Disposable people: One. Mali

This blog is part one of a ‘trilogy’ in which I express my surprise and sadness about irrelevance of human lives by the big players in this world. It makes me wonder if it is not time to unite with people who feel the same and start to say something about what is happening. These three blogs are therefore also an invitation to share more stories about disposable people in 2018.

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Displaced in Bamako @Mirjam

Meeting with herdsmen and owners of cattle in Mali is an emotional encounter. For them especially for what they are living through, but also for me. Why? Because I can situate all their stories in a history of visiting and being warmly received by the herders and farmers in Mali, since 1987. In 2016 I joined a research project that tries to understand the recent conflict affecting their lives. I meet the herders now in Bougouni, in Bamako, as displaced people and as prisoners, as people being disposed off, as people without value for the modern Malian state.

My last stay in Mali was 13-26 August this year.

Killings
The sons of our main interlocutors, then, are now in prison. They are accused of being jihadists. The family and friends of colleague researchers are affected, their villages burnt, people are killed, and even mass graves are found. Most victims mentioned in these reports are part of the herders’ group. But there are also atrocities in farmer’s villages, Dogon and Bambara. The ethnic war in Central Mali has become  a sad reality. And in the coming months it is feared that the situation will worsen: more displaced people, more empty villages, more deaths, food crisis.

Displacement
The result of the 2012 ‘occupation’ of central and northern Mali is a chaotic internal war. This year it has already caused the death of maybe over 1000 people, but figures cannot be verified. It forced people to leave their homes and search for a place elsewhere. Numbers of internally displaced people are not known, but their numbers are growing.

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Displaced in Bamako @Mirjam

In Bougouni in the south, two hours drive from Bamako one family who hosts refugees saw the numbers grow from 3 end of June to 29 families in mid-August; and the woman of the family receiving these displaced assures us that more will be coming; in Bamako the capital city displaced people house in dilapidated houses without official recognition, but with help of families, associations, and individuals. Herders are nomads and to become visible as displaced is not evident. Moving with the herds is after all the main survival strategy. So many families will move in crisis but as nomads, not spotted by NGOs or the State. The displaced families that we meet are mainly recognized as such because they have to ask for aid, as all their cattle was stolen, killed or otherwise, and in many stories the burning of villages is a recurrent theme. Also in Bankass the numbers of people who flee their villages are growing and among them increasingly also Dogon.

War
A strange war is going on in Mali. It is an amalgam of different conflicts and involvement of various actors, and violence has moved from the North to the Centre, where most deaths are counted (for now). In Mali this internal war is silenced as much as possible, or presented as separate ‘conflicts’ in different sub regions and preferably with a reference to herder-farmer conflicts.  News in international circles is of recent date, only appearing after the  presidential elections that were held in July and August. Did they avoid publishing before that time to not jeopardize the sitting president?  In social media news circles like Taabital Pulaaku’s FaceBook, or in protest from diaspora Malians, concepts like genocide have gradually come into use. How disturbing such nominations may seem they might be necessary to wake up the (inter)national community. But in doing so the FB pages of other associations (like Kisal, Pinal Pulaaku, Dogon vision) risk accusations of being propagandistic. Analysis of these pages does indeed show ups and downs in the neutrality of the formulations. It is not easy to keep outside the positions, as the oppositions between ethnic groups have become a fact.

Confusion
My confusion is about research in conflict situations. Is it arrogant to try to understand situations that are so complex and that demand so many lives; that are ‘unknowable‘ in their complexities? Who am I to embark on the knowing of the unknowable?. But on the other hand, every attention for these situations that are not only unknowable but also not seen is good. That is why I dare to write about it, even if I know that I do not know.

Creation of oppositions
It is difficult to stay neutral in the conflict. The oppositions are so outspoken. At least that is what has become. The old presumed cleavages between ethnic groups have become the kernel of clashes, killings etc. It is almost impossible to deny the politicization of these clashes. Of course the oppositions did exist, and do exist. It is a historical given that herders and farmers have to live together despite themselves. Their uses of resources are complementary and opposed. With the increasing problems of management, due to expansion of the population, ecological problems, increasing land-use by business and big urban entrepreneurs, it seems unavoidable that problems intensify, but these could have been contained if the political will would have been there. Somehow the conflict serves a purpose.

Cynisms
That is how the idea of disposable people is not too strange. As was suggested by a ‘critical’ citizen analyst in Mali: they want to empty the land that is needed for other purposes. It would not be the first time that a State disposes of its people for economic reasons. The other cynism is that those, who do most of the fighting are originally funded by the Malian government. Among Fulbe young men who joined the various armed groups (including Jihadist groups) are also those who were part of the militias that were funded by the government to fight the Tamacheq, that was in 2012 and 2013; the Dozo who are fighting against the so-called jihadist Fulbe (but who confuse them with ordinary citizens) are said to be armed by the state and also in some instances they are military in Dozo attire. Both in the interviews and comments on FB these stories appear. Another rumor is that also the international powers see profit in the chaos and will not really help to stop this. A recent report by the UN states that some actors who were united around the table to come to an agreement are also involved in criminal networks whose economy is worth milliards of dollars.

These cynic ways are increasingly part of patterns in the wars in the Sahel region and can only be continued by defining a sea of disposable people; people who have been the guardians of the Sahel regions for centuries, but whose paths are clashing with the paths of modernizing and criminalizing states.

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Access denied: Visa Policies

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Unequally Glocalised Worlds, Bamenda 2010 @Sjoerd Sijsma

I am in Cameroon, working with Marius, a student from central Africa. Cameroon, Buea, is for him a writing environment. The situation in Bangui does not allow him space to reflect and write. He should have been in the Netherlands. I am here because Marius’ visa for the Netherlands was refused four times over the past year. The repeated reason given at the French Embassy in Bangui: ‘this young man will probably not return to his homeland’. And this is where the story ends and begins. Marius has been accepted as a PhD student at Leiden University, we had produced all letters necessary. There was no reason to not give him the visa. We thought by confidently insisting on his application, and thus repeating it, the Embassy staff would realize their misjudgment. All other diplomatic efforts we tried failed. Marius reflects on it: ‘why do they deny me access to a world where I can learn more? Where I can develop myself into an academic so that I can help my country?’

Humiliation
I could not agree more. It is very unfortunate that the inequalities in our world are played out at this level. Are we not in the right corrupt position? A question that is raised by the recent convocation of the French Ambassador in Bangui, amongst others also for : « délivrance de visas en situation de conflit d’intérêts ».
As the responsible person in the visa demand I feel humiliated and hopeless.. As an academic the only thing I can do is to write and to visualize difficulties and inequalities that are the realities of every day for many young people in Africa, so that others know. One of such realities is Marius’.

Appearances
And Marius is not alone. A Chadian friend told me how, when he went to pick up his visa for the Netherlands at the French Embassy in N’djaména, from all the (mainly) young men only one or two got a visa. His was also refused. Another case where all things were in order with the necessary letters of invitation, return ticket, insurance, but refused on the same grounds. This young artist – Rasta hair – has no fixed income but is always having assignments and is managing his own studio. One can imagine the authorities think: ‘Certainly a youth who wants to stay in Europe.’ He was invited to come to the Netherlands to finalize a film project with his Dutch colleague-cineastes and me. This is a film that might reach out to festivals and critical film competitions. But to get there we need to be able to join forces. The topic of this film is youth and inequality in the world and at home, and the socio-political dynamics this creates. The story of visas should probably be integrated into the project. I will have to travel again to Chad to work on this project; I am not denied a visa: I can freely go were my work and aspirations take me. That is how it should be.

Aspirations Denied
In many African countries we cannot deny that aspirations of young people are killed by the governance systems and economies. Many young men from countries such as the conflict ridden Central African Republic long for a life elsewhere. The images and stories about the ‘other’ world that are circulating on social media are alluring. Why not try? The situation at home is rather hopeless, so it would be good to go out.
The widespread protests that we see in many countries in West and Central Africa are related to the same feelings of ‘let’s try’. Of course each country has its own special dynamics, political structures, dictatorships and histories of violence, but there is a common denominator. Youth make up more than 60% of the population. Due to the rapid urbanization process the towns become large reservoirs of youth who have left the rural areas, at times forced because their land has been bought by Chinese, European or African businessmen with international relations, transforming the former farmers into cheap wage laborers. Hence, they take on small jobs in the urban economy and enter a new world, including the world of social media.

In some countries, like Chad, there are other ongoing processes that are, to say the least, unjust and incite people to protest. Here, the elites have been stealing from the people for decades while the population suffers from cuts in salary, rising prices, and impossibility to send children to school. Their consequent strikes make the economy even less performing. The poor get poorer and the rich richer.

Escapes?
When I record all this…. it is so logical that protests are rising and youth want to escape their situation. This is the case especially today because we are connected. The Marxist and pan-African writers like Fanon, Aime Cesare and DuBois, and the killed leaders Sankara and Lumumba, are alive again and referred to in Facebook posts. Protests in Africa and attempts by the youth to escape their situation will not stop until the present day leaders are gone, the international community comes to reason and inequalities have reduced tremendously.

Denying visa
Why deny these you men a visa? Do they not have the right to travel, without any explanation? Many of these young people will, like Marius’, come to learn, to work and to discover. Denying a visa to youth who have the right to be mobile is against justice.

Bizarre Mali

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Motor-cycling by night in Bamako @Mirjam

Bamako facade
‘It is bizarre to be in Bamako now’, was the thought that came up regularly during my stay in Bamako this January. In the taxis I was observing and having a chat with the driver, along the sandy streets, the polluted air and busy beehive like structures that are markets. The traffic is dominated by motors driven by literally everybody, like flies in the streets, for personal use. Nobody has a permit, and that is clear from the way the motors are creating numerous moments of near-accident. Taxis are expensive, the mini-busses are crowded. Motorbikes imported from China are relatively affordable and give freedom of movement. Since March last year it seems that the number of motors has increased again.

Along the streets the building of houses continues, today also multiple-floor buildings. One of the quarters at the outskirts of Bamako, on the road to Segou, has been filled with houses over the past eight months. There is no bush left between the city and the surrounding hills that are gradually integrated into the expansion plans of the city. Bamako grows.

Then all the cars: they are numerous and stylish. Can so many people afford a car these days, or are these all ‘project’ cars? Are these related to another development that we observe in Bamako: the increasing number of NGOs and projects ‘bringing peace’ to Mali. The growth of the city, the apparently improving economy seems bizarre given the problems in other parts of the country.

Mali in war?
There is a war going on in this country. The troubles in the North and especially in the Centre are increasingly violent and seem to have covered larger parts of the country and included more people than before. Attacks are happening every day and often more than one a day. The official statistics report 750 deaths in 2017, but following the announcements on Facebook and reports in the media this number seems to be too low. A representant of Taabital Pulaaku, at the national bureau in Bamako, confirms that there are probably 1000ds of death. The stories from villagers who live in fear or are seduced by the new forms of religion, fill the online media and the offline newspapers. In his New Year’s speech, for which the president invited a large number of leaders, the message was conveyed that all is going well. Indeed, one part of the Malian economy works, fed by the economy of ‘la paix’ and ‘la guerre’. The presence of the UN military mission (MINUSMA) and inflow of NGOs has led to more cars, prices of houses going up, and jobs in the ‘peace industry’ in Bamako etc.: the well-known spoils of war on the national level. Despite this booming economy I have spoken to many people who question this optimistic attitude of the president and think that he has lost contact with reality.

One morning, when entering the office, a colleague who I last saw in March 2017, clings to me and starts to talk rather upset: ‘We are heading towards a war and they just do as if that reality is not there’. ‘They (meaning the ‘jihadists’, or ‘rebels’) attacked a police post (gendarmerie) in Markala close to Segou, they are at the doorstep of Bamako’. (…) ‘Who can deny this?’

Elections
Clearly, one can deny troubles in Bamako for now, especially with elections approaching. In a few months Malians will go to the ballot box, but what is there to choose? The present-day government is bankrupt, recently again three new ministerial posts were created, bringing the total to 36 ministries, who all have their personal budgets, extra’s, etc. But at the same time the population in the South might not go voting; they are fed up with the corruption of this government. Although some may still cling to the positive message and vote for IBK. The North will not vote: 70% of the schools are closed, famine looms around the corner, people are living in fear for the ‘people in the bush’. Or they join these people in the bush no longer trusting their State. The government is basically not present in the North. On top of all this, the president is heading a government that will soon launch its own military offensive to fight the terrorists in the North. Combined with other military preparations of the G5, and the presence of already a large number of UN soldiers, this will turn Central and North Mali into a real battlefield.

These messages from the government are informed by the wish to be re-elected. However, the promise that military action in the North and Centre of the country will end the chaotic situation and will allow the (middle class) citizens of Bamako to continue to dream their life of relative prosperity, is based on a dubious interpretation of the effect of the military approach. Can this really be effective? To securitize the vast region the military needs a large budget. The recent investments in the G5 group, Minusma and the new offensive of the Malian State will not suffice to cover the huge area that is the North and Centre of Mali. Control will be partial, concentrating on the cities, and as a result in the bush there will be a separate state led by so-called non-state actors.

For those who live in deep poverty life will only become worse again, but they are used to it. Their votes may make a difference, but will they have the chance to vote? Into which direction will their lives go?

Deciphering Radicalisation: Misuse of a concept

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Douentza 2013 @Boukary Sangaré

This blog post is part of a series of blogs that I will publish the coming months within the framework of the Voice4Thought Festival on Digital Radicalization (23-29 September) and the Voice4Thought @Dakar events (15-18 November). In these blogs I will try to understand (also with other authors) what radicalisation means in different situations in the Sahel, and the world. What are the undercurrents? What historical parallels are there? Why is it happening now? With this text I try to understand how the hype of radicalisation – that was probably first of all a discourse born out of fear and othering – became a reality and has in Mali even transformed into ethnic scapegoating:  ‘la question peule’.

A concept
The meaning of the concept ‘radicalisation’ anno 2017 is related to a context defined by fear and panic for violence, in the name of religion and anti-western sentiments. It is especially used in western media and policy circles to depict a situation that has to be countered. It has become related to negative action, to violence and extremism. Zoe Reddy, artist and conservator, and Cindy van der Aa, artist and designer, compiled the exposition ‘Radicalisation: a range of defiance’ during the V4T festival 2017 and kunstroute in Leiden. Zoe made a video clip in which she tried to get to the fundamental signification of the concept radical. She deconstructs the meaning of radical, which brings it to: a radical affects the poster kunstroutefundamental nature of something, i.e. it leads to change. She questions where the word or concept comes from and what meaning it has gained over time. How has it become equal to violence, extremism in our times? In our present day world we seem to have forgotten about the root meaning of the word. Many people who were radical did bring very positive change. Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King were considered radicals (with a negative connotation) by the regimes in power, but they have changed values in our world deeply and not negatively. In today’s world however radicalisation related to violence and extremism has become a means to create opposition and accuse others of being wrong. It allows those who are in this discourse and reality to define the other as a negative force, whom we need to destroy to make our world safe again. On the other side of this opposition the so-called radicals formulate their own ideologies and have their own reasons to act as they do. In the process they may in the end adopt radical strategies to reach their goals. A concept and the meaning we give it acts, it has consequences in the real world.

Central Mali
How the concept acts becomes clear in the situation of Mali, where since 2012 a complicated war has become a (international) fight against radicalisation, violence and Muslim extremism. In Central Mali the Fulani/Peul have become central target and players in this war. They have become more conscious of their ‘marginal’ position vis-à-vis the Malian state and made their demand for a better life heard. The unemployment, lack of good pasture areas and a general neglect of development in their home area are the root causes of these demands. Insecurity in the region that only increased every year pushed them as well to defend themselves. The non-response to their demands has pushed some of the Fulani into the hands of armed groups that are often inspired by religious ideologies and a similar discourses of marginalization. The Fulani are of old inhabitants of Central Mali. They are citizens and have shared spaces with other groups for so long in relative peace. However with the turn in history after 2012 they have become enemies of the state and are considered radical and extremists that the State has to fight.

Media(ting)
Adam Thiam, a well-known journalist in Mali, wrote a booklet ‘Centre du Mali: enjeux et dangers d’une crise négligée’ (2017). At the end of his nuanced analysis he also presents the thesis of ‘la question peule’. Although this was certainly not his intention this expression has nourished sentiments in society that are based on fear and also on the unknown. Southern Malians feel threatened by these northern situations and the apparently nomadic-jihadist spirit that settles in the North.

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internet image of Fulani

An analysis of Mali newspaper articles and its online conversations (chats) also show an increasing anxiety towards the role of the Fulani/Peul in the problems in Central Mali, reporting on violent actions, and creating an image of the Peul as the enemies of the State. In the articles and reactions an undertone of racism transpires. ‘La question peule’ has become internalized as the threat for mainstream society in Mali. (First explorations in Media research within the programme:  ‘http://www.ascleiden.nl/research/projects/fulani-sahel-caught-between-hammer-muslim-extremism-and-anvil-state-mali-nigeria). As Boukary Sangaré concludes in a forthcoming article ‘la question peule’has become a fact (‘Le centre du Mali: vers la question peule’, in Deciphering Radicalisation, Langaa, 2017, forthcoming) promoted by the frames in the media. Fulani are arrested en masse with the approval of many in the general public who have internalized the radicalisation discourse as the synonym of violent extremism with a religious inspiration.

Internalisation of ‘la question peule’
Where cohabitation used to be the way to discuss Fulani-farmer relations, or to experience the presence of Fulani in society in general, there is now the discourse of ‘la question peule’ in which they are depicted as radicals, jihadists and extremists. This is not only a discourse, but a discourse that leads to action: the arrest, fear of policemen for the Fulani, etc. that in turn leads to a sharpening of the discourse, or probably better said: a confirmation of the discourse. And gradually this becomes the normal way of doing, the accepted style. Newspaper articles no longer shy away from these and in the online world accusations etc. are repeated and the oppositions confirmed. The word radical has become synonymous with jihadism, and violent extremism. The acts that result from the internalization of this discourse is at the same time a reason for people to re-act radically. It would be wise for policymakers, the mainstream citizens of Mali, for those who govern to decipher their own understanding of concepts they use and see if in their acceptance of this discourse there is probably also a possible critical point of view possible. This might lead to a real debate about the so-called radicals. More understanding of the reasons to become radical, and in some cases extreme and violent. It is important to be conscious of the origins of our thoughts and not hide behind a wall of shared values without questioning these. Inviting artists to decipher the concepts and situations could be an interesting first step to open a discussion in society.

‘Les cicatrices c’est notre passeport’, Disappearing histories in Southern Chad

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Roro: a market where three countries meet @Mirjam (2017)

The taxi driver who brings us back to Sarh from Kyabe is a young man. He wears the signs of his family on his face. He is Sara-Kabba, an ethnic group that has its main living space around Lac Iro in Central Chad. He shares a story with us: He once searched adventure in Yaoundé, Cameroon. He went without a coin in his pocket and was wandering the streets of Yaoundé when a person talked to him, asking where he came from, pointing at his scars. They were from the same region and same ethnic group, brothers. Hence he found his place to stay. You see, ‘les cicatrices, c’est notre passeport’. But he adds that this is also the past. It has not much meaning today.

Forgotten cultures
We are travelling to Southern Chad, through Moundou, Sarh to Kyabe and final destination Roro, the region of Lac Iro. We enter a forgotten land, not flooded by NGOs, where the state’s social services are almost absent. The few health centers that we see are equipped by religious missions of various denominations. There is one ethnographic work on the region, written by Claude Pairault (1923-2003)° and based on research done in the 1960s.

During our trip we meet Yaya Sarria, a dancer from Chad. He is travelling the region for a month to find out about songs and dances that are at risk of being forgotten. ‘All artists should know this’, he exclaims. We listen to the songs he and his friend gathered: beautiful stories told on rhyme, women singing at funerals, and so much more. Almost everything they have recorded is the art of old people. Young people do not learn these songs any longer. They also recorded interviews with people who relate about their traditions and lifestyles that are in danger as a consequence of subsequent wars and new religious forms.

Loss of resources
Southern Chad has been suffering – like all other parts of the country – from more and less intensive periods of wars and rebellions. The main heritage is non-development. Conflict and war eat resources that are hence not invested in the country for infrastructure or other purposes. The exploitation of oil during the past decade did not

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A ministry building in Sarh, renewed colonial building @Mirjam (2013)

change much, apparently. Even though the road from Moundou to Kyabe was built by means of oil money, after Kyabe the road stops altogether and, so it seems, all other things we see as modernity as well. The recent developments in the region can be summarized around issues of land and refugees, partly the result of conflicts in neighbouring countries. Add to this the kleptocratic character of the state’s ruling clan and the recent crisis that has hit Chad and one can imagine that the relative stability of the past ten years, including the oil money, has not changed much to the conditions of the people in this region.

However, the market in Roro is a space of encounters, here the three countries (Sudan, CAR and Chad) meet and the people from the region come to sell their cattle, food, and Kalashnikovs. It is an impressive market. Roro is a far-away place for those who come from N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, but a central place in the region. It’s also a place where the government receives a lot of tax income, but these revenues cannot stay in Roro, as it depends on Kyabe, the district capital, where the money goes to. The money flows somewhere but not back into this region.

Identity and belonging
How does the population in this region relate to recent history? What are their points of reference? Where do they belong to? In a recent study Souleymane Adoum a Chadian historian, explains about the lack of archives in this region. All archives in Sarh-region have disappeared in fires or pillage or have simply been destroyed by the rains in the dilapidated houses. During the various rebellions people were also forced to abandon their ‘modern’ objects, as those objects did not fit the rebellions’ anti-Western ideology, hence all letters and pictures or other objects that are reminiscent of personal histories are gone. For his research Souleymane depended almost completely on oral histories and life stories.

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Cailcidrat, colonial trees through the ruine of Hôtel de Chasse @Mirjam (2017

In Sarh we come across a small museum. It has no money to buy objects. Hotel deChasse, a colonial legacy, was burned down ten years ago – an accident. However, the state did restore the colonial buildings in this town. It seems a strange contrast to me that the colonial legacy is conserved, while the region just outside Sarh is lacking all social services. The museum could have been an important point of reference for young and old people to discover their identity. But it is visited only rarely and contains so little objects that it feels as if the country has no history nor memory.

Chinese art

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Place de la nation: N’Djamena (internet picture)

What then is the orientation for the youth? The ethnic markers? As the young taxi driver continues, referring to his scars: ‘These are now remnants of the past. We no longer do this; things are changing’. Many people from the region Sarh now live in N’Djamena. The search for a little income cracks up most youth; the university is on strike all the time, surviving in the city is difficult. The image they develop of the world is a polarized one, due to differences with Europe and the USA but especially due to the differences within their own country: between the rich who flourish well and the poor who are denied a normal subsistence. The president promised a ‘renaissance’, but this is only captured in symbols created by Chinese artists, such as the Place de la Nation in N’Djamena, or in the restauration of colonial remnants in Sarh. Are these really meant as new symbols of identity? In Chad people cannot choose their own symbols of belonging. Their symbols of history and identity have disappeared and the replacements are empty.

Yaya Sarria’s art project should be continued!

°Claude Pairault, 1966, Boum-le-Grand,, village d’Iro, Paris, Institut d’ethnologie, collection Travaux et Mémoires LXXIII. ;  Claude Pairault, 1994, Retour au Pays d’Iro, Chronique d’un village du Tchad, Paris : Karthala

We should know: #FreeNadjo #FreeSolloh

Pondering…
Sonja Barend, the celebrated host of Dutch TV shows until 10 years ago, has written an honest memory of her youth, in which the search for her father and his Jewish identity is central. This father she never knew is one of the many Jewish men who disappeared during the second World War in the Netherlands. Her mother was the one to open the door for the policemen and answered yes on their question if her husband was in. They brought him to the Scheveningen prison in June 1942. He would stay in this prison for radicals and resisters of the German regime during 6 months, before being deported to the concentration camp Auschwitz where he died on an unknown day in 1943. Why this happened and how it happened – all not known. In her intimate reflections on her imagined father Sonja wonders about the people who then lived next to him and who should have known about these deportations, and on that moment that her mother said ‘Yes’. The main question in recent autobiographical literature memorizing WW II is: ‘should we have known?’. In a publication of 2012 Bart van der Boom raises the question if ‘ordinary’ Dutchmen in the war could have known. And if so, were they able to understand the severity, that was unimaginable. People lived their lives based on experienced history and this was simply too strange. The book led to fervent debates. The end of WW II is 72 years ago. The ‘not seeing’ has become a collective traumatic memory.

This part of Dutch history comes to my mind when reading the comments of the Chadian diaspora on the situation in Chad. We live in 2017 in a world full of communication technology, that allows us to see more than 72 years ago, but do we really see what is happening under authoritarian regimes, or maybe a better question: do we want to see?

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Symbol of the resistance movement Iyina in Chad as it appeared in whatsapp and messenger pictures

Arrests of young leaders
The arrests in Chad of youth leader Palmer Nadjo Kaina on 6 April and nine days later of Bertrand Solloh are not widely known to the world. These are just examples of many other arrests in Chad and elsewhere. Who notices these arrests? Why are they relatively silenced? Nadjo is leader of the youth movement Iyina (meaning ‘we are tired’ in local Arabic) and Solloh is responsible for Iyina’s communication and a member of ‘Tournons la page pour la démocratie en Afrique’ (Let’s turn the page for democracy in Africa). Both are civil society organisations that have become active (again) around the presidential elections of April 2016. The reasons for the arrests are vague. Nadjo, who was arrested two times already in 2015 and in 2016, has been accused of a possible disturbance of the public order by organizing a manifestation on the 10th of April, the day of the severely criticized elections in 2016. Iyina invited Chadians to remember this day and to wear the color red. Solloh was accused of participating in this organization. Other members of Iyina subsequently went in hiding or even left the country. For more than two weeks nobody knew where Nadjo and Solloh were. Even the Minister of Justice responded that he was not aware of the situation of these young people. Their lawyers had no access to them. Only on the 24th of April they reappeared in the capital city’s prison with the announcement of their possible judgment the day after. On the 27th they heard a requisitory of 5 years against them; the verdict will be on 4 May.

Were they detained in the prisons of the ANS, the secret police, or in the new prison Amsinéné in N’Djamena?  The conditions in these prisons are not well known. The last reports of Amnesty on these conditions date from 2012. A recent master’s thesis of the University of N’Djamena from 2016 reports about injustices. Isn’t it ironic that this happens when a new film on the prisons and actions of the DDS (former secret police) under the previous president of Chad, Hissein Habré, has just been released, and whose creator, the well-known Chadian cineast Mahamat Haroun Saleh, has been nominated Minister of Culture? Nadjo and Solloh are part of a new generation of political detainees in Chad.

(Not) knowing
News about the young men is not part of daily talk in N’Djamena. Those who open their mouth fear to be arrested. ‘They all left, I might be arrested’ is one of the comments of a friend and member of Iyina. Spreading fear is one of the results of the attitude of the government who also arrests, interrogates and sometimes then liberates, like the 60 youngsters who protested/manifested on the 10th of April acting in answer to the call of Iyina. These are brave actions ending in intimidation and I can imagine that it is difficult or even impossible to escape feelings of fear. As some Chadians claim: we are living the horrible times of the DDS again. Many people prefer to keep silent.

The only sphere where it seems possible for Chadians to comment and denounce acts of the Chadian government is on social media. The blog forum Yadaari and Makaila-blog posted a few blogs about the situation. Sporadically Twitter refers to the situation in Chad: the hashtags #FreeNadjo and #FreeSollo, or #FreeSolloh were born in the tweets of Laurent Duarte, coordinator of the international movement ‘Tournons la Page’. But it is especially on Facebook that comments and actions are announced. These Facebook Posts are mostly from the hands of diaspora activists, who also organize manifestations in Paris and elsewhere. Screenshot_20170422-155902The content of their posts is not only about facts, but as well about the laxity of the Chadian population who they urge to take their destiny in their own hands. A regular commentator is the Strasbourg based journalist Tahirou Hissein Daga. Although the frustration of these Facebook users who find themselves outside the country and feel something needs to change is understandable, the question is if they are  justified? What would they do in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation? But also if you live your daily life, does one really see? They are probably not right in the accusation of people who live in difficult circumstances in Chad. Being inside and act is not easy and reminds me of the situation during World War II, with which I opened this blog post. But those who are outside, like the diaspora and hence the international actors, they can see!

We should know
It is only after a long silence that the international community picks up this news, though still sporadically. To find their announcements and articles one has to be interested in Chad. The action that has become somehow public was the request and short report of Amnesty International and some publications on RFI (French news agency). Recently there was a denouncement of these arrests and a call for liberation in a common call. Why is the world not more active in denouncing these human rights violations? Did we not learn from our WWII history? Must we wait, like then, for 72 years to analyze an authoritarian rule and its atrocities? This, while there is enough information to know that there is clearly a violation of human rights? In this case we cannot argue that we did not know, on the contrary: we should have known.

And Chad is just an example. It is part of a larger tendency of authoritarian rule in different countries in the world. Some cases are well known and widely discussed, others are relatively silenced as is the case for Chad.

It is important to alert the international community by revealing the facts, and also by recalling the collective memory of WW II; by realizing that similar things are now happening in the world; realizing that we might be able to play a role to diminish the misery of the people in Chad, to diminish the risk of traumatic collective memories. We live in a global world, the realities of Chad should also be ours.

Ugly contrasts in Chad

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N’djaména, discussing possibilities of civil society @Mirjam

I returned from Chad on 19 February. I had been attending a conference on governance and citizenship organized by CRASH (Centre for Research in Anthropology and the Humanities). CRASH is a free space for research, as was shown also during the conference: there were discussions about civil society, the protests, state responses and the crisis that Chad has found itself in since the elections of April 2016. This was daring, for the situation in Chad is tense.

Crisis
Since August 2016, when I also visited Chad, things had changed quite a bit. The crisis had really settled in the country. Internet, then already cut for three months, was only back by the end of December 2016. After a long period without salary, December ending was the moment of payment, but most people received only half of what they used to (no primes). People could celebrate the New Year, but still, things were bad for all the families I visited. Visible in the streets: economic activity low, bars empty, and the stories were also clear. As negotiations with the unions opened, some people expressed their hope that this would help. But their hope seems in vain as there are deeper layers to the crisis, and the actions of the government are deepening emotions of loss. Back in the Netherlands after a week I heard that the students were resuming their strike.

Visit to Toukra, university campus
screenshot_20170301-172824On Wednesday 1 March, I was shocked by the posts on Facebook about the killing of children in a school in Walia, a southern quarter of N’Djamena; shot by police forces because they were protesting against the arrest on 28 February of 69 young people who were suspected of creating chaos during a campus visit of the Ministre de l’enseignement superieur (Minister of Higher Education) and his Senegalese colleague (25 February); already for a few months the students had protested regularly a.o. against the retreat of their stipends. One form of protest is the molest of government cars; as a student explained to me, this is their only way to express a voice for change. My friends in their thirties remembered this had been their acts as well when they were in college, two decades ago. Arresting these youngsters is not necessary, condemning them even for terrorist acts is worse. On 1 March, the 69 students were condemned for 1 month closed detention for outrage à l’autorité de l’Etat, plus each a ransom of 75 Euros.

Conflict at school: closure
On 10 February, just before I arrived in N’Djamena on the 12th, in Mongo, a city in central Chad, children were killed as well. A friend from Mongo witnessed what was happening. He came to see me in N’Djamena and told me his interpretation of the events: A conflict between two girls from different ethnic groups and one prejoratively insulting the other, became a bigger fight. The police went in and shot with real bullets; one child dead, others wounded. When the corpse was released from the hospital, the college children (lycée) grabbed the corpse and carried it to the military camp, to give it to the person who killed the child. The forces turned out again and killed another child and wounded more. The wounded are in the hospital in N’Djamena as the hospital in Mongo does not have the capacity to help them; the children are buried, schools are closed, no action from the ministers or government to calm the situation except repression. Other versions have been told: in an article of RFI it was related that the shooting was done by the son of one of the generals; however, the fact of the two deaths and many wounded is verified. The stories circulate and will not stop to divide the population.

Whose rights?
These children simply ask for their rights, but they are denied citizenship by their government. The conclusion of the CRASH conference about the difficulties of civil society in Chad are an everyday reality. And even worse: those who deserve citizenship are being killed.

L’UNESCO s’est trompée. Le Tchad a 70 ans de retard sur le plan educative? Donc en 1947? Trop peu. Si c’est 1947 d’un autre pays africain, le tchad est en 100 ans de retard. (text from FB post, 27-2-2017)

The story does not stop here: this academic year will be an année blanche at the university – no stipends, and no teachers to teach; a university complex that has no electricity, nor  internet connection, and education systems that are rated 70 years behind. The children in this education system protest and are killed. At the same moment, the chique hotels of N’Djamena receive the ‘salon d’étudiants d’Afrique’ (23-25 February) organized by a son of President Idriss Déby, who recently returned from France where he studied, and his friend. The guests that come from all over Africa are hosted without limits on expenditure.

Pendant trois jours, du 23 au 25 février 2017, les jeunes Africains auront l’occasion de rencontrer, directement, sur place, au palais du 15 janvier de N’Djamena, des responsables des prestigieuses écoles, universités ou instituts de formations africaines.

Although it is a good initiative, in principle, comments heard in N’Djamena are critical. ‘The country is in crisis and then these elites dare to spend all this money on the happy few’. In an interview the organiser replies to these critiques:

The doors are open for the poor students from Chad who suffer from the crisis.

He does not realize how this remark summarizes the ugly contrasts in Chad!