Algeria has announced a new visa measure to attract more tourists to southern Algeria. But this facilitation hides another reality: Algiers maintains total silence over its southern areas.
Visiting Algeria for a foreigner is already difficult, the country remains very closed in on itself and the tourist offers are limited and often not up to par, pushing Algerian citizens to favor neighboring Tunisia for their holidays.
But visiting the south of the country where the less populated regions are is an almost impossible mission. These regions, however, represent two thirds of the surface of the largest country in Africa in terms of area.
Desert stretches over thousands of kilometres, Tuaregs, date palms, camels, are part of the landscapes that can be seen in these regions, except that tourism there is extremely framed to the point where it is almost impossible to access it as a foreigner and even Algerians come up against checks as soon as they approach the southern zone.
The Algerian authorities have nevertheless announced a new measure aimed at making possible tourist trips to the Algerian Sahara (the Algerian desert), only the stated conditions raise several theories.
Furthermore, the announcement of the new visa, communicated by the Ministry of the Interior instead of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or Tourism, underlines the centrality and sensitivity of the subject for Algeria.
Tourists wishing to travel to the Algerian Sahara will only be able to access it through an approved Algerian travel agency, the visa will only be issued once there after the opening in December of a Paris-Djanet airline, moreover, the tourists will have to follow the program of the travel agencies to the letter and the period of validity of this visa stops with that of the organized trip.
In other words, tourists will have no freedom of movement, of visiting other places on their own, of meeting locals, or of renting a car to drive around the south of the country.
Algerian travel agencies will be responsible for filling in personal information and exact itinerary details for the duration of the stay for their customers and will be responsible for ensuring that the schedule is adhered to so that tourists are always under their supervision. .
This very strict way of approaching an “openness to tourism” in Algeria reveals the limits of freedom in this country where a simple press article on southern Algeria can lead to imprisonment or even the closure of the newspaper.
The Algerian authorities have several things to fear from the opening of these southern territories, including the leaking of information and its relaying internationally by journalists called by the system “khabardji” (spies, editor’s note) is the more worrying.
Southern Algeria is a land of great protest and independence claims that the regime seeks to hide, moreover, the low standard of living of the inhabitants compared to that of the north of the country and unemployment often give rise to demonstrations, which are systematically repressed.
The inhabitants of southern Algeria are also very critical of the country’s policy regarding the separatist militia of the Polisario. They disapprove that in their own country, a foreign militia reigns supreme, leads a life of pomp when they live in deplorable conditions.
Several testimonies from residents of southern Algeria described the practices of Polisario members, citing cars driving around without registration, imported vehicles (while importing cars into the country is difficult), others parking in streets where parking is prohibited, or their resale to Algerians of humanitarian aid received free of charge.
Beyond the presence of the Polisario militia and its practices which can alert the international press to the reality on the ground and which has nothing to do with the image conveyed by Algeria, the authorities of the country also fear for the security of foreigners and fear kidnappings by other terrorist groups operating in the south of the country and close to northern Mali, networks of migrant and drug smugglers at the borders.