Algeria, a youthful country dependent on oil and gas

Algeria is Africa's third biggest crude producer and the world's ninth producer of natural gas. Oil and gas exports make up 95% of external revenue and contribute 60% of the state budget.
Thursday 14/03/2019
This January, 2013 file photo shows a general view of an oil installation on the outskirts of In Amenas, Algeria. (AFP)
This January, 2013 file photo shows a general view of an oil installation on the outskirts of In Amenas, Algeria. (AFP)

Algeria, where half of the population is under 30, is suffering from financial and social woes linked to the fall in oil prices, from which it gets 60% of its budget.

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on March 11 announced he was abandoning his bid to stand for a fifth term, following weeks of mass protests against his re-election bid. The 82-year-old leader postponed the April 18 vote, meaning he will remain in power until a "national conference" decides on a new date for polls.

Here are some key facts about the North African country of 42 million people.

- 8-year independence war -

Algeria became a French colony in 1830 after three centuries of Ottoman domination. Independence came in July 1962 after a bloody independence war that lasted nearly eight years.

In September 1963, Prime Minister Ahmed Ben Bella of the National Liberation Front (FLN), which had led the struggle against French colonial rule, became the founding president of independent Algeria.

In 1965 the FLN's Houari Boumediene overthrew and jailed Ben Bella, running Algeria as a one-party state until his death in 1978.

Colonel Chadli Bendjedid was then elected president, a post he held until 1992.

- Civil war -

In October 1988, protests rocked Algiers, prompting authorities to declare a state of emergency. The army clamped down on demonstrators but introduced political reforms that ended the single-party system.

However, when the country had its first multiparty legislative election in 1991, the army stepped in to prevent the Islamic Salvation Front winning and setting up an Islamic state.

That sparked a civil war in which some 200,000 people were killed from 1992-2002. The Armed Islamic Group claimed responsibility for many civilian massacres.

- Bouteflika in power -

At the height of the war, Bouteflika won the 1999 presidential election. He was backed by the army and introduced a reconciliation programme that saw thousands of Islamist fighters lay down their arms.

Bouteflika, who joined the FLN at the age of 19, won re-election in 2004 and 2009.

In 2013, he suffered a stroke that left him wheelchair-bound but, despite his poor health, Bouteflika was elected for a fourth term the following year. His mobility and speech severely reduced, he has since rarely appeared and no longer speaks in public.

- Oil dependent -

Socialist until the early 1990s, Algeria's economy remains subject to a high level of state intervention. The oil wealth subsidises fuel, water, health care, housing and basic goods.

Algeria is Africa's third biggest crude producer and the world's ninth producer of natural gas. Oil and gas exports make up 95% of external revenue and contribute 60% of the state budget.

Falling oil prices have hit the country's economy hard.

In late 2018, International Crisis Group analysts estimated that urgent reforms were needed to diversify the economy to avoid a crisis in 2019. It said the country can count on an external debt lower than 2% of GDP and on support from partners.

- Africa's biggest country -

Part of the Maghreb, Algeria is Africa's biggest country.

Desert makes up more than five-sixths of its territory, but 80% of the population lives on the coast, including in the capital Algiers. Nearly 54% of the population is younger than 30.

Algeria counts some 10 million Berbers, most living in Kabylie, a rebellious mountainous region to the east of Algiers.

The official languages are Arabic and the Berber language Tamazight but French is widely spoken.

(AFP)