Stop Terrorism! Start Transformation!

Arslan Chikhaoui
... is Chairman and CEO of the consultancy centre “Nord-Sud Ventures”, specializing in business intelligence, strategy and lobbying based in Algiers, Algeria. He was born in Algeria in 1962 and has degrees in international relations and economics from Berkeley University and in biology from the Algiers University of Science & Technology. He did further studies in strategy and government affairs at the Foreign Service Institute.
He is also a senior consultant to Algerian Government bodies and senior analyst on international affairs for national and international media. At the 1999 WEF Summit in Davos, he was chosen as a 100 Global Leaders for Tomorrow. He is also a member of the Defence and Security Forum (DSF) based in London, and WEF Regional Agenda Council on MENA, and Alumni of NESA Centre for Strategic Studies of National Defence University of Washington DC.

In this interview Arslan Chikhaoui gives us insights into Algeria’s politics, economy and social life.
The interview was conducted by Ulrike Reinhard late November 2010 at the Transformation Thinker Conference hosted by the Bertelsmann Foundation and the GTZ. After Arslan’s presentation I felt a little uncomfortable with what I heard and I decided to talk to him about my concerns. I saw a huge contradiction in what Arslan’s company Nord-Sud Ventures is doing and what Algerian citizens really need. Money making and lobbying in what is (still) a non-democratic country barely goes along with people’s need. I challenged him to think about how transformation and change – both affirmed goals of his company – can be driven in different ways ...
It turned out to be a very interesting conversation ;-)

Arslan, what is your company Nord-Sud Ventures doing?

Arslan Chikhaoui (Arslan):
The trade name of the firm Nord-Sud is directly related to the vertical relation between the North and the South. In 1993, I realized what this country needed was to be advised – but not advised by foreign firms with whom Algeria had spent millions of dollars. So, I decided to sell my ideas to both political and economic players in need of counseling. The mission of my office is to provide counseling services in the economic as well as political field. We provide a wide range of counseling services in the market, strategic studies by country, trade investigations, political marketing, as well as counseling at the political and social level. We started our activities at the local level and then two years ago, we expanded them internationally.
We created a lobbying center in Algiers with branches in London, Paris and Brussels.

You are here as a transformation thinker, Arslan. Do you think you are really supporting transformation in Algeria? Transformation towards what? Are you working for the “public good” in this way, helping people to achieve a better life or are you one of these people who simply benefit from the situation and the regime. Which is of course absolutely legal and there is nothing to be said against it.

A good question. And many people ask this.
I have a philosophy – and I hope you can “get it” while we are going through this interview.
I’ve had a choice between two options. The first option was to stay abroad and live an easy life. I've studied in the US, but I decided to come back. If I would have stayed, I might have thought about ways to influence my country from the outside and drive change from there. But I think this is impossible. You can't influence anything from the outside, you are completely disconnected from reality.
The “real” thing is to be in the country, to be connected to reality, but – even when you are connected to realty – to be away from the system ...

Do you consider yourself “away from the system”?

I am “out of” the system. I will never accept any position as a minister or a politician. What I am trying to do in Algeria is to participate, to build something new, to support the change – but I try to avoid being a threat to the regime.
If you are a threat, you will never have the chance to train, to educate the regime in a better understanding of what needs to be done in order to achieve prosperity or a descent life for the majority of the people. To better understand the new dimensions of the market economy.
We mostly focus on the politicians, very often we forget about the administration, we forget all the civil servants who don’t know much about what is going on abroad and what needs to be done to transform our country. I see my role right in there! This can only be done from inside the country, this is not something you can achieve with anti regime blogs or any other type of activism from the outside.
And me, being a member of the World Economic Forum (WEF)…

… WEF – another of the elite clubs where a lot of “deals” are made … not always really good for mankind. Sorry for this, but I don’t trust them very much!

Yes, we can argue about this as well. But it gives me a trump card to play within my own country. It demonstrates some kind of reputation to our leaders in Algeria. And this is why they are listening … If you don’t have this, you will be completely out of the scene.
So this is my way of acting.
And I try and I do my best to be as honest to both sides as possible. It is some kind of balancing act.

So let’s stop this discussion here and start talking about your country. What is the role of Algeria within Africa?

Algeria is starting to come back. 15 years ago Algeria was in “brackets”, it was put on hold. It wasn't involved in any projects in Africa. But now it is moving.
Actually Algeria is one of the African countries which defends poor countries and helps them. One of the future challenges for it will be to invest the money coming from our oil and gas industry within Africa. I can see this happening at some stage, even though not immediately. The reason is the fact that Algeria is one of the initiators of the NEPAD plan. Together with Nigeria and South Africa they set up this program for new development in Africa. What they are still working on is the business plan which goes along with it and which is needed to implement it so to speak “on the ground”.

Do you think other African countries like Ghana or Kenya see Algeria as a supporter of Africa?

I think they see Algeria as a leader of the old fashioned, non aligned countries which helped other African countries achieve independence.
And this is it.
Today they don't see Algeria as a country which could help them. Not at all. But Algeria could definitely play a major role in both the northern Africa and Sahel region. And it should do in my opinion.

Who is creating wealth in Algeria? Is there anything like a private sector?

Do you think it is the private sector which creates wealth in Algeria? No! It is still the centralized government. And this will remain so for a while – Algeria is just starting to move …

Would you say that Algeria has started a real transformation process or is it just a declaration of well meaning intentions?

What I can say is that we have freedom of speech. We have more than 30 private media companies …

Are they censored?

(laughing) Censored? Some of them in a way. But most of them not! No! You can see the media insulting the President and they don’t have to fear any consequences. But is it enough to have freedom of speech? Is it enough to move on? No! We need more than this. We need to move away from our present of governance – still based on the old Soviet model – towards a new way of governance.

Which could be …

Which would include – besides freedom of speech – rethinking how decisions are made. How the decision making process could be run within a framework of dialogue. The political elite should open up and let civil society participate more through various kinds of platforms like media, unions, NGOs … Our leaders – decision makers as we call them in Algeria – need interaction with them. There is still a lack here. They should listen more to the people – economically and politically.

Do you think a strict distinction between politics and the private sector is needed to transform the country?

I think Algeria should definitely become more open – in various ways … Today they don’t put you in jail when you insult the President. But this doesn’t mean anything! We need free trade and more openness. WE, the people need hope!
The government is still playing a game here. But even the “western” countries are playing a game here. They actually very much like the situation we have in Algeria. They don’t want every Algerian to be able to leave the country whenever he/she wants to … To be very honest.
The new generation in Algeria – 80% of the population is younger than 30 years – they need a vision for the future! They need a new leader as we had one in the seventies …

How can this be achieved?

Above all, we do need stability in the country. At least a certain level of stability. Once we are done with terrorism, violence and crime then we can start talking about the next step! Otherwise you can’t achieve anything.
We haven’t achieved this yet. We are still struggling. Even though the security within the country has much improved – in comparison to the nineties – but when you open the paper, almost every day you'll find a new case on these issues.

You are working as a consultant Arslan. Which are the three drivers for transformation would you recommend the government to take up?

Definitely macro economic reforms and then economic growth. This will then lead to the third point which is social stability and descent life for everybody. If you achieve social stability, then you can move towards broader political reforms.

What about the Internet? How many people have access? Is it censored?

I will surprise you! The Internet is not censored in Algeria, not at all. This is a really good point!
Today more than 3-4 million people have access, this is about 10 % of the population. Most of them are young people. The infrastructure is there in the cities, for most people it is simply too expensive to use.

What about mobile?

I will surprise you again! More than 17 million have mobile phones, this is more than 50% of the population. We have a public mobile operator – like every other country – and we have opened up this market for two private carriers: Orascom, which was established in 1998 and is considered among the largest and most diversified network operators in the Middle East and QTel from Qatar. Most of the phones aren’t smart phones, you simply use them for phone calls, SMS or MMS.

Are there any mobile services, applications that help people in rural areas?

No, not that I know of.

Arslan, do you think that the kind of regime which is now running Algeria is better right now than a democracy, a democracy like we have here in Germany?

To be honest, I prefer to answer YES. I think we still need this autocratic system – without it I believe change would be even harder, the situation would escalate much more easily! But we don’t need it for ever, just for a few more years … a short period of time!

Arslan, thank you very much for your open words and your great personal insights! All the best.

Thank you, Ulrike.

Facts about Algeria – according to Wikipedia:
Algeria, a gateway between Africa and Europe, has been battered by violence over the past half-century. More than a million Algerians were killed in the fight for independence from France in 1962, and the country has recently emerged from a brutal internal conflict that followed scrapped elections in 1992 which was won by an Islamist party. The election was annulled, heralding a bloody civil war in which more than 150,000 people were slaughtered. Although political violence in Algeria has declined since then, the country has been shaken by a campaign of bombings carried out by a group calling itself Al-Qaeda in the Land of Islamic Maghreb (AQLIM).
After years of political upheaval and violence, Algeria’s economy has been given a lift by frequent oil and gas finds. However, poverty remains widespread and unemployment high, particularly among Algeria’s youth. Endemic government corruption and poor standards in public services are also chronic sources of popular dissatisfaction.
Algeria’s TV and radio stations are state-controlled, but there is a lively private press which often criticises the authorities. There is no direct censorship, but laws set out prison terms and fines for insulting or defaming the president, MPs, judges and the army.
There were 4.1 million internet users by September 2009 (InternetWorldStats). Most surfers rely on dial-up connections and cybercafes. No widespread filtering is reported, but the blocking of a political website in January 2010 was said to be the first known instance of online censorship.

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We_magazine Volume 04 Creative Commons

5 Things You Didn't Know About Africa
Emergent Africa
Africa is NOT A Country!
Stop Terrorism! Start Transformation!
Africa's Future − Ask China!
Change Has A Name: Mobile
Talking About A Revolution
Reload WE_africa
Spaces Of Freedom
Culture − A Life Affirming Joy
Kenya Matters
A Techie In Love With The Arts
Radio As A Force For Peace
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Africa's Global Community
I Want To Be A Computer Genius
Technology For Transparency
Memoirs Of A Slum Boy
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