Idriss Déby Protected by International Partners for ‘Strategic Reasons’
On April 10, voters in Chad were asked whether they wanted 65-year-old Idriss Déby to be their president for a fifth term. Since Déby assumed power in 1990, most of Chad’s youth – who make up the majority of the population in this oil-rich central African country – have known only one president in their lifetimes.
Civil society has lost all faith in politicians to produce positive change and launched grass-roots campaigns for weeks to show their dissatisfaction with the regime. They led marches against high food prices, fuel price hikes and other day-to-day issues, but the complaints were clearly directed against Déby and his government. The regime recognized the true nature of the demonstrations and cracked down hard against any dissent leading up to the elections. The government announced that mass meetings were prohibited unless directly linked to the election campaign, which started on March 20th. Four of the main civil society leaders were preemptively taken into custody to prevent a major opposition march they had been planning for March 29th.
The domestic situation in Chad has worsened in recent months due to falling oil prices and the deteriorating national security situation. Attacks by the Nigeria-based terrorist group Boko Haram have taken many lives – especially in the Lake Chad Basin area. These attacks have also led to the closing of major trade routes, including the one from the capital of N’Djamena, through Cameroon, to the Douala harbor.
Further complicating the situation, conflicts in neighboring countries have sent a flood of refugees to Chad. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Chad now hosts an overwhelming 450 000 refugees – mostly from the Central African Republic (CAR), Sudan and Nigeria.
Despite massive discontent under his regime and Déby’s clear disregard for democratic principles in standing for a fifth term – even though it is not prohibited by the constitution – activists in Chad have found it nearly impossible to mobilize any outside support. Members of the international community either chose to remain silent during the elections or actively showed support for Déby. The reticence of the international community is largely linked to Déby’s position as the regional strongman and purported guarantor of peace and stability in the area, due to his major role in controlling conflicts in neighboring Mali and CAR. France, in particular, remained silent, perhaps because of their strategic need for Chad’s help in fighting terrorist activity in Francophone Africa.
Déby was also elected African Union (AU) chairperson for 2016 at the January AU Summit in Addis Ababa – sending a clear message that the AU supports the Chadian leader. Few leaders at the summit seemed to be aware that Déby’s rule will be contested in elections during his term as AU chairperson.
Though the Constitutive Act of the AU does not strictly prohibit heads of state facing elections from holding the AU chairperson position, it is nevertheless surprising that this was not taken into account when the Assembly made this decision. Were they confident he would win? And if Déby were to lose the presidential election, would his successor take over as AU chairperson?
David Zounmenou, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Security Studies says the decision by the AU seemingly failed to consider the domestic impact and the message that it sends about upholding democratic principles in Africa. “The AU’s decision might follow regional rotation [the previous chair was Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe], but there has been a strong reaction from civil society activists and diplomats in Chad,” he says.
The AU and other international players approach Chad like a major regional power even though it is a state that relies heavily on income from its oil reserves to finance its military prowess in the region. It is also a country plagued by institutional weakness and led by a highly contested president. The drop in oil prices has clearly impacted the country’s financial resources, prompting questions over whether Chad will be able to continue financing its army as previously. “There are reports that the state is indebted by as much as US$700 million,” says Zounmenou.
Zounmenou says that the extension of both Sassou Nguesso and Déby’s mandates is a clear example of the current trend toward the reversal of democratic gains that were made on the continent. The fact that the international community is not speaking out about these issues is shameful, he says. “The international community is supposed to promote democracy in Africa, but it seems to have lost its voice.”
Source: Liesl Louw-Vaudran, ISS Consultant, issafrica.org
Father, as we look with foreboding at world news, we give thanks that we can lift our eyes to look beyond, to know with confidence that You are on the throne, that nothing is escaping Your attention and that You are powerful to act. And so we pray for the nation of Chad today. Regardless of the election results, we pray that this nation would remain strong and maintain democracy. We pray that their economy would improve, that they would prevail in their battle with Boco Haram, within their boarders and beyond, and that You would provide resources to help the many refugees who have fled to Chad. We pray that the people would continue to live and worship freely. And we pray for Your gospel to permeate every village and town of Chad that it might grow as a nation in godly ways and bring glory to Christ. In the name of Jesus, who bends His ear to hear the cry of His people, Amen.