‘No I was not an activist, but yes I have become one, a little bit. It has to stop, this crazy country, it is a crazy country; we have oil, manpower, gold, gas, but nothing is going; life is expensive, and nothing goes; that is how it is here…’
‘I study in Douala, private law; yes the universities are good in Cameroon. Here in Chad nothing goes… so it is time things change, and I want to do something.’
‘Yes I write.. I am on Facebook… we need to do something.’ (27 March 2016)
I am sitting at the back of the moto-cycle of a friend, driving around N’Djamena to search for an ATM that still has some money. The SGTB and UBA, the bigger banks, have no money. Finally we find the Ecobank cash machine, where I can get the money I need to pay my bills. The friend tells me about his new vocation: being active in civil society. We drive along the roads where the symbols of the leading party of President Déby, the MPS (Mouvement Patriotique du Salut), are shouting at us: the colors blue and yellow with the symbol of the hoe and the Kalashnikov crossed, as if both are weapons of survival in Chad. The campaign started on 20 March, and nobody can by now ignore the MPS, possibly the winning party at the Presidential elections that are due 10 April.
Gradually in the days after the 20th, another party – with orange colors – became visible in some streets: the UNDR (Union Nationale pour la Démocratie et le Renouveau) of Saleh Kebzabo, who was also present during the first elections in Chad just after the 1990s when Idriss Déby took power from Hissène Habré. A power he never left. But will he do so this time? Will civil society be able to force him out of his position? Speculations are part of daily conversations, but nobody knows.
The streets speak
The discourse of my friend resonates wildly among part of the moto-taxi youth in N’Djamena, who tell me they will vote, but not for Déby. It has been enough!
And it is not only these young men who adhere to this message. Also Youssouf, the Fulani driver who helped me out when I needed help, will vote for Kebzabo, he is certain: ‘No way, Déby nafataa (he is of no use), he did not work, and nothing has changed over the past years. So what should we do? I vote for Kebzabo’.
I was in Chad from 6 March to 4 April, and saw the election hype emerging. According to the short interviews I did with the ‘clando’s’ and friends, the race will most likely be between current President Idriss Déby, Saleh Kebzabo (who is presenting for the third time) and Laoukein Kourayo Médard, who is the mayor of Moundou, the economic capital of Chad and presenting for the first time. Both latter candidates are pro ‘alternance démocratique’. These are three candidates of a total of fourteen.
It is the first time that the elections will use a biometric voter system. It is not clear if the cards will be ready in time and if this new technology will really stop fraud. Rumours about these cards are rampant (www.rfi.fr/afrique/20160404-tchad-trafic-cartes-electeur-opposition-inquiete). Would Déby need to fraud the elections to win? Read the different interpretations on the RFI site.
Emerging civil society
Youssouf and my moto friend are part of the emerging civil society in Chad. Earlier, I wrote a blog on the events in March 2015. Many people now refer to these protests against the wearing of helmets as the beginning of change in Chad. People then became aware that they can protest and need to do so for change and probably a better life, without poverty and without ugly inequalities, with electricity 24/24 and water that flows from the taps when you need it.
Since a few months a new civil society language is appearing. The actions are unique. The day of whistling: when people early in the morning blew on their whistles to protest and show solidarity for l’alternance. There was the day of ‘ville morte’ when many people followed the call not to go to their work and leave their shops closed. There are also plans for a general strike in the administration and a strike by university students. The various appearing civil society organisations are increasingly working together in their actions. Despite the prohibition to demonstrate until after the elections, there have been many attempts to demonstrate: the recent arrest of four leaders has led to demonstrations that were brutally suppressed (see this blog by Zyzou). These actions show solidarity among the Chadians. And not only in N’Djamena, the capital, but also in Abéché in the East, in Moundou and Sahr in the South. It seems that the first protests in March 2015 have been the announcement of a new socio-political dynamic in Chad (see earlier blog).
Are these all signs of change, of a civil society that will be able to say ‘stop’ to injustice and to a President who has been there for too long? Will my friend and Youssouf find their right? Or is it still too early and does Chad not yet have the civil society that is needed for change?