Chad: not yet a breeding ground for ‘Voices’

In the GuéraThere are various reasons why Chadian society is such a difficult place for Voices, not even only Counter Voices, but simply Voices: the Voices that should be heard but are most of the time hidden or obscured by regimes of power. La peur is still reigning after all these years. And so it seems this peur (fear) is keeping voices down.

Mirjam and Hamid.

Mirjam and Hamid.

Spokesman for his people
Hamid is a delegate for his region – the Guéra – in the Chadian parliament. He is one of the leaders of a small political party that gained many votes in the last elections. They signed a coalition with the leading party MPS for a period of at least four years. That was the start of the political adventure for Hamid. A local development worker and business man who was selected as chef de canton of his region now became spokesman for his people at the national level. He takes this task very seriously. He realizes that in order to make a difference, his task is to organize his population, rather than plainly being part of the government. Let’s not forget that this population is yet kept in poverty, preoccupied with drinking cheap beer, does not receive very good education, and has limited access to health services. The villages and towns in the inland of Chad don’t have enough water facilities, land is a highly contested resource and increasingly leading to conflict between communities. The telephony masts that appeared in the landscape from 2006 suggest a connected reality, but experiences show that this is still a false hope. Internet connections hardly exist and the telephone network has many problems. When we worked in the Guéra in 2002-2003, an old catholic brother explained to us that this part of Chad was really still living in the Stone Age. But things are slowly changing.

IMG_3175Small projects in the villages
One of the changes might be the product of the ideas and practices of Hamid. He tries to listen to the people, and as parliament only assembles relatively rarely, he has enough time to go out to the villages, to handle people’s worries and the conflicts they have with the state, etc. He uses part of his (high) salary to pay for small projects in the villages. These actions help to develop the image of Hamid as an organizer and a leader for the people in the Guéra. That is, of course, also how he wants to portray himself. He would like all this to become a Movement for social change, for the development of his region, starting with people’s own small practices to improve their lives. What hampers his work is ‘la peur’, the fear within many people. What is this fear based on?

The Fear
To understand ‘la peur’ we have to understand Chadian history. A history that lies hidden mostly in the heads of the people, because there are hardly any archives to testify of what has happened. The archives were destructed during the numerous periods of turmoil that have ravaged Chad. Those archives that have survived destruction are in France, not very accessible for Chadian historians. So we have to listen to people’s stories that disclose the histories that the Chadian Stateand the international community rather do not hear. In these stories, we hear that French colonial politics did not ask but order, did not invite but force people to work on the road, to replace a village. People remember those days as being enslaved, tortured and almost beaten to death if one did not work hard enough. Every Chadian person has to live with this memory.

François Tombalbaye in 1959.

François Tombalbaye in 1959.

Violence, oppression, mistrust
Then there was the time of Tombalbaye, the first president of Chad, who installed a regime of oppression and elimination of opponents to his regime. He exacerbated taxes which led to various peasant uprisings. The uprisings in the Guéra in 1965 have been branded as the beginning of civil war in Chad. Towards the end of his regime Tombalbaye installed the politics of ‘Africanisation’ which turned into another form of severe repression. He was killed in 1975. After Tombalbaye, politics in Chad continued to be violent and oppressive under successive presidents and rebel leaders, of whom Hissène Habré (in power from 1982 to1990) is now well-known internationally as his case is proposed for international justice. Inevitably, the Chadian population wears the marks of those periods that were worsened by ecological catastrophes such as the droughts of the 1970s and 1980s.

Hissene Habré (portrait by Rama,  Wikimedia Commons).

Hissene Habré (portrait by Rama, Wikimedia Commons).

Who is eavesdropping on whom?
During the Habré dictatorial regime, internal control was frightening – who was eavesdropping on whom was utterly fluid. It is alleged that during the regime of Habré, at least 40,000 people were killed. The population of the Guéra was first part of his ‘revolution’, fighting for his cause, but later in his paranaoia of power he turned them into his ennemies and explicit target. Many people from the Guéra were killed during this period. Habré’s regime did not end in the chaotic violence we observe in CAR and Congo today, but instead was a well-organized machinery. Probably less ugly, but very efficient violence combined with severe oppression and the creation of deep mistrust has left deep scars in Chadian society. Many of the people who were part of that violence machine are still in office today. The international legal proceedings against Hissène Habré are significant, but they will not help to solve the deep cicatrices that are still so present, nor help create today’s ‘société tchadienne’, which is still dominated by la peur.

Hope and democratisation
In 1990 Idriss Déby took over, staging a coup d’État. He installed a new political regime in which democratization and decentralization initially were key concepts. However, it did not end oppression and violence, nor did it lead to a real participation of the population in politics. The wave of ‘modernisation’ imposed on Chadian society induced by oil money, informed a new discourse on Chad as ‘la vitrine d’Afrique’, and recently the announcement of N’djaména becoming the e-hub of Africa. These are however facades that do not help to solve the problems of a traumatized population living in poverty, anno 2014.
Despite the population’s abundant mental health problems, psychologists and psychiatrists are scarce in Chad. As is all good health service, it seems. This was again made utterly clear to me while visiting a newly built (with oil money) maternity hospital, where children were lying in the room for the nurses because there was no place in the treating rooms. This is the season malaria prevails, so many children were admitted… The personnel can only act to save these children’s lives and that they have no time to reflect on the deeper causes of this merde, is indeed so logical.

Hamid on his way to the villages.

Hamid on his way to the villages.

Breeding ground for Voices
Hardly anybody escapes this untold logic of Chadian society. Some escape better than others. And of course there is hope in the counter voices, like those of Croquemort, Salma, and Hamid. They are the few ‘Voices’ that can be heard, if we want to listen. Hamid shares that he does not know if his idea to create a movement for development, a breeding ground for ‘The voices from the Guéra’, will succeed. And then it also becomes clear how the ‘peur’ is within him as well. He constantly tries to avoid it, but it is present in all his acts: his voice is low, his eyes are constantly around, and although he is not afraid to raise his voice in parliament, he knows it is still a very long way and not without risks.

Fear does not allow free coalitions, nor does it allow free expression. That is probably why the (international) legal proceedings against Habré are hardly known among a large part of the Chadian population. The information still has to be passed on to the people. And what if no measures are taken against those who were part of the regime of Habré and still have their jobs, their positions in the villages? Will their violence ever be judged? Will there be gacaca (community justice) courts in Chad one day? Hamid hopes so, but he does not really believe it.

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One thought on “Chad: not yet a breeding ground for ‘Voices’

  1. A well-written piece on a part of the world the west knows very little about. These are problems that even with a sudden influx of money and representative government would still take decades to overcome.

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