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Algeria and its Southern Neighbours: Turbulence in the Sahara


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Editor's note: We apologise for the poor quality of this podcast.

Speaker(s): Dr Yvan Guichaoua, Imad Mesdoua
Chair: Dr John King

Recorded on 10 March 2014 in 1.04, New Academic Building.

The South of Algeria belongs to the widely integrated Saharan political economy also composed of large chunks of the Malian and Nigerian territories. As such, Algeria plays a key role in the livelihoods (through licit or illicit means), and geographical social and political mobility of Sahelian communities, using borders as resources and connected to each other through transnational networks. But Algeria is also a powerful hegemon trying to protect its domestic and regional interests in an environment where political tensions and rivalries abound: protracted Western Sahara conflict, French military deployment at Algeria’s doorstep, highly mobile Jihadist units - remnants of the Algerian civil war. As a result, Sahelian narratives on Algeria are alternatively framed through the limited experiences of participants of the Saharan political economy or through discourses produced by biased, sometimes conspirationist, decision-makers and diplomats with varying allegiances. A kaleidoscopic and intellectually frustrating image of Algeria results, whose verifiability is highly problematic. Dr Yvan Guichaoua will examine the role of Algeria in recent (Tuareg then Jihadist) insurgencies in Mali and Niger as portrayed by various actors of the political crises in the Sahel. Imad Mesdoua will be examining the rationales guiding Algerian foreign policy in light of growing instability throughout the Sahel and Maghreb regions. Prior to French intervention in Mali, there was a general sense in the West that Algeria would, as a regional power, ultimately contribute or even spearhead a potential military intervention. In the end, Algeria did not participate in the French operation, and Imad seeks to explain why this was the case. He will also examine whether Algeria's regional security policy, partly focused on countering al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM) growing influence in neighbouring states, has been a success.

Yvan Guichaoua is a lecturer in International Politics at the University of East Anglia. He is a former teaching fellow at Yale University and research officer at the University of Oxford. He has been studying the dynamics of irregular armed groups in Sub-Saharan African since 2004. Since 2007, Yvan Guichaoua has been studying insurgencies in Niger and Mali and the rise of Jihadism in the Sahel. His work explores the complex interactions between violent entrepreneurs, low level combatants and the state and forms of governance they produce. Yvan Guichaoua is the author of numerous journal articles and book chapters, and the editor of Understanding Collective Political Violence and co-editor of The Developmental Challenges of Mining and Oil (Palgrave-Macmillan).

Imad Mesdoua is an Algerian political analyst specialising in the Middle East and North Africa. He has previously worked as a freelance journalist and as a political consultant, advising political officials and international organisations. He regularly provides on-air analysis as a guest commentator for the BBC, Al Jazeera and France 24.

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