“Algeria plays the regional role which naturally belongs to both at the Arab and African levels. Everyone praises its role where it intervenes. In the past as now it had contributed to the resolution to several conflicts which sometimes go beyond its geographical sphere”, said Algerian Ambassador in Bangladesh, Rabah LARBI in an exclusive interview with the ‘Bangladesh Post‘.
The envoy, replying to a query said, Bangladesh’s acceptance of the Rohingyas, which cannot last for an indefinite period, is just one example of Bangladesh’s attachment to the damned of the earth, wherever they are.
Mr LARBI has replied to a set of queries, made by Bangladesh Post, describing the diverse issues of bi-lateral relations between Bangladesh and Algeria including trade and investment as well as the socio-political situation of Algeria and its influence on the African nations.
The excerpts of his interview is as follow:
Bangladesh Post: As we know that Algeria is a country, bearing rich historic background also a major regional player and a pole of stability in the Arab and African world, well, could you please evaluate the present socio-political situation of the country?
Rabah LARBI: As you have just rightly said, my country Algeria is a country with a rich historical past. Long before the arrival of Islam in Algeria in the 7th century, a religion that the Algerians embraced with zeal and conviction, to such an extent that they greatly participated in its propagation, especially in Andalusia (now Spain), Algeria was in direct contact with great civilizations, among others, that of the Roman Empire. From these civilizations we have taken and given. Sometimes we fought. To give you just one idea about this historical wealth, if you happen to take a walk in southern Algeria – and on occasion, I invite you, you will discover the largest open-air museum in the world. In Algeria, we also discovered near Sétif, Mascara, Sous Ahras … human traces that date back several million years. Regarding the regional role of Algeria, my country has not played it only since the recovery of its independence in 1962. Long before French colonialism in 1830, Algeria assumed a remarkable regional role in its environment and in the Mediterranean, thanks to its maritime fleet which was one of the most important things at that time and until its destruction in 1827 at the Battle of Navarino. Prior to the French military-led attempt to settle Algeria, Algeria as a sovereign state and nation in affirmation, entered into agreements with many countries. With France alone, it had several agreements, according to many historians. Algeria was also among the first countries to recognize the USA in 1795.
Nowadays, Algeria obviously plays the regional role which naturally belongs to both at the Arab and African levels. Everyone recognises its stabilizing role there where it intervenes. In the past as now it has contributed to the resolution of several conflicts which sometimes go beyond its geographical sphere. Algeria still remains a pillar of the non-aligned movement (NAM), although the latter seems to lack the vigor of yesteryear. As you know, my country hosted in September 1973, the 4th summit of non-aligned countries in which the father of the nation of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took part, whose people have been celebrating for more than a year, with deserved pride, the centenary of the birth.
Bangladesh Post: We know that Algeria was the first Arab country to recognize Bangladesh in 1971 when we had gained independence and since then a remarkable friendship developed between the two countries, how would you evaluate the on-going bi-lateral relationship ?
Rabah LARBI: Indeed, the Algeria was among the very first countries to recognize Bangladesh. Since Bangladesh gained independence in 1971, a remarkable friendship has developed between your country and mine. Algeria was also one of the few Muslim countries to take the initiative to play a leading role of bringing together Bangladesh and Pakistan. The latter finally recognized Bangladesh on February 22, 1974. The same day, your Foreign Minister of that time, Dr Kamal Hossain held a press conference in which he announced that the Father of the Nation had decided to participate in the Summit of Lahore. It was the late President of the Republic Algeria, Haouri Boumedienne who sent his special plane to Dhaka to transport his brother Mujibur Rahman to the Lahore Summit on February 24, 1974. History will remember the active solidarity and mutual respect animated the relationship of these two great men who had left us so early.
Bangladesh Post: Now please tell us how to further strengthen the relationship and mention whether there is any hurdle in this regard?
Rabah LARBI: The relationship between my country and yours holds great potential for development and projections for the future. My country, if only by size is a country-continent, as it has the largest area in Africa and your country, if only by demography, is the 10th most populated country in the world, and I believe that it is called upon to become in the medium term the 5th largest demographic power in the world. It is up to the intelligences and the players of our two countries to understand our complementarities and to put them in synergie. As Ambassador, I will do everything to help raise the level of our bilateral relationship in all areas.
Now you are asking me if there is any obstacle to the development of our relationship! I’m frankly telling you, NO. Especially Bangladesh, which has lived through hardships throughout its history, like Algeria, can only be sensitive to the miseries and the situation of other peoples who are deprived of their rights. Bangladesh’s acceptance of the Rohingya, which cannot last indefinitely, is just one example of Bangladesh’s attachment to the damned of the earth, wherever they are.
Bangladesh Post: Excellency, now please shed light on foreign policy of your country, specially mentioning the existing relationship among the neighboring African countries.
Rabah LARBI: Our foreign policy is based on principles which are in fact principles contained in the Charter of the United Nations, including in particular non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries and the principle of the self-determination of the people to which my country holds firmly and as such comes the Algerien support for the people of Western Sahara. In our immediate environment and in the Sahel, as you know, my country plays a leading role, together with the international community, in resolving the conflict in Mali with reference to the relevant Algiers agreement. Regarding the Libyan crisis, my country advocates a truly Libyan solution to the Libyan problem, for the benefit of all the brotherly Libyan people. As you also know, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune is currently developing all conceivable efforts to meet the conditions to hold the next Arab summit that Algeria wishes to refocus on the sacred cause of Arab and Muslim countries, namely the Palestinian cause.
Bangladesh Post: What are the main focuses or areas that play role most to boost up the economic growth of your country?
Rabah LARBI: Despite all the problems that my country has encountered in its development process since its independence and in particular since the tragic events of 1988 to which other major challenges have been grafted, my country does not cease to move forward. Today, my country has some of the best infrastructure that can exist in Africa. For more than ten years, the underground Algiers metro has been in service and is being extended in all directions of the capital, in particular with an extension about to be completed between the new Algiers airport, inaugurated two or three years ago, and the city center of Algiers. In practically in all major cities, there are tram connections.
While at the independence of the country in 1962, we had barely a few hundred students, today Algerian students number in the millions and in each department of the country, there is a university, in addition to the high schools, including that of artificial intelligence created very recently. Highways are going all over the place today. To give you just one example, ten years ago, I personally spent more than 3 hours by car between the capital and my native village. Today, it takes barely 50 minutes. Algeria’s HDI is appreciable and high (0.7 48 for the year 2019).
The GINI coefficient is 26.7 (for the year 2011), one of the most egalitarian in the world. The Algerian people suffered from colonialism and misery. The Algerian state can only take this into account. It is for this reason that about $18 billion each year goes as social transfers to disadvantaged citizens. Algeria builds 1 million homes every 5 years, most of which are social housing that goes to the most disadvantaged segments of society. If I’m not mistaken, a few years ago, Algiers became the only capital of the Mediterranean, without slums. In certain areas, such as electrification, for example, we have a coverage rate that exceeds that of certain European countries. What should be noted here is that hands and a significant share of Algerian expertise are involved in these major development projects alongside, of course, the cooperation extended by our partners from different countries.
My country also has great agricultural and tourist potential to enable it to diversify its economy.
Among the major projects that Algeria is promoting with several billion dollars, I can cite the Grand Port of Cherchell which will also serve the African continent, the iron production complex of the Gar Djebilet mine, the mega project of Tébessa phosphate mining and several companies producing and processing minerals in the south, in that Algerian soil contains a lot of metals and rare earths. Algeria now has several observation and telecommunications satellites and we have just, in recent months, launched an international continuous TV News (AL24 News) which is called upon to operate in several languages. Algeria is in the process of mastering nuclear power for peaceful use, as it is moving towards new energies and solar energy, especially as it has the largest desert in the world, if I am not mistaken. It is also starting to take an interest in wind power, in that we have large deposits of wind in the interior of the country (towards Djelfa, in particular).
Finally, I must tell you that Algeria will organize next June (2022) in Oran (the second city of the country) the Mediterranean games where new infrastructures have already been put in place, in particular a new stadium with more than 40,000 seats, a new sports village and Terminal 2 at Oran Airport which will be receveid before these games. I must also remind you and you already know that Algeria is currently the African champion in Football and recently won the Arab Cup.
Moreover, at a time of the corona virus pandemic which affects all countries in the world, Algeria, which admittedly was late at the start in terms of vaccination, is now working hard to vaccinate its entire population, especially since for a few months now, we have started producing our CORONAVAC vaccine locally, which we plan to export to other countries soon.
In terms of military production, Algeria, which is currently one of the leading naval powers in Africa, if not the first, has initiated a process of production of military equipment and is now moving towards the export of several types of military products. Also, the Algerian military production sector is now called upon to boost the resurgent civilian industry.
Finally, I will give you another example from my country, since you ask me to talk about it. If you happen to fill up with gasoline in your car at a gas station in Algeria, you will not see brands such as Agip, Total, Shell, Repsol, etc. In Algeria, it is a national station that covers the country’s needs in this area, namely Naftal, one of the subsidiaries of Sonatrach. In fact, since our independence and more precisely since 1963, Algeria has set up this national oil company that is Sonatrach, today it is present in Peru, Niger and Libya … It is currently the 1st oil company in Africa and I believe the 10th in the world.
Bangladesh Post: How would you evaluate the socio-economic development of Bangladesh? Do you have any recommendation in this regard?
Rabah LARBI: Personally, reading Kissinger’s memoirs, I always delight in the precision of his analyzes, which I share or not. But I think where he was most wrong about Bangladesh when it said during the independence that Bangladesh “is a hopeless case”. As it turns out, now, contrary to expectations, Bangladesh is emerging as a new Asian tiger. Indeed, no one can deny that Bangladesh has made, since its independence in 1971, great step in its socio-economic development, especially during the last two decades, under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Your country has one of the fastest growing economies in the world and I believe with the entry into service of the major infrastructure projects that are currently being completed, Bangladesh’s economic growth rate will be further boosted.
As an Ambassador of a friendly and brotherly country, I hope this socio-economic growth that Bangladesh is experiencing can cover other places in the interior of the country as soon as possible. In terms of the recommendations you are asking me to make, I must tell you that I am wary of making any, about a country that is advancing and defying a lot of forecasts. This being, and if I allow myself to formulate two impressions, I would say:
– For the short and medium term, Bangladesh would benefit from focusing its efforts again and again on education, if it wants to win the battle of the future, because your country has a predominantly young population and will become in the more or medium term the 5th largest demographic power in the world. For the near future, I believe that Bangladesh also has an interest in further improving its health structures to benefit from more and more foreign investments, because with the current pandemic and the possible pandemics that could arise in the future, foreign investors will hesitate to come to countries that do not attach importance to improving their health infrastructure.
Bangladesh Post: Do you find any socio-cultural resemblance between Bangladesh and Algeria, what are your evaluations in this regard?
Rabah LARBI: Although Algeria and Bangladesh are separated by a long distance, our civilizations and cultures have many similarities. We are both Muslim countries and at least religion binds us. We are also both developing countries and have very young and vibrant populations. In other words, the future is ours, if we know how to make it.
Bangladesh Post: As a career diplomat, how would you assess the ongoing diplomatic practices in the contemporary world? Please pass your expert opinions and recommendations for a much better humanitarian world.
Rabah LARBI: Without going into details, I could begin my analysis at least from the Westphalian Congress which has governed international relations with consequences until now, I must say that the world today is at a real crossroads. Of two things, one: either the two great powers of our time, the USA and China, will go into confrontation and everyone will be the loser. Or else, they will eventually settle down and cooperate – and God knows there is no shortage of challenges for themselves and for all countries of the world (climate change, migration, the fight against terrorism, prevention of possible future pandemics, reduction of the digital divide…) – and then everyone will be a winner, including Algeria and Bangladesh. Our two countries constant call for stability and peace in the world and for the peaceful resolution of conflicts.