Rachid Nekkaz is an Algerian businessman and political activist. He is the Algerian public figure who currently enjoys the biggest popularity among Algerian youth.
Born in 9 January 1972 in France, he studied history and philosophy in Paris before making his fortune with a tech start-up. He later started diversifying to include private investment and real estate. His career as an activist began in Paris, where he cofounded a number of associations to promote electronic voting and education.
He first made headlines in 2010 causing controversy, in France, when he established a fund to pay the fines imposed on women who choose to wear the Islamic veil, following the law forbidding to do so in public.
In 2013, Nekkaz gave up his French nationality in order to stand as a candidate for Algeria’s 2014 presidential elections. On the 5th of March 2014, he failed to present the signatures required to validate his candidacy announcing that the bus carrying the signatures had disappeared minutes before the deadline. Many said that he had never had the required number of signatures and had invented the disappearance story to avoid public embarrassment.
At that time, many observers and political analysts doubted his intentions and accused him of living in the virtual world and being out of touch with the realities of ordinary Algerians. He was even ridiculed on national television for not being able to sing the national anthem.
However, Rachid Nekkaz wanted to emerge as a modern candidate who believes in the power of young people and Algeria’s economic potential beyond hydrocarbons.
Despite the widespread distrust Algerians have in their politicians, Rachid Nekkaz has been able to reconnect with young people, engaging with them via YouTube videos, consistant messaging, and innovative initiatives on social media. His Facebook page has more than a million and half likes.
In a country where a large part of the youth is unemployed, he immediately understood the potential of social media on which they are all the time connected. His ‘cool’ attitude has significantly helped him to get closer to the young people in the most remote areas of the country. This allowed him to connect with the grassroots, especially unemployed youth.
Since 2014, Nekkaz’s popularity in Algeria has constantly increased, especially among the youth. Instead of the traditional political speeches and rallies, Nekkaz has relied on his accessibility to the public and unconventional initiatives. In 2016, he launched a walking initiative, walking across Algeria with a group of young people, stopping in remote villages, eating and sleeping in modest houses. He walked 1.300km to Ain Saleh in the extreme south, where he joined an anti-fracking protest. He later walked another 700km to the east of the country, calling it the walk for peaceful change. The initiative was so popular that people started imitating ‘walking’ with him in little jokes on YouTube and Facebook.
He also led an anti-corruption campaign, protesting outside Algerian officials’ expensive properties in France, especially in Paris, and demanding they reveal the source of their income. This got him a violent altercation with one of the relatives of the regime’s notables in October 2017.
In recent weeks, during his campaign for the collection of signatures required to validate his candidacy for the 2019 presidential elections, his incursions in different cities in Algeria were resounding successes. He was all the time followed by hundreds of young people on site and hundreds of thousands via the Internet.
Today, beyond his high popularity among young people, observers are wondering what Rachid Nekkaz’s poltical programme and orientation are. Through his different media appearances and spectacular actions, it is difficult to detect a clear orientation of the candidate. Moreover, one wonders about the ability of a candidate without any partisan basis to manage a country like Algeria if he came to be elected.