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Art Moves Africa – Retracing Roots and Tracing New Routes: Mobility and Touring in North Africa

A study by Lara Bourdin for Art Moves Africa, October 2019

A study by Lara Bourdin for Art Moves Africa, October 2019

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47<br />

Country-Specific Information<br />

—<br />

GENERAL INFORMATION<br />

—<br />

Algeria is the largest country <strong>in</strong> <strong>Africa</strong> <strong>and</strong> shares<br />

a border with all the countries of <strong>North</strong> <strong>Africa</strong>,<br />

with the exception of Egypt. To its <strong>North</strong> lies the<br />

Mediterranean Sea, while the Sahara desert covers<br />

a wide swathe of the South of the country.<br />

Algeria’s first peoples are the Amazighen.<br />

Ancient Algeria was occupied consecutively by<br />

the Phoenicians, the Carthag<strong>in</strong>ians <strong>and</strong> the Romans<br />

before the Arab <strong>in</strong>vasions of the 8th <strong>–</strong> 11th<br />

centuries AD. The Ottoman Empire occupied<br />

coastal Algeria between 1518 <strong>and</strong> 1830. In 1830,<br />

France annexed Algeria, beg<strong>in</strong>n<strong>in</strong>g a lengthy <strong>and</strong><br />

violent process of colonization. Algeria was adm<strong>in</strong>istered<br />

as a département of France between<br />

1848 <strong>and</strong> Independence <strong>in</strong> 1962. The latter was<br />

won through a complex <strong>and</strong> brutal war, with<br />

torture <strong>and</strong> massacres deployed by the French<br />

aga<strong>in</strong>st the Algerian resistance. Over the years<br />

of colonial presence, the French implemented<br />

a thorough acculturation policy. Resistance to<br />

this policy has def<strong>in</strong>ed the foundations of modern-day<br />

Algerian identity: Islamic, Arabic <strong>and</strong><br />

Amazigh (Boukrouh <strong>and</strong> Kessab, 2010). Today,<br />

French has no official status but is widely spoken<br />

<strong>and</strong> used <strong>in</strong> government, media <strong>and</strong> educational<br />

<strong>in</strong>stitutions, a legacy of Algeria’s colonial history.<br />

Affiliation to <strong>Africa</strong> was enshr<strong>in</strong>ed <strong>in</strong> the<br />

constitution of 1963, a reflection of Algeria’s<br />

commitment to <strong>and</strong> centrality with<strong>in</strong> decolonization<br />

movements across the cont<strong>in</strong>ent. Dubbed<br />

the “Mecca of revolution” by Amilcar Cabral,<br />

Algiers was a place of meet<strong>in</strong>g for <strong>Africa</strong>n resistance<br />

leaders <strong>and</strong> political exiles <strong>in</strong> the 1960s<br />

<strong>and</strong> 1970s. The Pan-<strong>Africa</strong>n festival of 1969<br />

was held <strong>in</strong> Algiers, <strong>and</strong> the city was a seat for<br />

essential <strong>in</strong>tellectual <strong>and</strong> political movements<br />

such as pan-<strong>Africa</strong>nism, pan-Arabism <strong>and</strong> the<br />

non-Aligned movement.<br />

Algeria’s connections with the cont<strong>in</strong>ent<br />

have been marred by its recent history<br />

of authoritarianism <strong>and</strong> conflict. In the 1990s,<br />

Algeria was engulfed <strong>in</strong> what is typically called<br />

la décennie noire (the black decade), a period<br />

of violence <strong>and</strong> terrorism oppos<strong>in</strong>g the Algerian<br />

government <strong>and</strong> various Islamist rebel groups.<br />

Abdelaziz Bouteflika was elected <strong>in</strong> 1999 <strong>and</strong><br />

rema<strong>in</strong>ed <strong>in</strong> power until his resignation on April<br />

2, 2019. Diplomatic or economic relations with<br />

the <strong>Africa</strong>n cont<strong>in</strong>ent have not been a priority for<br />

the Algerian government, although there have<br />

been gestures toward <strong>in</strong>vestment <strong>in</strong> <strong>Africa</strong> <strong>in</strong><br />

recent years.<br />

While widespread protests did erupt <strong>in</strong><br />

Algeria <strong>in</strong> 2011, full-scale revolution did not take<br />

place. However, on February 22, 2019, hundreds<br />

of thous<strong>and</strong>s of Algerians took to the streets <strong>in</strong><br />

what was described as a spontaneous wave<br />

of contestation <strong>in</strong> response to Bouteflika announc<strong>in</strong>g<br />

his c<strong>and</strong>idacy for a 5th consecutive<br />

m<strong>and</strong>ate. Demonstrations have cont<strong>in</strong>ued s<strong>in</strong>ce<br />

Bouteflika’s resignation, as Algerians call for the<br />

rul<strong>in</strong>g elite to step down <strong>and</strong> gather around the<br />

ideals of social justice, equitable distribution of<br />

wealth, dignity, popular sovereignty, egalitarian<br />

republicanism, anti-imperialism <strong>and</strong> pr<strong>in</strong>cipled<br />

politics, among others (Rouabah, 2019). This<br />

massive swell of popular dissent is underway at<br />

the time of writ<strong>in</strong>g, with magnificent displays of<br />

solidarity, hope, humour <strong>and</strong> imag<strong>in</strong>ation radiat<strong>in</strong>g<br />

from Algerian streets to the world.<br />

—<br />

ARTS AND CULTURE SECTOR<br />

—<br />

Algeria’s cultural sector has been marked by<br />

strong centralization <strong>and</strong> monopolization of<br />

cultural affairs by the M<strong>in</strong>istry of Culture. The<br />

M<strong>in</strong>istry has enjoyed a considerable budget, with<br />

the w<strong>in</strong>dfall from oil <strong>and</strong> gas revenue mak<strong>in</strong>g it<br />

possible fo the M<strong>in</strong>istry’s budget to swell to $314<br />

million <strong>in</strong> 2014, the largest <strong>in</strong> <strong>Africa</strong> (Kessab,<br />

2015). This budget is reported to have collapsed<br />

<strong>in</strong> recent years with the fall of oil <strong>and</strong> gas prices<br />

<strong>and</strong> liquidation of Algeria’s reserves.<br />

Adm<strong>in</strong>istration of the M<strong>in</strong>istry of Culture’s<br />

budget has been characterized by tight regulation,<br />

opaque f<strong>in</strong>anc<strong>in</strong>g, poor management, clientelism<br />

<strong>and</strong> a strong emphasis on fund<strong>in</strong>g for major<br />

<strong>in</strong>stitutions <strong>and</strong> large-scale cultural activities<br />

such as festivals. These <strong>in</strong> turn have promoted<br />

a vision of Algerian culture that can broadly be<br />

—<br />

A<br />

L<br />

G<br />

E<br />

R<br />

I<br />

A<br />

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