When I went into the bus at Ndjaména International Airport, to go to the plane it felt like I was leaving a violent bubble through a very narrow escape. I had been two weeks in an occupied country. These were a turbulent two weeks that are apparently normal life in Chad. But when turbulence and violence become part of daily life and the majority of the population seems to accept daily atrocities, we need to do some steps back to understand what is going on.
The march of 13
I arrived in Chad on the 27thof April, just after the well mediatised march of the 13 youngsters against the ‘pénurie de gaz’. Among these 13 were also a few of the people I know and with whom I have worked on different occasions. They were only 13 because Chadians are afraid of undertaking such actions, and probably they also simply no longer belief in its results. No criminals, just youth who want a normal life for their families and for the Chadians in general. They were in prison because they undertook a peaceful march. They left prison on the day I arrived, just for the weekend; on Monday they heard their verdict: 12 were set free, but their case was not closed, just suspended. Nobody really understood what this means. One was held in custody.
Their action resulted in the appearance of butan gaz bottles in the city, after a long period without, so somehow the action had an effect. The lack of gaz was added to the prohibition to use fuelwood that has been introduced in N’djamena since 2008. People could simply not cook. Marching to ask for one’s right is also in Chad not forbidden. However over the past years hardly any march was permitted for obscure reasons (see also report Amnesty international). Although freedom of speech is part of the new constitution (article 28), this is not a reality again as shown by the arrest of the 13.
Around the young man who was kept in prison a circuit of strange stories developed. He was accused of being part of a rebel group that is stationed in Libya and has its leaders in the European Diaspora; the proof was a document that circulated on social media, just after the story appeared that this document, a letter in which the young man was appointed member, was given to the police by a lady who appeared to be his ex. This can be true or not; but it is clear that this is a strange development in a rebel movement. Why do they send such letters to people they recruit in Ndjamena? Is that not a form of criminal management putting youth in danger? His case is on-hold. He is still (today 27thof June) waiting for trial. No idea what will happen to him. The prison Ansinine where he is held, is overcrowded, instead of its capacity to have 400, it has more than 3,000 prisoners. Life must be horrible there. The twelve, and others, felt horrible for him. Being in a prison without trial and verdict is killing a person.
In the time in between the deliberations about these events I visited families and walked through town. The crisis that is roaming through Chad since 2015 is showing its results. It is taking lives, emptying the bars, in fact stopping economic activity, and so on. There is sometimes electricity but often not, and it is very hot. All building projects in town are put on hold. The big strikes have been solved. As a friend said, we simply were tired of the strikes and wanted to go to work, which does not mean that any of their demands have been fulfilled by the government.
Payment of salaries has been resumed, but many people receive less than before, or do not receive the premiums that are part of the salary system in Chad. Youth do not find jobs and the recruitment programme for government employment has stopped. Retired persons have to wait long on their pension, which is only one-month salary in three months, if they receive it at all. Furthermore, retirement is announced and often not expected by the person who has to retire and who often is still responsible for youngsters in the family. These will no longer be able to finalise their schooling. Perspectives for many families, who are not connected to Power, are gloomy in Chad.
I went out one evening for a drink in the quarter of Moursal. We were sitting outside drinking a beer and chatting, when we heard sounds similar to shooting and saw the smoke from what we later understood of tear gaz. We were summoned inside by the owner of the bar and came to understand that we were sitting next to a spot where a protest was developing. Family and friends of a young boy, who died following torture by the police after his arrest, went to the street. The day after it was expected that the villagers would come to Ndjamena to protest against this injustice. At his funeral protests were hard. A few days after I left Chad a similar situation occurred. Again a youngster left life because of the atrocities of the police. The news about these killings do reach the households of Ndjamena and beyond, but what can ‘we’ do is the general reaction? After this second death, that also was international news (RFI and BBC), the head of the police commissariat was sent away and the policemen who tortured were arrested. Will they also have to wait till eternity for their trial, like the young men who was held in prison after the march? I don’t think so.
Chad’s governance has taken the form of the occupation of a territory. Chadians, who do not belong to the circles of Power, no longer own their lives.
Les libertés d’opinion et d’expression, de communication, de conscience, de religion, de presse, d’ association, de reunion, de circulation, de manifestations sont guaranties à tous; Elles ne peuvent être limitées que pqr le respect des libertés et des droits d’ autrui et par l’ inpératif de sauvegarder l’ unite nationale, l’ ordre public et les bonnes moeurs.