Out going Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika apologises to his people

For most African presidents, the process of apologizing after high-profile missteps can seem to take as long as a tortoise walking a mile. But the out going president of Algeria Abdelaziz Bouteflika has offered an apology to the Algerian people.

As a result, the mass protests lead by the young men and women of Algeria and added pressure from the army the 82 year old leader was forced to step down.

Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Wednesday offered his “apologies” to the Algerian people in a letter published by state media, after he resigned as president in the face of huge protests.

“I leave the political stage without sadness or fear for the future of our country,” Bouteflika said in the letter released by the APS news agency, urging Algerians “to stay united, never divide yourselves.”The 82-year-old stepped down Tuesday night under pressure from protesters and the army.

He acknowledged that some of his actions as president were less than successful, writing: “I ask your forgiveness for any failing toward you.” Bouteflika says he hopes Algeria’s new leaders take the oil rich nation in north Africa to “horizons of progress and prosperity.”

He says women and young people, who led the protest movement that pressured him out of office, are “the beating heart of our nation” and deserve special attention.

Now that’s a first from a long serving African leader. Not so long ago Robert Mugabe, 93, who ruled Zimbabwe with an iron grip until the military placed him under house arrest, shocked the nation on by refusing to say whether he would resign. No apology came from Mugabe and one may never come.

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Many political observers and fellow Zimbabweans had held their breaths expecting Mr. Mugabe to not only step down as president after nearly 40 years in power but offer some sort of apology. But the hard man Mugabe gave a 20-minute televised speech in which he acknowledged problems in the nation — and he vowed to soldier on. Mugabe did not apologise for his misrule but went on to say,“The era of victimization and arbitrary decisions” must end, Mr. Mugabe said while sitting at a table, flanked by members of the military and other officials, including a priest. Now contrast that with what Bouteflika did albeit that it was a written statement.

Hissène Habré, a former president of Chad, never came close to apologising for his misrule, but, instead took an opportunity given him at his trail to denounce his trail as a farce staged by “African traitors” and “servants of America.” What if he had apologised to his people?

Habré, who led a brutal government from 1982 to 1990, might have expected to live out his days peacefully in exile in Senegal. But he was not forgotten by his victims and the human rights groups that campaigned for nearly two decades to bring him to justice.

These are just but a few examples. Africa is littered with Presidents who preside over corrupt and brutal governments and even when forced to step down they never see their wrongs and as such never apologise. At times all the people need is a sincere apology.

President Bouteflika stand out as noteworthy. Days after news broke that he was stepping down, Bouteflika issued a public statement offering a personal apology.

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The relative speed and decisiveness with which Bouteflika acted raises the question of why more African presidents don’t step in so swiftly to offer apologise for misruling or misgoverning their countries. Africa’s recent history is littered with instances of leaders who seemingly hesitated to offer forceful apologies. Instead of protecting their egos and blaming the West for their down fall, such presidents have been seen as incompetent, stonewalling or hemming and hawing.

Indeed, for presidents, apologizing isn’t as simple as saying “I’m sorry.” At a complex institution like government, a sincere apology can only come after a process of gathering information and weighing risks to the nation, according to experts who have been in crisis war rooms. That process is under strain in a world where rapid societal changes collide on a nation’s streets where citizens have a louder voice than ever because of social media.

Sometimes, highly corrupt and repressive leaders have a difficult time looking beyond their tried-and-true playbooks, which might not apply to a particular situation and might not include apologizing. Other times, top brass can’t look beyond their own ego.
But something drove Bouteflika to offer that apology the million dollar question is whether the Algerian people have accepted the apology and if they forgive him.

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