Remembering Ahmed Ben Bella, first President of independent Algeria who passed away on the 11th April, 2012 at 96

14 April 2012 by Eric Toussaint

Ahmed Ben Bella had spent more than 21 years of his life in jail: 6 years in French prisons (1956-1962) and 15 years after he was overthrown in Algeria on 19 June 1965 by a military coup led by Colonel Houari Boumedienne.

I will straightaway recall some personal memories. Between 1994 and 2005 I met Ahmed Ben Bella on several occasions. The first time was in Geneva in 1994 at a lecture I had given on the issue of Third World debt. He spoke up from the audience without any ado, focusing on the need to struggle for the cancellation of Third World debt. I believe our first face-to-face conversation dates back to 2001. He had invited me to discuss the CADTM’s work over a dinner with himself and his wife Zohra. He said he appreciated the numerous publications of our organisation and wanted them to be available to the Arab youth in North Africa. He also said that he was trying to convince Hugo Chavez (who had been President of Venezuela since 1999) to resume the issue of debt cancellation. In January 2002 we met in Bamako where we both attended the first African Social Forum. Attached is a photo taken at that time.

From left to right are Zohra (Ahmed Ben Bella’s wife), Eric Toussaint, Victor Nzuzi of CADTM DRC, and Ahmed Ben Bella (photo by Denise Comanne). He was very much involved in the Pan-Africanist struggle to bring about his socialist project. He had been linked with Modibo Keita, first President of independent Mali, who governed between 1960 and 1968 (he was ousted in a military coup and later murdered in prison in 1977). We talked about Mr. Keita during his stay in Bamako.

Later, in 2004, at another meeting he proposed to financially support the translation and publication of the French book La Bourse ou la Vie in Arabic (the translation was done by Randa Baas and Imad Chiha, two Syrian activists closely connected with CADTM. Imad spent over 15 years in the prisons of Hafez el-Assad, the current Syrian President’s father, and the book was published in 2006 by an independent Syrian publisher). We met in Caracas. He told me that he hoped that Chavez’ experiments would go beyond speeches and the current reforms, and that they would result in a genuine revolutionary democratic change.

Ben Bella was almost 90 in September 2005. He invited me to Tlemcen in Algeria (in his native Oran region) where the university had decided to create the Ben Bella chair. He had asked me to deliver one of the speeches on the inauguration of the chair that was going to bear his name. I remember his inaugural speech: he sharply criticised the university’s programmes because they presented the capitalist discourse of a neoliberal ideology. The academic authorities did not appreciate this. We discussed his past activities: his friendship with Che Guevara, who stayed in Algiers during his presidency and delivered a fiery speech in February 1965 in which he exposed the crimes perpetrated by Belgium and France in their former colonies and criticised the Soviet Union’s attitude ( Ben Bella told me how he tried to develop workers’ self-management (especially with the help of Michel Raptis, known as Pablo) from 1962 to his overthrow in 1965. He also spoke of his difficult relations with the Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev, with Broz Tito and many others.

He was very much in love with his wife Zohra and he praised the Aloe Vera that she extracted herself and which was one of the secrets behind the good health they both enjoyed. A week later, after I had been back in Belgium for a couple of days, I was taken aback on receiving 4 litres of Aloe Vera extract, accompanied by a short message from Zohra and Ahmed Ben Bella, wishing me good health.

With Ahmed Ben Bella we have lost a formidable activist fighting for the emancipation of the peoples and a form of socialism based on workers’ self-management.

Liege 12 April 2012

Translation: Sushovan Dhar in collaboration with Christine Pagnoulle

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Greece 2015: there was an alternative. London: Resistance Books / IIRE / CADTM, 2020 , Debt System (Haymarket books, Chicago, 2019), Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012, etc.
See his bibliography:
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He was the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt from April 2015 to November 2015.

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