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HISTORICAL FIGURES: ALGERIA

RAMDANE ABANE

Ramdane Abane (1920-1957) was born in Azouza, a village in the mountains of Kabilia, on June 10, 1920. His father, Mohand Abane (b. 1876), was a moderately wealthy landowner in Azouza; however--and this is rare for Kabyles--he did not cultivate his land himself. Instead, he traveled around the world as a merchant of oriental goods and hired farmers to cultivate his lands. There is very little known about Ramdane's mother, Fatima Meradi, except that she apparently favored Ramdane in particular among her children.

Ramdane Abane grew up in a harsh environment where endurance and discipline were necessary tools for survival. Life in the mountains is tough and consists of a daily struggle. French colonialism mingled with tribal values of honor, respect of the land and familial hierarchy to create individuals who had to coexist in a dual reality. As a result, Ramdane's father expected his son to be respectful of Kabyle traditions, as well as to excel in the French colonial educational system.

It was a rare phenomenon for young Algerians at the time to advance much in their education, and Ramdane was one of the few who completed his baccalaureate. From October 1933 to 1942, he set out for Blida to study at the College Duveyrier, and it is here that he earned his baccalaureate. Being in Blida enabled Ramdane to develop a certain cosmopolitanism that was lacking in Azouza. Blida was a split center of French power and Algerian nationalist movements. In March 14th 1944, the AML (Amis du Manifeste et de la Liberté) was constituted as a first attempt to join together all of Algeria's nationalist parties excluding, however, the Communists.

The uprising of the Setif and Constantine regions on May 8, 1945, was also a transitional period in Algerian politics as the French repression was so harsh and so bitter that the Algerian consciousness and need for action was awakened. This uprising, along with the creation of the AML, were both important precursors to the formation of the FLN. Ramdane was in Blida when these events occurred.

Ramdane had no paternal authority to discipline him, and his youth awakened him to the different paths his life might follow. He rebelled to a certain degree against patriarchal and Kabyle family values. This rejection was an important step in the formation of a revolutionary. His family's financial situation deteriorated, and his father begged him to return to the household. Abane revealed his determination to stay in Blida and even suggested to his father to sell his portion of the family lands to pay for his needs and education. Mohand Abane could not do this as this would have been considered the worse blow to a Kabyle's sense of honor.

Initiation: Between the years 1944 and 1946, Ramdane was forcefully enlisted in the French military, and his bitterness against the French oppression could be repeatedly witnessed. In 1946, his father, through various connections, found him a job as Secretary of the mixed commune of Chateaudun-du-Rhumel (the colonial French is no longer used--the present name is Chelghoum El Eid). It is here that Ramdane Abane became acquainted with the PPA (Parti du Peuple Algerien). He joined a specific cell of the party, along with two brilliant young professors of the Madrasa Belmili and Taalibi.

These two professors, though teaching within a traditional ulema (religious scholar) setting, were nationalists and proclaimed it in their lectures. In less than a year, these three young men awakened the population to their ideology. When he was asked by his superior to make a choice between his nationalistic tendencies and his livelihood, Abane left his work and penetrated, of his own free will, the clandestine life. There is very little documentation of his life between 1947 and 1950. He was an outlaw, and as such, spent much time in hiding. It is said he wore a brown djellaba at all times, and this anonymous attire made him pass unnoticed across French outposts.

In 1948, the PPA-MTLD nominated him head of the wilaya of the Setif. Abane disagreed with their legalistic stand on Algerian claims, for he believed that the main issue at hand--Algeria's liberation--was being set aside for petty administrative and legal matters. From the very start, Abane believed in an armed struggle whose force and determination would serve Algeria's liberation much more efficiently than paperwork.

Transition: In 1950, the French captured Ramdane Abane, and he was sent to jail for a period of five years. This was a very trying period for Ramdane, as he was in the middle of his revolutionary initiation, and he needed all his strength of character to resist the maddening conditions in which he was being held. He continued his militant actions within the prison environments through the writings of political tracts, hunger strikes, and contact with other Algerian prisoners. In May 1955, he was liberated and returned to Algeria. The Algerian War had already begun.

Algerian War of Liberation: In July 1954, there is a crisis within the MTLD, a popular nationalistic party headed by Messali Hadj. Messali was seen by the Algerians as their national hero, their father whose very presence and spirit inhabited their homes and their lives. The other members of the MTLD said Messali had the seeds of a dictator in him and that he must be removed from power. Messali retaliated by saying that the high-ranking members of the MTLD were prone to electoralism and that this was not the right course to follow. There is no way to verify the validity of these attacks though it is clear a definite power struggle was occurring within the ranks of the MTLD. This crisis led to the fragmentation and self-destruction of the party. As a response to this crisis and a desire to continue the struggle, the ALN was constituted, and in November 1954, the Algerian war began.

Abane and the FLN: Abane joins the ranks of the FLN in mid-January 1955, less than a week after his liberation. Krim Belcacem, a high-ranking member of the FLN, asked Abane to accept a post of high responsibility in the Wilaya of the Algerois. Abane was a hard, critical and highly logical being who favored intellectuals and was open to dialogue and the exchange of ideas. He believed that military actions were necessary for the liberation of Algeria and only then could legalistic matters be discussed. His fervor in the revolutionary cause was great for it had replaced everything that can matter in the life of a man. He believed that all partisanships and loyalties must be set aside for the higher good of a free Algeria, a fully independent Algerian nation. He was a promoter of Algerian nationalistic feelings, of the creation of one Algerian peoples, despite all the sectaranism and petty rivalries the French had helped institute as part of their colonizing mission. He becomes the head of the FLN in Algiers and writes tracts asking the Algerians to join in the struggle of the FLN and its ALN. He called upon the Algerian people (and specifically the People of Algiers) to join in their struggle for, although the FLN was determined, it needed absolute support from its people. He believed in the importance of people's participation in the struggle and facilitated the transformation of a guerilla movement into a national mobilization. He saw Algiers as the heart of French colonial power and, simultaneously, as the essential backbone of the Algerian liberation. He unified the national forces through sheer will power and strength of character. He transformed a small and still inconsequential organization into a powerful, ruthless and highly organized system fully supported by the Algerians. He was described as being incorruptible and indomitable, a sort of pure and hard Algerian Robespierre. As one of the chiefs of the FLN in Algiers, he worked on the centralization of the FLN and the creation of a new structure, both military and political, which could eventually replace the French administration when the time had come. He promoted student movements and other mass-movements. In 1956, he contacted the poet Zakaria Moufdi, a Mozabit and therefore member of an Algerian ethnic minority, to write the hymn of the revolution: "Kassamen" (oath). That same year, he participated in the creation of the Soummam, the congress of the Algerian Revolution which met for the first time between August 20th and September 10, 1956, in the heart of Kabilia. This was the first attempt at a national body of laws for the revolution, taking guerilla warfare, and this is a brilliant inspiration, into self-sufficient legitimacy. A fundamental aspect of the Soummam is that its members decided that the military can no longer decide on matters without a legal perspective. There must be a tribunal, a jury to decide cases of treason and other military misdeeds. The ALN must be under the FLN, and not separate from it. Abane becomes the responsible of the FLN in the Algiers zone. He reinforced the armed struggle and set principles that are still, to the present day, at the core of Algerian political ideology. He saw the revolution as "popular, social, unitary, anti-sectarian and national".

Eight-Day Strike: Abane called for a general strike to be started on January 28, 1957, at midnight, which would last for eight days. He signed this tract, 'Ahmed,' one of his many pseudonyms. His call was answered by the entire Algerian people, and as a result, the international community's interest and support of the Algerian war was heightened. The French savagery against the Alerians during this strike revealed the full extent of the fear that they were indeed losing Algeria. This can be considered as the first real action of a united people with a national consciousness.

Though Abane has been criticized for the strike and the misery it brought upon the masses, its symbolic, psychological, and strategic impacts were immense.

The Last Days: As a result of the strike and the ensuing problems it produced, Abane and other members of the FLN had to leave Algiers. They set off for Tunis. A jury constituted of high-ranking FLN officials, with Krim Belcacem and Cherif Mahmoud at their head, decided that Abane was becoming a danger to the revolution. There is a possibility that a document bearing their signatures officializes the decision to assassinate Abane. Note, however, that there is no proof of this. His dictatorial impulses and his harsh treatment of war crimes seem to have been at the source of the decision to eliminate Abane.

It remains unclear, however, if this jury was ever really constituted and if these reasons were actually valid. Perhaps Abane was starting to pose a threat to their power, and they feared the influence he was starting to have. Regardless, it seems clear the FLN wanted him eliminated permanently because his power was becoming too great. On the 25th of December 1957, they asked Abane to go to Tetouan (in Morocco) to check on FLN quarters there. Though Abane sensed a trap, his sense of duty forced him to comply. He left Tunis on December 25, 1957. That same night, he was strangled at a farm house near Tetouan*, and his body has never been found. Ramdane left a wife, Izza, and a young son, Hassan, whom he had barely seen.

There is no statue or official commemoration of Ramdane Abane. In May 1958, El Moudjahid, announced he died a glorious death on the battlefield, stating that the death occurred "during the first fortnight of April." Ever since, his life and death has been surrounded by silence, as though he had never existed.

Note: Other than some newspaper articles, information on Ramdane Abane is scarce. The above information was mostly obtained from: Ramdane Abane, 3rd Edition, by Khalfa Mameri (Algiers: Editions Karim Mameri, November 1996). Mameri bases his work on personal knowledge of the subject and events, as well as contact with other contemporaries.

*Mameri mentions that Ramdane was murdered near the airport, but Yves Courriere, who bases his information on Belkacem Krim's testimony, specifies it occurred at a farm house. John Ruedy, who does not go into specifics, also alludes to the death occuring in the countryside near Tetouan.

From www.waac.org

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