Hoggar Institute

Buzz Over a Weekend in Algiers

Tribune Libre - Tamashek Kel

Since 1976, Algerians were taking their weekend break on Thursday and Friday. However, from August 14, 2009, Algeria has aligned itself with other states in the MENA region, such as Jordan or the UAE, that have a Friday-Saturday weekend.

While business people working internationally have welcomed the change, it is not clear whether Algeria in general and Algerians in particular would see any economic benefit and improvement of their socio-economic situation from such a move.

This issue, in line with numerous socio-political and economic other ongoing problems in Algeria, was often brought back on the political agenda. For some experts and economists, switching to the [semi]universal weekend could well improve the macro-economic situation of the country. Some even predict an extra point in the economic growth.  As for businessmen, they argue that Algeria has lost millions of dollars each year due to the Thursday-Friday weekend. Is it however as such? Nothing is certain.

Anyone who is familiar with Algeria and has regularly travelled there could objectively say that the roots of the economic problems of this North African country are not the days of the weekend. This point may well be the least on the list of too many problems and dysfunctions happening throughout the country.

Algeria suffers indeed and primarily from an institutionalized kleptocracy, an unwillingness from those in charge of the country to take the right decisions to move forward, share the wealth of the national economy and improve the living conditions of 33 millions of Algerians. And one can simply take a few minutes to look at some international reports such as those drawn up by The Heritage Foundation, the World Bank, the United Nations or Transparency International to understand that economic problems in Algeria pertain from corruption, [lack of]transparency and/or [in]competency.

How can indeed one be optimistic before such pale following figures? According to the World Bank, Algeria is ranked 132th  in terms of ease of doing business. Comparatively, neighbouring Morocco is ranked 128th and Tunisia 73. Other MENA countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia are ranked 45th and 16th respectively. Similarly, in terms of economic freedom, Algiers is ranked 56.6 out of 107 countries. More significantly, the country is situated at the 14th place out of 17 MENA cited countries. Other tangible figures; it takes 24 days to open a business in Algeria. Comparatively, the procedure takes half the same length (12 days) in Morocco and Saudi Arabia and 11 days in Tunisia. More, opening a business in Egypt and Qatar takes 7 and 6 days respectively.

The endemic corruption affecting the national economic is also striking. In 2008, Transparency International classified Algeria as one of the more corrupt countries of the world, ranking 92nd (10th among the 18 MENA countries) out of 180 surveyed countries. These gloomy figures can easily be explained by the growing parallel trade (trabendo), weak independent oversight and a failure to apply and enforce the law of good governance. Indicatively, Tunisia ranked 62nd, Morocco 80th.

To complete this indicators table, in its 2009 Arab Human Development Report, the UNDP point out that in terms of control of corruption, Algeria shows a mere -0,47 figure. Likewise, voice of accountability remains negative with a -1,01 score while the average institutional quality indicates -0,76 point.* And yet again, in this report Algeria is not among the leading MENA countries.

Following this brief economic empirical description, one can only be [too] highly optimistic to sincerely believe that a ‘semi-universal’ weekend in Algeria would help boosting the national economy. The reality and likelihood is that only those who are already accumulating huge financial gains from an opaque politico-economic system would continue enjoying seeing their wealth increase. Those who would benefit from this new move will only be the big Algerian businessmen as well as foreign multinationals already enjoying a large chunk of Algeria’s wealth. Furthermore, it is not unnecessary to remind those who believe that this new move will improve the national economy, that the monolithic Algerian economy dominated by the hydrocarbon sector has, despite a Thursday-Friday weekend, never suffered from any lack of development, even during the bloody years of the 1990s.
In brief, I am unfortunately afraid that swapping the days of the weekend will not have any tangible and positive impact on the national economy. Similarly to the global socio-politico-economic picture, this switch of weekend is not what Algeria would need for its economy to take off. As indeed, the main reason for the poor economic indicators is that the deciders are unwilling to see any change that would challenge their economic prevailing position on the national economic stage. Consequently, without genuine economic policies and reforms as well as a thorough transformation in mentality and practices, Algerians will not see any benefit from this new weekend. Even if they worked 24 hours per day; 7 days per week; 31 days per month and 365 days per year. Meanwhile, kleptomaniac habits and wrong mentality approaches will continue to negatively affect the macro-economic situation.
Having said that, I personally do not see any objection in this Friday-Saturday weekend if there only were evidence or a light of hope that this decision would boost the Algerian economy which, would in turn benefit the Algerian population. Yet, my concern is that this move may be a banal political decision only.  Meanwhile, education, the foundation of any developed State, will remain the least of Algerians’ concern. A point which is however a prerequisite for a real and genuine socio-economic development.
Kel Tamashek
15 August 2009

* Estimates between -2.5 and 2.5; higher is better.