Ben Bella, Ahmed

1916–2012
First president of Algeria

Ben Bella, Ahmed

Aleading figure in Algeria’s struggle for independence from France, Ahmed Ben Bella served as the country’s first president from 1963 to 1965. Educated at a French primary school near Oran, ALGERIA, he became involved with the independence movement while pursuing further studies in the nearby city of Tlemcen. During World War II he served in the French army, receiving the prestigious Croix de Guerre in 1940.

After the war Ben Bella returned home and helped found an underground political movement devoted to armed struggle against French colonial rule. In 1950, to gain money for the independence effort, he robbed a post office. He was captured and served two years in jail. After escaping to EGYPT, he met followers of the Egyptian revolutionary leader Gamal Abdel NASSER.

In 1954 Ben Bella and other Algerian leaders living in Egypt formed the National Liberation Front (FLN). The organization called for the overthrow of French rule in Algeria, and launched a civil war. French authorities arrested Ben Bella in 1956, and he remained in prison until Algeria won its independence six years later. With the support of Colonel Houari BOUMEDIENNE, head of the National Liberation Army, Ben Bella became prime minister. He was elected president in 1963. As president Ben Bella reestablished order in war-torn Algeria and instituted reforms in education and agriculture. However, his policies were often poorly planned. In 1965 Boumedienne overthrew Ben Bella, who remained under house arrest until after Boumedienne’s death. Freed in 1980, Ben Bella spent the next ten years in exile, eventually returning to Algeria in 1990. (See also Agriculture, Colonialism in Africa, Education, Independence Movements.)