Beyond the Headlines: Protest and Potential in N. Africa

The Beyond the Headlines @BUPardeeSchool, or BtH, series at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University continued on April 30, 2019 with a discussion on protest and democratic potential in three North African countries.

The discussion, entitled “Protest and Democratic Potential in Algeria, Sudan, and Ethiopia,” featured panelists including Shamiran Mako, Pardee School Assistant Professor of International Relations, and Hugh Roberts, Edward Keller Professor of North African and Middle Eastern History at Tufts University. The discussion was moderated by Michael Woldemariam, Pardee School Assistant Professor of International Relations and Political Science.

Woldemariam introduced the discussion by highlighting that Algeria, Sudan and Ethiopia are all major players on the African continent, and emphasizing the significance of the current political transitions underway within these countries for both Africa and the Arab world.

“These are really big African countries — both Algeria and Ethiopia are critical players in the African Union,” Woldemariam said. “Of course Ethiopia is the host nation of the African Union — Algeria is second in terms of AU contributions just after South Africa — so what’s happening in these three countries is a really big moment for Africa and also for the Arab world.”

Mako highlighted the contributions to the Algerian military from international actors over the last several years, and questioned what role these international actors would play in the political future of the country.

“For the past eight years Russia has been the largest arms contributor to the Algerian military –selling about $7 billion worth of weapons. So it will be interesting to see what Russia’s role will be in the Algerian transition. China has sold about $882 million worth of weapons to Algeria over this time period, and Germany about $670 million worth of weapons,” Mako said. “So it will be really interesting to see what stake these international actors will have in the game in terms of either back the military or forcing the military to take a back seat so that actual civilian control of the country takes place.”

Roberts discussed the public resistance in Algeria to the army’s control of the office of the president, specifically during President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s 20-year rule.

“The fact that the army is the source of power means that presidential power is delegated to the presidency by the army, and that is a major problem today because the army has been implicated in what the people have ended up rejecting,” Roberts said.

Beyond the Headlines is a regular series at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies which seeks to cultivate informed conversations among experts and practitioners on issues that are currently in the news headlines, but to do so with a focus on intellectual analysis and on longer-range trends. Recent Beyond the Headlines discussions have focused on topics including BrexitInternational Women’s Daythe most recent Brazilian elections, and the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.