When it comes to writing the political obituary of Algerian President Abdul Aziz Bouteflika, it will be noted that his long and proud career ended of his choosing — that he stepped aside and called it a day on a remarkable rise that saw him champion Algerian independence and guide his nation to its rightful place as a leader in the Arab world. After widespread protests against the infirm 82-year-old running for a fifth term to continue his remarkable 20-year run as president, Bouteflika has acknowledged that the passing of time has indeed caught up with him and it is now better for all Algerians and the nation to which he gave so much, to withdraw from the race.
Make no mistake, it would be wrong to celebrate the end of his career, for he did indeed put Algeria first. In fighting against the French, in acting as the Algerian foreign minister, in being president of the United Nations General Assembly, he set an independent course for Algeria and raised its profile on the global stage. He was a proud and long supporter of the Palestinian cause, and also stood firmly against international terrorism.
As president, Bouteflika put down an insurgency that threatened the democratic nature of his nation. That was a chapter that required tough choice and a commitment to building and sustaining a modern Algeria, one that would not beholden to extremism.
For the past 20 years, through turbulent times, challenging circumstances and an era where populist hopes had been raised in a nation of 41.3 million, Bouteflika has been a constant hand on the tiller. Yes, its economy faces challenges, youth unemployment is high, but Bouteflika saw off the threats faced from extremist forces to the nation’s southern borders. For a nation of so much hope and potential, it’s indeed easy to see why protesters took to the streets to campaign against their president seeking another term. Their voices have indeed been heard, and Bouteflika has stepped aside
For almost the past six decades, ever since winning independence from their French colonial masters, the legacy of that period has dominated and prevented Algerians from reaching the fullness of their huge potential. With the effective end of the Bouteflika era, Algerians must now indeed think long and hard about the path their nation must now take.
It is easy to be united against something or someone. What is not easy is deciding how to forge a future that will realise the full potential of a nation. The voices of those who blend politics and religion must not prevail.