Algeria's local "mafia" is regularly denounced by the president and the media, but is unwilling to relinquish its grip on the nation's lucrative trade sector.
Since Algeria adopted a free-market economy after the end of the Cold War, a group of powerful figures grabbed the former state monopoly of external trade - a sector that delivers huge earnings with little investment, Algerian economist Rafik Djaadawi told a local magazine.
Under Soviet-style socialism, the former single party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), ran all enterprises.
"These mafia people are difficult to identify. But they have access to all decision-making centers in Algeria," said Djaadawi who added that such people oppose all foreign investment in Algeria.
"They see foreign firms as a threat to their interests."
Over the years, the "mafia" members have tightened their grip on the economy, amassing huge fortunes as most Algerians grew poorer and poorer.
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has repeatedly criticized these "barons", blaming them for the country's economic and social problems.
But these interest groups do not suffer in silence. They were suspected of being behind the bombing this month of a highly lucrative public company nationalized by the Bouteflika government.
According to Nourddine Belamine, a political analyst, the bombing of the house-appliance firm in Tiziouzou (100 km east of Algiers) was a warning to the government.
The president denounced the attack and clearly blamed the barons. "This attack is part of a conflict between producer and importer. The importer is a loser when there is production," Bouteflika said. "This attack is the act of the mafia in Algeria."
Last year, Bouteflika said that a group of foreign investors came to do business in Algeria but were "advised" to go away to neighboring Morocco or Tunisia. "Such pieces of advice are to keep the grip of the mafia on the Algerian importation sector," said Djaadawi.
Observers in Algiers believe that attack also was a warning to foreign businessmen interested in investing in the unstable Kabyle area, where Tiziouzou is located.
An Algerian daily had reported an international company wanted to build an insulin plant in Tiziouzou. The plant would have dealt a serious blow to an important importation ring in the area.
With Bouteflika intent on embarking on a real market economy policy, Algeria is at risk of open warfare between the central government in Algiers and these power brokers. (Albawaba-MEBG)
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )