Algeria: It is Time to Pass on the Baton
By Rabih Hasbany
81-year-old Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in power since 1999, declared his widely expected candidacy to a fifth term in April elections, despite having suffered a stroke in 2013 that kept him largely out of the public eye for years.
This announcement sparked protests throughout Algeria as thousands took to the streets to protest against Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s re-election and against the entire political system that they see as corrupt.
On Sunday, the ailing leader, currently under medical treatment in Switzerland, has pledged not to serve a full term if re-elected in April. He promised in a letter read out on state television to organize a “national conference” that would set a date for early polls that he would not contest.
“I listened and heard the heartfelt cry of protesters and in particular of the thousands of youth who asked me about the future of our country,” said the letter, which was read aloud by his campaign manager.
Few, however, trust the president. Bouteflika pushed through constitutional changes a decade ago so he could run for a third term and promised five years ago to change the constitution and hand power over to younger leaders. He never did.
On Monday, thousands flooded the streets of Constantine and other cities protesting against a fifth term for Bouteflika and chanting, “Algeria is a republic, not a monarchy.”
“Historically Algeria’s protests have been about tangible things that the government can respond to – sanitation, water, electricity,” said Geoffrey Porter, a North Africa specialist at West Point and CEO of North Africa Risk Consulting. “These protests are about the system. And it’s difficult for the government to alter the political system in a way that mollifies their concerns.”
Resentment towards the ruling elite runs wide and deep, with many among the youth and struggling middle class utterly lacking faith in the country’s leadership. The protests may signal a generational shift.
Theological and Missiological Reflections
Church leadership is largely influenced by leadership models taken from the broader socio-political realm, shaping the church`s understanding of power and authority. It has been a trend in many churches in the MENA region that pastors remain in their positions either until they pass away or become completely incapable of pastoring. Instead of influencing the worldview and practices of the wider community, the church is being influenced by it.
We rarely see a healthy model of leadership training and formation in our churches whereby the youth are given the space and opportunity to develop their leadership skills and gifts. Rather than seeing the young as a threat to the authority of current leadership, the youth should be viewed as an opportunity, even necessity for the continuity of the church. They offer new insight in ministry and if well trained by older leaders they can contribute to the trans-generational spread of the gospel.
In the Bible, we find both patterns of leadership. In Saul and David’s story, Saul as a leader saw in David a threat and refused to let go of his throne. The result was catastrophic for him and his reign. On the other hand, we see Paul’s discipleship of Timothy in the New Testament as a model of the generational movement of leadership. Paul delegated pastoral visits to Corinth and Thessalonica to Timothy and empowered him to pastor the church of Ephesus. Moreover, Paul exhorts Timothy to develop others and entrust them to advance the Kingdom of God: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).
The pastors and leaders of our churches and Christian organizations are called to follow a counter-cultural pattern of leadership. They are called to nurture and empower reliable people from the younger generation to lead not only after them but also with them. Many of the churches in the region are suffering from a scarcity in leaders and even pastoral gaps that few are able to fill due to the lack of leadership formation in these churches. It is time for the church throughout the region to address this issue and become a community that produces qualified leaders that pass on the baton from one generation to the other.