Algeria: The Y generation or the equation of unknown ones
Ghania Khelifi - 13/04/2012
Every political speech promises to pass the torch to young people to lead the country towards the enchanting shores of the future. Nonetheless, this inaccessible torch still remains in the hands of what the researcher and sociologist of the University of Algiers, Nacer Djabi calls “the power generation”. It is made of men whose average age is around 70 years and who have governed the country since its independence in 1962.
Djabi places the post independence generation consisting of executives and managers trained by the universities of the socialist and populist Algeria of the 1970’s between youth chomping at the bit and gerontocracy. Proud to be the “useful” category of the country, they maintain the glorifications of their elders, the heroes of the war of liberation and they keep the system operational.
Then comes the “Y generation”, i.e. the age group of those born between 1980 and 1995. Born with Internet and political pluralism, they have been brought up in the violence of the 1990’s and the social crisis. The values of the elder have proved to be ineffective and were quickly put aside, mocked, and finally hated.
The separation between young people and those in power has been consumed in the 1990’s. The new generation have shaken the ready-made thinking based on the historical legitimacy of the elder. They challenged the establishment by their adherence to the movement of revolt and the insurrection through Islamism of the 1990’s and then by the claim of identity in Kabylia and lastly by the almost systematic recourse to riots against bad life conditions.
The elders were confronted to their outcome: unemployment, corruption, injustice and authoritarianism. The ruling cast first tried the old recipe of manipulation and seduction by pouring money into projects meant to coax the young. Pretending not to or not really understanding their demands, the governments have developed an arsenal of repression to crush this permanent revolt.
A few months before the legislative elections, this separation between youth and their “elders” is even more palpable. “Forgone results”, “they are always the same”, “they share the income”, are a few formulas summarising the young people’s opinion with regards to these elections. Political parties are not spared by these criticisms. Caciques or satellites of the regime as well as the galaxy of new political parties who dream of entering the system – politicians are all painted with the same brush.
In his recent study on young people’s relationship to politics, Nacer Djabi states that there is “a total loss of confidence” and that there exists “a real rupture between these generations”. What is the outcome then? The sociologist speaks of two possible scenarios: “The first one is that of a peaceful transition. Those in power give way to the second generation. The second one is that of a violent transition. If the first generation refuses to relinquish power, there will be a confrontation between the two generations. On the one hand, this will obviously be quite violent and on the other hand, there will be a lot of repression. This fringe that I called the social movements generation is quite different from the previous age groups. Through experience and inexperience, but also through its ways of expression that go from revolt to violence, these youngsters prefer investing in social matters and civil society”.
By turning their backs to “these elders that are all liars and thieves”, young people have got rid of their values or at least those advocated by their parents. The corruption that has facilitated rapid fortunes, the vested interest that divide society into those are “with” or “without” connections have disqualified the values of work and effort in favour of resourcefulness.
Graduated parents struggling to make ends meet are relegated to the category of the incapable by their children who mix with children of illiterate parents who have become suddenly wealthy. Luxury villas, fancy cars and travels are rarely if ever the result of the labour of a lifetime. Connections, “business” are the keys to success and social visibility.
It is therefore difficult for political leaders to convince young people to get involved politically on behalf of the concepts of equality or transparency when they themselves, embody so many negative values. In Algeria, the efforts to win back young voters are sometimes pathetic like for example, these millions of sms send by the government who is always threatened by massive abstention. This obviously makes young people laugh to see the “elders” resort to modern methods while their behaviour and their “dinasaur” language are outdated.
The 20-29 year olds age group still represents nearly 8 million votes and the Algerians aged from 18 to 30 represents 8.5 million. It is a reservoir of 23% of the population that each political chapel would like to conquer, the time of a ballot paper. The task is rather difficult for politicians who have never mastered the communication codes with youth and who fail to present an intelligible political programme. Especially for men and women who by their incompetence and abuse, have condemned the young Algerians to feel like strangers in their own country.
Translated from French by Elizabeth Grech