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‘Macron’s bid for French-Algerian reconciliation is hollow nonsense’

Columnist Nabila Ramdani gives her view on the tense relationship between the two countries

French President Macron

Macron accused the current Algerian government of stirring up “hatred towards France” Pic: Frederic Legrand - COMEO / Shutterstock

If you want to learn about post-colonial angst, look no further than France’s relationship with Algeria.

Officially, the two countries are now friends and allies, but there is always extreme tension.

This relates to 132 years of colonisation that started when France invaded the North African country in 1830. 

Viewed as part of France

A full-blown liberation war raged from 1954 until 1962, which the Algerians estimate cost the lives of 1.5 million of their own citizens, including members of the National Liberation Front (FLN).

Read more: Comment - The Algerian War remains controversial in France 60 years on

Read more: Four questions to understand the 1961 killing of Algerians in Paris

Beyond napalming, carpet-bombing and using primitive gas chambers to kill natives, the French carried out human rights abuses, including torture, as they tried to eradicate the FLN and hang on to l’Algérie française. 

The jewel in the crown of the Empire was not just another colony – it was viewed as being a part of France, with its own departments. 

The indigenous Arab Muslim and Berber populations, meanwhile, were treated as a servant class to European pied-noir settlers. 

Thousands killed or maimed by landmines

Fighting extended to mainland France, where a terrorist group known as the Secret Army Organisation (OAS) joined the police in murdering Algerians. 

France also turned Algeria’s southern Sahara Desert into a nuclear testing ground from 1960. 

This, combined with the 11 million French landmines planted across the country, killed and maimed tens of thousands of Algerians. 

In turn, the French lost 28,000 soldiers and militiamen, but their biggest loss was 150,000 Harkis (Algerians who collaborated with the colonisers).

Little wonder that Emmanuel Macron’s decision to visit Algiers in August was viewed with the usual unease. 

Macron’s reconciliation claims are ‘hollow’

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the FLN’s victory in the War of Independence, and the French president claimed to be seeking reconciliation. 

An Elysée spokesman said his meeting with his Algerian counterpart, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, in August was all about “reinforcing Franco-Algerian cooperation in the face of regional challenges and continuing to address the past”.

It was an attempted repeat of Macron’s last visit in 2017, when, during his first presidential campaign, he conceded that colonisation was a “crime against humanity”.

With his eye on votes from a vast Algerian diaspora, Macron added: “It’s truly barbarous and it’s part of a past that we need to confront by apologising to those against whom we committed these acts.”

What hollow nonsense all that was. 

Within a few days of returning to France, Macron was already concentrating on the far-right vote and rehearsing all the tropes about Algeria being inherently uncivilised.

‘No repentance, nor apologies’ from French

The viciousness continued right up until last year, when he said the largest country in Africa wasn’t really a nation before colonisation by the French. 

Macron even accused the current Algerian government of stirring up “hatred towards France”, as if they were the aggressors.

The truth is there is zero evidence that the French are really repenting. 

They also released a one-sided report called Memory of Colonisation and the Algerian War in 2021.

It suggested that better public information about the excesses of the French Empire would be useful, but there was not a word in the 146-page document about contrition. 

Instead, there would be “no repentance, nor apologies”, let alone reparations or prosecutions, said a government spokesman. 

Macron went to Algeria for gas not forgiveness

We can be certain that the main objective of Macron’s latest visit to Algeria was purely economic. 

Like other EU countries, France is desperate to secure North African gas supplies after disengaging from Russian energy because of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Algeria is now the biggest supplier of gas to Italy, for example, and France wants to make sure it benefits from Algerian resources and expertise too. 

Catherine MacGregor, the head of French energy firm Engie, accompanied Macron on the trip to North Africa, clearly because the pair want to strike a supply deal as quickly as possible. 

Nobody would begrudge them this, but it is no excuse for pretending that Algerian-French relations are anywhere near being reconciled following the barbarism that took place in living memory. 

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