Algeria’s regime seems to run into self-created blunders and gaffs whenever it is involved in a major football tournament. The usual cause for these ructions is the political conflict with neighbouring Morocco. Most football followers will remember: how Algerian fans cheered Morocco’s success in the 2022 World Cup in what was a mocking demonstration against their own hated regime; and the chaos that surrounded Morocco’s withdrawal from the African Nations Championship (CHAN) tournament — limited to players aged under 23 who still play in African countries — hosted by Algeria in January 2023 (Algeria Politics & Security – 17.01.23). Similar problems are expected with the next Africa Cup of African (CAN or AFCON), scheduled for Morocco in 2025.
However, this week’s scandal that broke out over the CAN — which is currently being held in Côte d’Ivoire and which has taken Algerians into some serious self-reflection — had nothing to do with Morocco. The latter cannot be blamed on frustration with Algeria’s extremely poor performances which has resulted in it failing to reach the knock-out stage after only drawing with Angola and Burkina Faso, and losing to lowly Mauritania. This followed the failure:
- to qualify for the finals of the 2022 World Cup; and
- to win the 2023 CHAN — after its main rival, Morocco, had pulled out — when Senegal beat Algeria in the final’s penalty shootout.
Instead, the scandal caused by an Algerian YouTuber — Sofia Benlemmane (a.k.a. Madame Sofia) — goes far beyond football, and tells us much more about the country than its spat with Morocco or its football fanaticism.
The ‘Madame Sofia’ scandal
Just before Algeria’s 15 January opening match — and with Algerian supporters celebrating in the streets of Côte d’Ivoire’s second largest city of Bouaké — Benlemmane published a video on Facebook that contained shocking racist and contemptuous remarks that denigrated the host country. She said that she was struck by the difference between Algeria and other African countries. ‘Thank God we have a country like Algeria’, she said and added that Algeria should be geographically located ‘between Spain and Portugal’. ‘Here [in Côte d’Ivoire] they are experiencing such misery!’, she exclaimed, filming outside the city’s train station. ‘It’s worse than prehistory. If I had the power, I would send Algerians here (to see it first-hand),’ she added, implying that Algerians are not aware of the comfort in which they live in their own country
This video went viral, sparking a wave of indignation in Côte d’Ivoire and in several other African countries as well as being picked up by the mainstream media. There were numerous calls for her expulsion from Côte d’Ivoire and even prosecuted.
Algeria’s state owned Entreprise nationale de télévision (ENTV) exacerbated the country’s already tarnished image by adding its own incredible ‘hate’ report against Morocco, which it blamed for having politically engineered the ‘Madame Sofia’ episode. What It failed to broadcast was that Benlemmane is an ‘influencer’ who is regularly used by the regime to organise initiatives to praise the regime and its disinformation operations which seek to manipulate domestic public opinion. Whether her racist outburst in Côte d’Ivoire was undertaken on her own initiative or that of the regime is unknown, and probably never will be.
Reflecting on Algeria’s racist ‘superiority’
The ‘Madame Sofia’ scandal may have had two positive outcomes. One is that it has highlighted the racism that permeates and animates so many Algerians, not merely the regime, especially in their attitudes and behaviour towards both black people and those from Sub-Saharan Africa.
Secondly, the issue has been taken up extensively by social media bloggers and even some mainstream press, who have been publishing a widely followed exposition of how Algeria’s ranking in Africa on almost every conceivable index is rapidly falling further behind a growing number of African countries.
These blogs, citing internationally recognised data and rankings, have gone on something of an educational campaign to explain to Algerians — blinded by their own racist views and the government’s disinformation — about where the country fits in Africa’s development rankings. It is a laggard in terms of: industry; economic development; innovation; new technology; transparency and modernity of the tax system; the excellence of universities; economic diversification; etc. It is not in the top ten African countries in terms of several important international economic or scientific rankings, and is more backward than many Sub-Saharan African countries.
Algeria’s social media, to which its population pay far more attention than the state media, have been explaining that Côte d’Ivoire’s rate of economic growth is twice that of Algeria. Since 2010 it has achieved an unprecedented 6%-7% annual growth with the poverty rate falling and the economy diversifying. All this, along with its Plans nationaux de Développement (PND) 2021-2025 currently being implemented, is more than can be said for Algeria. On current trends, it could surpass Algeria by 2030 in terms of per capita income unless the latter once again recalibrates its base data for measuring GDP as it did in 2023. This was done to give the impression that the country’s per capita GDP is bigger than it really is in comparison to other countries (Algeria Politics & Security – 26.09.23).This excerpt is taken from our Algeria Politics & Security weekly intelligence report. Click here to receive a free sample copy. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for subscription details.