Ahmed Ben Bella

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Ahmed Ben Bella in 1963

Ahmed Ben Bella (Arabic: أحمد بن بلّة) (25 December 191611 April 2012) was an Algerian politician, soldier, and socialist revolutionary who served as the first President of Algeria from 1963 to 1965. He is respected for his role in the anti-colonial struggle and was seen by many Arab intellectuals as one of the last original Arab nationalists.


  • Far from denying our option, Islam identifies itself with equality in the minds of the masses, and therefore moves towards socialism.
    • Algieria, Wydawnictwo Trio, Warszawa, pg. 415 (2006)
  • We have heard speeches delivered in which speakers questioned how to improve Africa's standard of living and what to do to make Africans eat better. How can you not be ashamed to say such things, how can you think about filling your belly when millions of our brothers groan in the prisons of colonialism? We don't have the right, I repeat, we don't have the right to talk about satiety until we get our brothers out of prison.
    • Se tutta l'Africa, Milano, pg. 54-55 (2018)
  • In the name of the Algerian people and of the million and a half victims who fell in the field with honor, I am obliged to declare that any Charter will remain a dead letter until we have taken concrete decisions and until we have taken concrete decisions and until we have granted peoples of Angola, South Africa, Mozambique and other countries the unconditional support that these nations, oppressed by the yoke of colonialism, have the right to expect.
    • Se tutta l'Africa, Milano, pg. 54-55 (2018)
  • Revolutions are very complex. Nothing is easy. Few people want to risk their necks. In 1962, Algeria was on its knees, a country that had lost 1,600,000 of its sons, masses of wounded and sick, 300,000 widows, 250,000 orphans, 120,000 returnees from Morocco and 500,000 persons from prisons, plus four million people who had fought against us and lost. People everywhere were armed and accustomed to fighting. At the same time, there was little money, chiefly a small amount donated by de Gaulle. There were few volunteers for this job and my friends were happy when I took it.
  • Islam as an idea has exploded on the world scene. Islam will soon be the world’s biggest religion. The demographic aspect alone is impressive. Moslems want to lead a Moslem way of life. Youth too wants to express its own vision of life within its day-to-day life, where every act is important, where dress is important, for Islam is a totality. Our orientation today toward a consumer society with Western ways is dangerous for us because it does not correspond to our philosophy that teaches us less consumption. Less consumption does not have to mean unhappiness. Since, the reality is that there is not enough to go around; consumption must be limited in the whole world.
  • I was always religious but I feel it more today because our epoch demands it. Keep in mind that Islam played a big role in the liberation of Algeria. I’m no Mullah, but I am a progressive Moslem. In that respect I am two times of the Left. Progressive Moslem culture offers a solution to many problems of the Third World. For example, it forbids usury and the hoarding of supplies and favors the circulation of surplus. That basic aspect of Islamic economics responds to the situation in the Third World. Even reactionary Islamic countries give much aid to needy countries.

Interview with Silvia Cattori (2006)


"Ahmed Ben Bella: 'I spent 24-and-half years in prison'"

  • My life has been a bit special, this is true. I participated in the liberation of my country. I was one of the organisers of its struggle for liberation. I likewise actively participated in all the struggles for liberation.
  • I paid much in my fight for justice and liberty of people. But clearly, I did what I felt to be a duty, an obligation. So, for me the choice was not difficult. When I was engaged in the struggle for my country, I was very young. My horizons were open. I quickly realised that the problems go beyond Algeria, that colonisation affected many people, that three-quarters of the countries in the world have been colonised in one way or another. Algeria was thus, for the French, a department overseas; it was the France located on the other side of the Mediterranean. The French colonisation of Algeria lasted a long time: 132 years. I participated in that fight right in Algeria.
  • Immediately after independence, I was associated with all those who, in the world, themselves undertook the struggle to liberate their own country. It was thus this phase in the fight for national liberty that I participated completely. In Tunisia, in Morocco, in Vietnam, Algeria has become somewhat like the "mother of freedom struggles"; to support them was thus for us a sacred mark. When someone came to ask us for help, it was sacred. We did not even think twice. We helped them, even if we had only meagre means; we offered them arms, a little bit of money, and in occasion, men.
  • My fight to bring better conditions of life to Algerians thus plunged into great poverty, and my fight to help other still colonised people to recover their freedom bothered certain authorities. From their point of view, I had gone too far. I had to disappear. That is to say, if the Algerian army had not overthrown me, others would have done so. I had to disappear, because I had become too much of a nuisance. I accommodated practically all of the liberation movements, including those of Latin America.
  • The global system presiding over everything, as we have said, invented another form of domination: globalisation. "Globalisation" is a very nice word in itself. A word which can unite, can bring brotherhood among people. But, the word "globalisation" such as it is conceived, is a word that brings just the worst. With this word there has been brought the globalisation of misery, death, hunger: 35 million people die of malnutrition every year. Yes, that would be a very nice word, if we had globalised for the better, brought well-being for all. But, it’s the contrary. It’s a perverse globalisation; it globalises the bad, it globalises death, it globalises poverty.
  • I myself, speaking as a man of the south, note that something has changed in the north, which is a very important point to raise. What changed exactly in this so-called advanced region of the north: that we have made a war, we have colonised, that we have done terrible things, and that there is today an opinion that is expressed, that there are young people who say "enough." This indicates that this perverse global system does not strike only the south but also the north. In the past, we spoke of poverty, misery only in the south. Now there is a lot of misery, a lot of bad that creates victims in the north as well. This has become manifest: the global system was not made to serve the good of all, but to serve multinational companies.
  • I want to talk about what I observe here, in the West. I am convinced that the liberal system does not have a future. These young people, these high school students who I’ve seen go out onto the streets, who have nothing but their ideal of justice; these youths who demonstrate, who are on a quest for other values, I would love to say to them: "I began like that, when I was your age, by small steps. And little by little it was a mass of people who followed me." When I go to demonstrations, I observe them, I speak with them, and I see that it’s them who hold the cards in their hands.
  • We did not want a biased solidarity. We did not want a State that, like Israel, would be a favourite tool of this cruel global system driven by the United States, which practices a policy that has already caused so much harm. For us, it’s a double betrayal. First of all, the betrayal of those who, on the side of the left, should have been on our side, loyal to the Palestinian and Arab causes, and were not. Secondly, the betrayal of all the Jews with whom we felt close, with whom we had similarities, and with whom we lived in perfect harmony. The Arabs and the Jews are cousins. We speak the same language. They are Semites like us. They themselves speak Aramaic, we speak Aramaic.
  • I am a Muslim, but I do not wish that the response be religious. It’s not the religious act in itself that I reject, no, but the fact that we can make a reading of it that does not follow the sense of renovating Islam, that we can make a retrograde reading of Islam; even though in Islam we have the advantage of believing in two religions: the Jewish religion and the Christian religion. For us, Mohammed is only a continuum of Jesus Christ and Moses.
  • The violence expressed in the Arab Muslim world is a result of the culture of hate and violence that Israel has caused in imposing itself by force on the land of Arabs. These are the atrocities of this illegal State that compels the most valorous to react. I don’t think there will be a fight more noble than that of the Palestinians who resist against their occupier. When I see what these people have endured for more than a century, and who continue to find the force to fight, I am in admiration. Today, the same ones who massacre these people pass off those of Hamas as fascists, terrorists. They are not fascists, they are not terrorists, they are resistants!
  • We never act with the thought that it’s us who are going to be the beneficiaries. We act because it’s necessary to act. The great conquests have never been the product of a single generation. We say in my country that he who eats is not he who serves the meal. It’s necessary to create a network of solidarity that unconditionally supports the struggle of its people.
  • Oh, you know, I’m nothing but optimistic: I’ve spent my life in acting. I am not satisfied making speeches, I devote all of my time in acting by means of the organisation North-South. Also, I believe that, sometimes, the forces of hope come from where we least expect them.
  • To reach peace, in Palestine and the world, the system of the marketplace needs to be rid of. Because the problems are immense, the damage is immense. Leaving the world in the hands of finance and murderers is a crime. It’s that which is terrorism. It’s not Bin Laden.
  • Safeguarding life, to live, is the first of things for which one aspires. But the global system is not humble enough to guarantee this right. It exploits, it kills. And when it can’t kill, it builds savage prisons, abuse which pretends to bring about democracy. In Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States started to do what Israel always had done against the Palestinians. One speaks of Israeli and American democracy. But what democracy have they brought while destroying any chance to live?
  • I am going to tell you, although Islam has encountered so many woes, Islam has never done wrong to other counties. In history, Islam showed a tolerance that does not exist at all elsewhere, whereas Israel has succeeded in establishing itself by force in a space and in a place which was inhabited by Palestinians - one of the most developed Arab people - and created there, in the dispossession of their land, a racist state. As long as Israel will refuse to recognize the rights of Palestinians to exist and come back to their land, there will not be peace in the world.

Quotes about

  • Algeria became independent in 1962 after eight years of bitter civil war which cost the lives of a million Muslims and led to the expulsion of about the same number of French settlers (les pieds noirs). Ahmed Ben Bella, its leader, became the spokesman for the Third World. China recognised the FLN in 1958 and the Soviet Union in 1960. The pro-Soviet Algerian Communist Party thought that another revolution was necessary to correct the errors of the first. An attempt by the KGB to conclude an intelligence agreement with the new government failed. Many national liberation movements had offices in Algiers, and Algeria provided weapons and military training for the struggle to liberate Africa. Among those who were inspired were Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress along with Yasir Arafat, and al Fatah received considerable support from the FLN.
  • Ben Bella was given a hero’s welcome in Havana during the Cuban missile crisis and echoed Castro’s judgement that Khrushchev had ‘no balls’; when he returned to Algiers, he berated the Soviet ambassador for the climb down. When a border conflict between Algeria and Morocco broke out in October 1963, Cuba came to Algeria’s aid, not the Soviet Union. It sent tanks and combat troops, but these were not needed. The tanks had been provided by the Soviet Union and were not to be used in Third World countries, but Castro had ignored this. As the US would not sell arms to Algeria, the Soviet Union stepped in and provided substantial quantities. Ben Bella was feted in Moscow, in May 1964, but he was overthrown a year later in a military coup.
  • By the mid-1960s many Africans, especially, found that they were worse off in their daily lives than they had been under colonial rule. They were beginning to look for more stability, order, and incremental progress than the postcolonial regimes were able to offer. Algeria is a good case in point. The man who emerged as the key leader of the FLN, Ahmed Ben Bella, had become radicalized when he served in the French army and later in France as a political prisoner. When the country finally got its independence, Ben Bella’s government nationalized most industries and aimed for a gradual nationalization of Algeria’s oil industry, the most important economic activity in the country. Land that had been abandoned by its European owners, most of whom fled to France after 1962, was given over to peasants’ and laborers’ self-managing collectives. Agricultural production dropped as a result of lack of expertise, equipment, and investments. The plans to build new industries were mainly unfulfilled, in part because those who were supposed to build them had enough to do fending for themselves and their families as prices rose and rapid urbanization drove rents up.
    • Odd Arne Westad, The Cold War: A Global History (2017)
  • The Algerian growth rate in the Ben Bella years was not low: a little bit less than 5 percent on average. But this was mainly due to oil exports. All other industries declined, and the state spent its oil income inefficiently and erratically. As doubts spread, Ben Bella himself became increasingly autocratic, given to long public speeches in which he sought support for the immediate implementation of policies ranging from the nationalization of newspapers to the introduction of compulsory membership in the Muslim boy scouts. The crowds shouted “Long Live Ben Bella,” but when the military deposed him in 1965 most Algerians seem to have drawn a sigh of relief. In spite of its domestic failures, however, Ben Bella’s Algeria became a centerpiece for Third World revolutionaries from Africa and the Middle East.
    • Odd Arne Westad, The Cold War: A Global History (2017)
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