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Ahmed Ben Bella

the first President of Algeria

Ahmed Ben Bella

Ahmed ben Bella was born in Marnia, near Oran, Algeria, in 1916 (exact date uncertain). He received his basic education at the French school in Marnia, and his advanced education in the neighboring city of Tlemcen.

Conscripted into the French Army in 1937, Ben Bella served through World War II, during which he was awarded the Croix de Guerre (1940) and the Médaille Militaire (1944).

Ben Bella returned to Algeria after the war and soon became part of the Organisation Spéciale (OS), a paramilitary organization whose aim was to take up arms against the French colonial regime. In 1950 he was sentenced to eight years in prison for robbing the post office in Oran in order to obtain funds for the organization. He escaped after serving less than two years, however, and made his way to Egypt, where he was promised help by supporters of Gamal Abdel Nasser.

In November 1954, Ben Bella helped form the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), which advocated armed insurrection against colonial rule while also seeking a political solution. He was arrested in 1956 and spent most of the war for liberation in a French prison, however.

Ben Bella was released from prison in March 1962 and became Vice-Premier of independent Algeria. He became head of a seven-man political bureau, which replaced the provisional government, on August 2, 1962, and was named Premier on September 26, 1962.

In May 1963, at the African summit meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, that resulted in establishment of the Organization of African Unity, Premier Ben Bella emerged as one of the leaders in seeking complete backing for African nationalist movements.

On September 8, 1963, voters overwhelmingly approved a new constitution legalizing one-party rule by the FLN, and on September 15 Ben Bella was elected to a five-year term as the first President of the Algerian Republic.

A few days after the presidential election, a rebellion broke out among the Berbers of Kabylia, led by Hocine Ait-Ahmed. President Ben Bella moved against the rebels in force, and claimed complete victory on October 12. Soon after that crisis had passed, a border war broke out with Morocco over a mineral-rich area of the Sahara. The war was ended with a truce arranged under the aegis of the Organization of African Unity.

As both Premier and President, Ben Bella set aside one-quarter of the budget for national education. He also inaugurated a series of major agrarian reforms, including the nationalization, but not the direct state control, of the former colonists’ huge farms. His foreign policies were generally pro-Arab and anti-imperialistic, and he strove to repair relations with France.

President Ben Bella faced almost continuous political and religious opposition, and on June 19, 1965, he was deposed in a bloodless coup led by Colonel Houari Boumedienne, chief of the Armée de Libération Nationale (ALN). Initially held incommunicado, he was later placed under house arrest. He under house arrest until October 30, 1980, after which he went into exile in France. He moved to Switzerland in 1983, after being expelled from France.

In 1984, Ben Bella launched Le Mouvement pour la Démocratie en Algérie (MDA), which portrayed itself as a moderate Islamist opposition party. He returned to Algeria in 1991 to lead the MDA in the first round of the country’s abortive 1991 parliamentary elections. His party boycotted the November 1996 constitutional referendum and was banned in 1997, but he remained active in Algerian politics until his death in Algiers on April 11, 2012.

Encyclopædia Britannica
The Guardian

World War II
Gamal Abdel Nasser
Algeria in 1962
Organization of African Unity
Algeria in 1963

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The Robinson Library >> Algeria

This page was last updated on June 13, 2018.