dead. The military staged a coup to prevent an Islamist party from gaining leadership through elections.
Throughout President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s rule under the state of emergency, the UN Human Rights Committee accused his regime of “massacres, torture, rape and disappearances.” The mental hangover from this is slowly taking a second as the youth cry for freedoms.
In January, Algerians took to the streets protesting high unemployment rates, rising food prices and limited freedoms, including the state of emergency present in the nation. This state of emergency decree allowed the leader of Algeria to alter the constitution and continue ruling through any means necessary.
While food prices were promised to have been cut following January riots, protestors took to the streets again last week citing the high cost of living and rates of unemployment.
Like much of North Africa and the Middle East, Algeria is experiencing a youth bulge – 75 percent of the nation’s population is under 30 years old. Thirty percent of that group of under-30’s are unemployed.
Again last week, the government once again promised to lower prices. But that is not enough.
Millions of dollars need to be injected into the economy to stimulate growth and encourage entrepreneurship.
Solar panels may be one such way to get Algerians involved in the progress of their nation and provide themselves with sustainable and affordable means of power.
Solar panels should be subsidized or granted (free) to households across the country, about 80 percent of which is covered by the sands of the Sahara Desert.
Algeria’s largest private company and producer of mainly foodstuffs, Cevital, announced its intentions to build an $8 million solar complex and asked for investors last year.
Excess of electricity generated could be then sold to the national grid for a fee. The national grid needs updating as well if this initiative would work.
French President Sarkozy suggested laying submarine cables to export such electricity to Europe, suggesting a “Mediterranean Union” of sorts. Algeria’s energy ministry estimated that its solar power could fuel Western Europe 60 times over.
There is great potential here for the nation who is heavily reliant on oil and gas exports to Europe.
Domestically, beyond selling excess back to the grid, households and companies would have stable power supplies to fuel industries and create a substantial middle class in Algeria.
Of course, beyond encouraging and subsidizing solar panels, Algeria needs economic reforms as well as political. The removal of the state of emergency was a step but significant reforms to freedoms of speech and press will also need to accompany the Algerian leadership’s promises to fulfill true reform.
(Mary E. Stonaker is an independent scholar most recently with the Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore. She can be contacted at email@example.com)