Battered by falling oil prices and lack of pro-activeness in addressing the coronavirus and its social and economic repercussions, Algeria’s President Abdelmejid Teboune has attention geared primarily to undermining Morocco’s territorial integrity through generous handouts to the Polisario separatists.
When asked by reporters whether Algeria will seek foreign debt to deal with the crisis, Teboune ruled out the idea as detrimental to the sovereignty of the country.
“When we borrow from international banks we can no longer speak of the Sahara,” said the Algerian president in an interview that showed the Algerian people that nothing has changed in the regime that squandered Algeria’s oil wealth.
In his interview, Teboune adopted a rhetoric typical to populist state leaders myopic to the structural problems facing Algeria where a combustible mix of unemployment, social unrest and corruption pile up threatening the country’s fragile social peace.
After it kept silent on the COVID-19 pandemic in Tindouf, Algeria finally recognized the existence of confirmed cases, raising panic in the Lahmada camps. Six cases were revealed Friday after few tests were carried out in Tindouf in the extreme southwest of Algeria, hosting the Polisario-run camps.
To avoid that the camps inhabitants attempt to escape en masse, Algeria rushed to assist the Polisario, which has tightened the confinement measures in the camps.
The Algerian authorities dispatched a member of the cabinet to the head of the Polisario, confined in Tindouf far from the difficult conditions prevailing in the camps, and the president of the Algerian Red Crescent, Saïda Benhabiles, discussed food assistance with the president of the so-called “Sahrawi red crescent”, an entity not recognized by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The Algerian food aid comes following the alarm sounded by several Members of the European Parliament, who challenged the European Commission on the humanitarian situation in the Lahmada camps.
Belgian MEP, Frédérique Ries, on the basis of information from the camps, warned on April 25 of an impending humanitarian and health disaster. The MEP warned that Algeria, which is responsible for the Sahrawis it hosts on its territory, has not put any basic medical equipment or infrastructure at their disposal, and that Covid-19 patients are confined in “catastrophic isolation rooms”.
Over the weekend, Algeria set up an airlift for emergency aid to Tindouf, as the humanitarian and health situation in the camps is getting worse and the contamination risk is high, especially that the main providers of food aid are NGOs from the two European countries most badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic, Spain and Italy.
However, the humanitarian assistance was not distributed, despite the emergency in the camps. On Saturday, media close to the Polisario expressed fears that the aid would be, as usual, conveyed to the private warehouses of the President of the Sahrawi Red Crescent or those of the so-called trade ministry. These two are known for embezzling humanitarian aid that they sell in the black market for the benefit of Polisario leaders.
According to the same media, the chief of the Sahrawi Red Crescent held a meeting Saturday night in Tindouf to share the human assistance, and to further tighten the confinement imposed on the inhabitants, brandishing again the specter of the coronavirus.