Algeria’s resource rich south is boiling! From Ghardaia to Ain Saleh and recently Ouargla people have taken to the streets, escalated protests demanding a fair redistribution of the country’s gas and oil wealth, much of it is located in their territories.
Recent protests in Ouargla in particular were shocking. Images on Algerian social media showed young jobless people incurring self-injury by sewing their lips after their demands for decent job opportunities fell on deaf ears.
A recent report by Carnegie delved deep into the disenchantment of the youth in southern Algeria which it summed up in a feeling of neglect by the central state which has done little to use the oil and gas mantra to develop areas with high youth unemployment like Ouargla.
Decades of post-independence marginalization gave rise to demands of ‘’resource regionalism’’ said Algerian pundit Dalia Ghanem.
‘’Little came of the measures ostensibly intended to ameliorate the plight of people in Ouargla, and the repression created further resentment,’’ she wrote.
Ouargla sits on 400,000 barrels per day of oil and has 71% of the country’s crude reserves.
Ghanem said that the central government has continued on the legacy of French colonialism which spoiled Ouargla and the rest of the Algerian south to develop northern coastal line.
“There is twice as much poverty among people living in the Sahara as among those in the coastal region,’’ the Carnegie report said.
The report enumerates deficiencies in public services notably the vital understaffed and under-equipped health sector.
“The nearest health clinic is located in El Oued, 320 kilometers away, while the closest university hospital is in Batna, 550 kilometers away,’’ the report said.
Discrimination adds to the complexities for Ouargla’s youth as most jobs in the oil and gas sector are taken by better educated northerners, Ghanem added.
“The national state-owned oil company, SONATRACH, is the leading employer in the region and embodies this phenomenon,’’ the report said.
In the face of all of these problems, the government promises to develop the area and offer job opportunities turned to be a mirage.
“Most development projects did not benefit ordinary people. Some were never even completed. For example, much-needed roads and irrigation canals were left unfinished,’’ the report said.
The government has escalated repression and arrested activists and the report warns of growing radicalization in local prisons.