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Mend the ties that bind us: Algeria must overcome its anger of France’s colonial past

Rami Rayess

Published: Updated:

This week saw the 61st anniversary of the massacre of Algerian pro-independence demonstrators in Paris by the French police force. The number of people that died on the day hasn’t been officially released, but estimates claim it could range from anywhere between 50 and up to 300.

President Emmanuel Macron described the October 1961 operation as “unforgivable for the republic.” This statement is an historical one in its own right because it’s the first time a French president has officially recognized the atrocity. The murder of innocent civilians demonstrating for a just cause will never be forgotten.

Algeria gained independence the following year, and ever since has blamed its former colonial rulers for all of its woes.

Enough.

Sixty years after its independence, it is no longer justifiable to blame France for successive policy failures. Pointing the finger at the French is the easy option, and wins over public opinion, but where are the standalone accomplishments? There are none.

Everyone knows the impact European colonialism had across the globe, and it appears that bashing the French, British, Spanish and others has become infectious because former colonies are beating the mantra that they deserve growing amounts of compensation from their historic oppressors.

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No one is denying that many Europeans rampaged through other parts of the world, and making plundering and murdering a standard practice. In every way they were wrong, but if former colonial powers are constantly invited to apologize for their actions in other countries, then nations that regained their independence also need to turn the page and move on. They cannot remain subjugated from their own free will if they want to leap into the future. Algeria is no different.

Nothing stays the same forever, and Algeria must reflect on building closer ties with Paris in particular, and the West in general.

Somewhat difficult to countenance for Algerians is the idea that it should develop closer economic ties to France. During colonial rule the North African nation was designed to complement the French economy, with agriculture at its core.

With natural sources aplenty, Algeria has the potential to advance to become one of the most successful nations in North African, but only if it constructs new pragmatic policies that can match the developments of an evolving world.

It has become over reliant on fossil fuel exports, and has many obstacles to overcome. As several other countries in the region develop different sectors, Algeria appears to be falling well behind. There is little chance that we will see the country build a vibrant tourism sector anytime soon, despite matching others for beautiful beaches resting on the Mediterranean.

Algeria and France must mend the ties that bind them. (Stock photo)
Algeria and France must mend the ties that bind them. (Stock photo)

A key area that can kick off a long-term sustainable relationship is immigration between Algiers and Paris.

The flow of people from North Africa moving to France has grown steadily of the years. It provoked Macron to request French immigration authority to half the number of visas issued to Algerian and Moroccan nationals.

France is exhausted from the steady flow of illegal immigrates arriving on its shores from North Africa. It requires Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia to exert more effort to police the exit of people attempting to get into France by any means.

Algiers can take the lead here to prevent the traffic of its nationals landing in France. This requires close collaboration with Paris to accomplish this.

In the other direction, there is a need for Algeria to receive help from its former colonial rulers. This is unpalatable to some, but Algiers’ needs to develop its private sector base, and diversify its economy away from an over reliance on oil and gas to generate revenue. France can play an important role.

Within the sphere of colonialism, newly independent nations correctly loath their once dominant enslavers. But, in spite of this broad view, relations between each can improve.

The strong positive relations held between Great Britain and India is one example.

During the days of the Raj, the political and economic policies applied by London allowed it to justify its grip over India while the push for independence extinguished again and again, until finally Britain had no choice but to scurry back to Europe. The initial animosity from India has mellowed and although the memories of British rule will never dissolve completely today India is the second largest investor in the UK.

This is not to justify colonialism in any possible way. Imperial aspirations to exploit natural and economic resources of third world countries cannot be erased from history. “Divide and rule” policies that were employed to galvanize divisions in communities including sectarianism and racism have left wounds many victims find hard to heal.

Algeria must find solutions to the complexities of colonialism. If you cannot make changes, then at least anticipate them.

Although Macron in his acknowledgement of the “unforgivable” actions of the Police in Paris that day, he fell short of offering an apology. A sense of superiority perhaps prevails, but it is now up to Algeria to show that this arrogance is unfounded, and they are in fact equals.

The only way it can do this is to mend the ties that have bound it with France for generations.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.