He was the first President of Independent Algeria. He was born on Christmas day, 1916, in Maghnia in a house built by his father and grandfather, where in 1981, Christian Rausch and Gérard Grizbec spent three days there with him and his family following his liberation from prison. He died on April 11.
After beginning at the Agence de Presse Libération (APL), Christian Rausch worked regularly for the Figaro. One day, at the Compagnie des Reporters, an agency I founded in the early 1980’s, Christian Rausch showed up with a school friend, Gérard Grizbec, a History and Geography professor and militant with the Trotsky organization, the 4th Internationale, whose leader was Michel Pablo, otherwise known as Michalis N. Raptis.
“Ahmed Ben Bella was one of my heros” Gérard Grizbec told me on the phone from Bénin where he is an international editor for France 2. “When he was imprisoned by Boumediene, I fought with my organization for his freedom. At each meeting of the student union, UNEF, the Algerian ambassador would come and we would yell: Free Ben Bella! At the time, between 1965 and 1969, prison conditions were very rough. He was threatened with execution several times, until the regime softened and he married Zohra who can be seen in Christian’s pictures.”
“In September, 1981, Christian and were sent on a boat by La Compagnie des Reporters to interview him at his home in Oran. We stayed for three days with his family. He was truly eager to talk. In prison, he had much time to think and to study the Koran. I remember his self-criticism perfectly. He said to me: a single party, a single evil. That sentence has always stayed with me… This very long interview marked the beginning of my journalistic career, I think about it often. Obviously, we saw each other again and again, but this first meeting in his home with his family truly created the bond.
“As an anecdote, I’d like to add that at the time, La Compagnie des Reporters had the hardest time selling this interview. Luckily, Sylvie Languin who ran international sales, and had good relations with the Swiss monthly Fémina who ran the story with pictures on four pages… In France, Ben Bella wasn’t considered angelic. Today, these pictures are rare, for Ahmed Ben Bella is always seen in European dress.”