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Tag archives for algeria

Salaries in the Maghreb: The Land of Equality?

While no one expects their government leaders to earn the same wage as the average guy, North Africa governments tend to pay generous salaries to ministers and the likes. However, compared to corporate executive jobs, or even mid-level managers in the West, the salaries in question are not that great. They generally do not exceed the $150,000 ceiling, but that does not inlcude the perks and bonuses that most of these officials benefit from. That includes allowances for housing, travel, cars, gasoline, etc. If you include all of that and more, government people in North Africa are rich.

In the region, the most humble officials are those of Tunisia. The Prime Minister there does not get more than $48,000 per year, when his Algerian and Moroccan colleagues get almost triple that amount. Interestingly, in the spirit of good governance, the Interim President of Tunisia, who was entitled to a wage equivalent of $240,000 per year, has downgraded his pay to a symbolic $20,000 per year instead. We salute Mr. Marzouki for doing so as the Tunisian people continue to struggle with their evolving Jasmine Revolution.

What do the others make compared to minimum or median wages? Judge by yourself.

Top Algerian Leaders' Salaries

Top Algerian Leaders' Salaries

 

Moroccan Ministers' Wages

Moroccan Ministers' Wages

 

Wages in Tunisia

Wages in Tunisia

Algeria vs. Morocco: And the Tit-for-Tat Goes On

Moroccans and Algerians love to hate each other. I am not talking about the people, who are exactly the same in identity, ethnicity, religion and customs and have only respect for one another, but about their governments and leaders, who continue to feud and refuse to face up to the geo-strategic realities of the region today. Together, these two nations could perform more good than individually, yet they continue to deny their people the right for common security and shared prosperity. Together, they have the ability to secure the region in more effective ways. And if integrated, their economies could be a real regional powerhouse, serving a population of some 70 million. Instead, they are feuding non-stop over who is the most influential in the region, preventing the rise of a real economic nation.

This month provided yet another opportunity for the two to show how irrational they are when it comes to dealing with one another. The Western Sahara and the fate of its people remain a thorny issue and the Algerians use every occasion to blame the Moroccans of obstructionism.  Last week, the Algerian pro-government media reminded its readers that while the European Parliament gave its support to the Sahraoui people for their “right to exercise self-governance,” Russia’s foreign minister has apparently reminded his Moroccan counterpart, Rabat Saâd Dine El Othmani, in a visit to Moscow of the same. El-Othmani was in Russia to pressure the Kremlin on the Syrian crisis. This sort of media position is a constant fixture in many Algerian newspapers, even the privately-owned ones.

The Moroccans too are over thinking it and acting irrational when Algeria deals with Morocco’s arch-enemies of the Polisario Front. And sometimes, their irrational behavior gets difficult to explain. During the burial of the Algerian first President Ahmed Ben Bella last week, the Moroccan delegation found it important to leave the ceremonies abruptly because there was a Polisario delegation in the event. The event was about the burial of a political figure; instead the very “religious”-leaning Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane ordered his delegation back while the burial ceremony was taking place in the Al-Alia cemetery. The reason, you may ask? The very presence of the Polisario’s Mohamed Abdelaziz annoyed the Moroccans.  Although it is unlikely that the decision was made by Benkirane given that the gesture may contradict some of the very religious teachings he comes to endorse, it is clear that the order came directly from King Mohammed VI. Eager to score a point, the Moroccan pro-government press likes to repeat over and over that “Algeria is sacrificing its relations with Morocco to benefit the Polisario.”

The two countries have not yet resorted to any action that could be seen by the other as confrontational and of a military nature. Such confrontation is not likely to happen, but the two continue to use sneaky ways to undermine each others. Diplomacy is one of them but as we reported in issue 228, they have been on each other’s case using the Internet to damage the other’s Web presence [Read: Algerians and Moroccans Use Cyber Attacks to Settle their Political Scores]. Thank goodness none of them has critical banking, defense or industrial systems modern enough to rely on Internet infrastructure. That would be a disaster if it were the case.

And so goes the Shakespearean drama involving the two enemy-brothers Algeria and Morocco.  When dangers continue to loom high in their own neighborhood, when Europe is looking to reduce its foreign population, mostly North Africans, when both countries have industries that can be complementary to the other, the two spend their times arguing like cats and dogs over secondary issues…and that is to show who the biggest boy in the neighborhood is.  Where is true leadership?

Algeria’s Unsustainable Food Situation

Algerian agriculture Analyst Mohamed Naïli speaks about the price of potatoes in Algeria reaching the unprecedented level of DZD 100 per kilo [read here in French]. But potatoes are not alone in becoming out of reach for millions of Algerian households. Their grocery bills are increasing with the sudden spike in prices for such basic commodities as tomatoes, dry legumes, chickpeas, and virtually everything else in the list. The nation’s food and agriculture policy is out of touch as we discussed in detail in our latest issue.

Since February 2012, Algerian consumers noticed unusual rises in food prices, in a trend that according to Naïli contradicts the political discourse heard from government officials and politicians. These politicians’ assurances to the contrary are happening while the country is preparing its legislative elections. With a government contradicting itself, the likelihood of an Islamist victory based on yet another populist discourse is as strong as ever.

Government ministers in charge of the food sector, from agriculture to trade keep promising price readjustments in the coming days and the news of potato prices dropping slightly in towns like Mostaghanem adds to the idea that they are in control. But the Algerian consumer does not buy the politicians views. There is a widespread belief that the food sector in Algeria is dominated by speculators that are simply untouchable and above the law. If they are not engaged in the import sector, which affects all products, perhaps with the exception of potatoes, they control the supply chains, logistics and distribution that influence availability and pricing.

According to Naili, these speculators are also involved in politics to a certain extent. He quoted the head of the Algerian consumer protection association as saying that those price hikes are the result of a conspiracy to sabotage or influence the May 10 parliamentary elections. He pointed the figure to those who control the distribution sector, in particular, as being behind it. For what reasons and purposes, it is unclear, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that lobby groups are there to influence politics to gain economic favors. If lobbying happens everywhere else in the world, why not in Algeria too?

For observers within Algeria the question is increasingly about whether the various regulatory bodies, watchdogs and law enforcers are too weak and vulnerable to face these highly influential speculators. Their conclusion is that such institutions are worthless and without any power to apply the law and bring to justice wrongdoers. While no single institution has managed to prevent the current price crisis, politicians currently running for Parliament seats keep pledging to the masses that they would do the right things if they were to be elected.

Although a great deal of Algeria’s problems can be blamed on powerful speculators and a leadership crisis in governance, the concept of the curse of oil is real in the case of that particular country. While other nations with similar oil wealth managed to diversify their economies as they learned a lesson from the 1980s oil crises, Algeria’s financial well-being remains deeply rooted in the oil and gas sector. Virtually all of its foreign currency income comes from petroleum-related exports.

Despite efforts to diversify exports, at least in speeches, the country’s policy makers and government leaders are unable to create the proper environment to open trade, while lobby groups continue to pressure in favor of more import so they continue to expand their control of domestic markets. Consider that for a country that has Africa’s largest territory and enormous farming potential, the agricultural sector exported only $30 million worth of food in the entire 2011. Morocco typically exports at least 33 times that value, in fact exceeding the $1 billion mark.

The agricultural sector accounts to a meager 5% of non-petroleum exports, which by themselves account for a low single-digit share of all export value. Most of what Algeria exports in terms of food do not include what it really can potentially export like vegetable, fruits or grains, but mostly pastas, sugar, cooking oil and dates.  In fact, date exports accounted for half of the $30 million earned in 2011.

While agricultural experts are quick to blame the nation’s bad policies such as the unavailability of such products as fertilizers, machinery, bad financing offerings, etc, they tend to avoid discussing the thorny issue of speculators, many of whom are major influencers of politics.  Additionally, in the agro-industry sector, problems abound in the way businesses are managed. Most of the 22,000 firms involved in food processing, for instance are small businesses with no management skills and resources to improve their productivity and up their profitability, let alone crack foreign markets. Yet, some 150,000 people work in the food processing sector.

As Algeria faces a new parliament, most likely dominated by Islamists, it may be time for its new legisltive leaders to revisit the nation’s food policy. It is unsustainable that Algeria continues to rely on imports to feed itself when it has good arable land, an abundance of labor, and a very good domestic market. Unless the new leaders are in cahoots with speculators!