Bangladesh-Algeria relations are a historic one. Algeria was the first Arab country to recognize Bangladesh in 1971 after gaining independence. In the ensuing years, a remarkable friendship developed between late Algerian President Houari Boumediene and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Bangabandhu stayed in Algeria in 1973 during the Non-Aligned Summit where he delivered a landmark speech. Additionally, an exclusively chartered Algerian plane had flown Bangabandhu to the 1974 OIC summit held at Lahore. Reflecting back in the past while building on the present, Algerian Ambassador to Bangladesh, His Excellency Rabah Larbi gives an exclusive interview to The Daily Observer. The interview has been conducted by our Assistant Editor Shahriar Feroze…
Exclusive interview of Algerian Ambassador to Bangladesh
Published : Monday, 22 March, 2021 at 12:00 AM Count : 159
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Exclusive interview of Algerian Ambassador to Bangladesh
Daily Observer: His Excellency Rabah Larbi, you have been in Bangladesh for a little over a year and how would you explain your experience so far?
His Excellency Rabah Larbi: Indeed, I have been here in Bangladesh for a little over a year as Ambassador of my country Algeria. However, due to the health situation in Bangladesh since March 2020, like all other countries impacted by covid-19, my activities and meetings with the authorities and elements of various societies in Bangladesh are few. It was only a few days ago that I made my first trip outside of Dhaka. I had a brief visit to Sylhet, the city of the Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. A K Abdul Momen.
I went there with my wife by plane and returned by road. It allowed me to see from afar, and certainly only superficially, the life and condition of people. I take this opportunity to thank the local police who made my movement more fluid than it should be because of the road traffic. I also thank and, among others, the manager of a tea garden who welcomed me and my wife to his establishment over which he treats as the apple of his eye. I have to say that we really enjoyed Sylhet’s tea garden.
D O: How does it feel to re-open an embassy after 3 decades in Bangladesh?
R L: This is very emotional, as between Algeria and Bangladesh; there is a specific historical relationship, especially in relation to the active solidarity and the esteem that was there between the late Algerian President Houari Boumediene and the Father of the Nation, the late Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. I would like to thank here the Bangladeshi authorities and all those who, from near or far, have helped me to begin with the accomplishment of my mission.
D O: How do you evaluate Bangladesh-Algeria relations in 2021?
R L: The political relationship between Algeria and Bangladesh remains excellent. During my first contacts with senior Bangladeshi officials and in particular during the audience granted to me by the Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on March 5, 2020, I was able to observe the level of excellence of this relationship. As Ambassador of my country, I wish to be able to live up to this relationship of esteem, consideration and solidarity that so fortunately exists between our two countries.
Algerian Ambassador to Bangladesh, His Excellency Rabah Larbi
D O: We consider it important for the post-71 generation in Bangladesh to reflect back in the past, and how Algeria played a critical role to endorse Bangladesh to become a member of the OIC. I would like to have a detailed answer from you?
R L: Indeed, it is important for the Post 71 generation in Bangladesh to reflect on the past because without a past, one cannot build the future. With regard to your question precisely, you are asking me to give details on this period. I would like to mention that I did not experience this period as a witness because I was very young.
Now, today as Ambassador, you have given me the scope to share some important details, and also at the very risk of getting some details wrong: Regarding, the role of my country in the framework of efforts which made it possible the participation of Bangladesh in the OIC summit in Lahore on February 24, 1974. I can tell that Bangabandhu took part in this summit with all the honours due to his rank, after the efforts of certain Muslim countries, close friends of Bangladesh, especially Algeria.
A delegation from seven Muslim countries, including Algeria, visited Bangladesh on 21 February 1974. They had discussions with Bangabandhu on the subject of Pakistan’s recognition of Bangladesh and his participation in the OIC summit in Lahore. Following these discussions Pakistan recognized Bangladesh on February 22, 1974 as a sovereign independent state.
On the same day, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr Kamal Hossain at an urgently called press conference in Ganabhaban, officially announced the Government’s decision that Bangabandhu would attend the Lahore Islamic Summit. As a result, the late President Houari Boumediene sent Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, whom he considered a brother, a special plane to transport him from Dhaka to Lahore.
I must recall here, in passing, to my knowledge and unless I am aware of it, Algeria was the first Arab countries to have recognized Bangladesh. It should be mentioned, moreover, that Bangabandhu had participated in the 4th Conference at the Summit of Non-Aligned Countries which was held in Algiers from September 5 to 9, 1973.
The Father of The Nation then delivered a speech where he, among other things, expressed his support for President Haouari Boumediene so that he could request, as President in office of the non-aligned countries, an extraordinary session at the United Nations for the purposes of claiming a new world economic order, a session which was actually held in 1974.
Bangabandhu could only support his brother Haouari Boumedienne as both of them had the deep soul that answered the call of the damned of the earth. This leader, of whom Fidel Castro once said that though he hadn’t seen the Himalayas, but he had seen the enormity of the Himalayas in Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Moreover, like Houari Boumediene, could have contributed, to the resolution of so many world problems, as he who wrote in his memoirs “As a man, what concerns mankind concerns me”.
I must finally tell that at the meeting which the Honourable PM granted me, I had the pleasure of presenting to her a photo album on Bangabandhu’s stay in Algiers in 1973 and in Lahore in 1974.
Exclusive interview of Algerian Ambassador to Bangladesh
D O: How many Bangladeshis are currently working in Algeria, please give us a rough idea?
R L: There are about 2000 Bangladeshis legally established in Algeria. They work in Algeria mostly with Indian, South Korean, Japanese and Turkish companies.
D O: Which are some of the potential sectors from which Algeria can economically benefit from Bangladesh?
R L: Algeria can benefit from several sectors where Bangladesh already has experience. I can tell, for example, the field of ICT. Algeria also wishes to benefit from Bangladesh’s great expertise in the textiles sector.
D O: Before the Covid-19 pandemic had struck, Bangladesh exports to Algeria were less than $10 million. Bangladesh mainly imports fertiliser from Algeria. How do you plan to increase the trade volume between the two countries?
R L: I rather believe that the volume of trade between our two countries was $ 25 million, before the outbreak of Covid 19. That said, this volume remains very limited if we consider the economic weight of our two countries. One of the goals of my mission is to work to raise this level of exchange. In view of the densification of our bilateral cooperation, I have already had video conferences with the Honourable Ministers of Energy, Industry, Trade etc� as well as I had close meetings with the Honourable Ministers of Home, Water Resources and Information.
A few months ago, the Algerian chamber of commerce and industry proposed to the Bangladeshi side a draft agreement in the field of trade. We expect it to be signed shortly.
D O: Can you share an update on the formation of the joint economic commission between Bangladesh and Algeria for bolstering cooperation in the fields of trade and commerce?
R L: Indeed, there is also a question of soon setting up a joint commission to strengthen bilateral cooperation in all sectors of activity.
D O: What is your plan to enhance the two countries’ cultural and people-to-people relations?
R L: In October 2017, the Bangladeshi side proposed to the Algerian side a draft Memorandum of Understanding on a cultural exchange programme between our two countries for the period 2018-2023. The Algerian Ministry of Culture had made a new proposal and hoped for the reaction of the Bangladesh side. Having said that, I think there is a lot to be done between our two countries in the area of cultural and interpersonal relations.
I hope that one day a direct airline can connect our two countries. I must say here, that in October 2017, a cooperation project with Airline Company “ABC Air Limited” was proposed by the Bangladeshi side. Air Algeria had given its consent in January 2018 to welcome the representatives of the Bangladeshi company to Algiers.
Algerian President Houari Boumediene with Prime Minister Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at Bangabhaban
Furthermore, I would like to thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh for inviting an Algerian musical group to participate in the celebrations of the commemoration of the birth centenary of Bangabandhu and the golden jubilee of the independence of Bangladesh. Unfortunately, with the Covid 19 pandemic, the musical group could not travel. That said, the Algerian Ministry of Culture and Arts did not fail to make a recording that the Embassy sent to the Ministry. This is a choreographic performance entitled “The eternal heritage” performed and directed by the Ballet troupe of the National Office for Culture and Information. It’s a dance performance that narrates the resistance, strength, courage and sacrifices of the Algerian Nation as well as the pride and determination of the Algerian people for the better future.
Let me also take this double occasion of the commemoration of the centenary of the birth of Bangabandhu and the celebration of the golden jubilee of the independence of Bangladesh, to send my best wishes for more success and more prosperity to Bangladesh.
D O: Would you share your diplomatic career with us?
R L: I embarked on a diplomatic career in 1980 after graduating from the National School of Administration. I have served in various positions in Ivory Coast, Spain, Greece, Niger and France (Strasbourg).
Likewise, I was placed at the Presidency of the Republic from 2001 to 2005 where I served as Director of Studies. At my request, I returned to my original body. As I was interested in politics from a young age, I also ran for the legislative elections of 1991 where I reached the second round which did not take place. I also ran as an independent candidate for the 2012 legislative elections.
At the risk of appearing beyond measure of ambition, if fate had permitted me, I would certainly have nurtured ideals similar to those which animated Haouari Boumediene and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. However, as the great Arab poet, El Mutanabi, said: “The winds blow in a different direction than that desired by the boats “.