"You're Old, Go Home!"

Algerian President's Decision To Stay In Power Sparks Protests

by Jerry Chiemeke

"You're Old, Go Home!"

Reactions to the advancement in age and deterioration in health conditions of leaders vary from country to country. In some nations, citizens agitate for such old and frail leaders to take a rest and let go of power. In others, supporters overlook multiple incidents that hint at amnesia, ignore the frequent medical trips, campaign viciously for the leader's re-election, and when they achieve their goal, celebrate in a manner that borders on nuisance.

Algerians are expected to stage the country's biggest protests in decades, days before Algeria's ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika formally runs for a fifth term. The student-led protests on Friday March 1 called on 81-year-old Bouteflika to withdraw from the election race.

It is widely believed that Algeria's president is largely incapacitated, leaving the running of the country in the hands of a group of military and civilian elites. Bouteflika, who was elected president in 1999, suffered a stroke in 2013 and has rarely been seen in public since. He announced his intention on February 10 to run for elections in a statement published by the state news agency, sparking anger on Algerian streets, and igniting a string of country-wide protests. He is expected to submit a formal application to seek re-election on Sunday, prompting demonstrators to further mobilise over the last week.

Video on social media showed protesters setting pictures of the Algerian president on fire amid whistles and cheers. Students on campuses across the country marched to chants calling for the president's resignation. The scenes are uncommon in a country tightly controlled by security services. Algeria's leadership largely comprises veterans of the country's war of independence from France between 1954 and 1962.

The country's ruling party has repeatedly said that the elections would be "free and transparent."

"Nothing can prevent the Algerian people from freely electing a president of the Republic," said Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia on Thursday, according to the state-owned Algerian Press Service (APS).

On Thursday February 28, Algerian journalists were arrested as they staged a demonstration calling for greater press freedoms and policy reforms, according to APS. 

Meanwhile, the country's security services have issued a warning about false news to "harm public opinion," APS reported.

Authorities have reportedly partially shut down Internet services around the country. Internet Observatory, NetBlocks.org said it detected multiple Internet disruptions across Algeria, including targeted network shutdowns which included major protest areas of Algiers, Tizi Ouzou and Bordj Menaiel.

The excessive urge to hold on to power is a malaise that is not exactly alien to African leaders: Mouammar Gaddafi ruled Libya from 1961 to 2011, Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe held on to his seat for 37 years, and 86-year-old Paul Biya has been in charge of Cameroon since 1983. In any case, it is refreshing to see people agitate for logic to prevail, and while it is hoped that things do not get as "intense" as the 2011 Arab spring, at least this situation provides a few lessons that certain countries can learn from.