‘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
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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!

Android Youth : The prix de la Francophonie 35>35

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Fatoumata Kebe presenting her project to teach astronomy to children in suburbs of Paris, 29-10-2016 @Mirjam

“We see the rise of a new generation of digital natives today. Our task must be to empower a new generation of digital citizens at the global level – starting with education, new intercultural skills, and deeper media and information literacy.”

Speaking is UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova during a conference held in Canada in 2015. Her remark epitomizes the approach to youth in the project and policy field.
The Android Youth is both seen as the future of and a threat to ‘our’ world which is funded on a belief in democracy, equality and welfare for all. This ideal world and the norms and values behind it are driving discussions about the pathways for youth and the policies that accompany them. In the context of the fight against terrorism and radicalization, the youth, especially the massive numbers of young people in Africa (an estimated >60% of the population) and in sub-urban spaces in Europe and the USA, are considered a potential threat to the world order. There is quite a number of young people who no longer believe in the legitimacy of the models that have shaped their states. The search for social, economic, and political identities, has become central to their lives. The advancement of ICTs, including social media, has made this a far more complex matter: Facebook has become one of the major communication and search tools for youth all over the world.

Hopeless
For many of the youth we are referring to here, in countries like Chad,  Mali, and Senegal, it is not easy to access roads to prosperity. The norms, values, and opportunities of rural livelihoods do not match with the aspirations of the often urbanized youth – also in rural areas youth is increasingly used to urban lifestyles, a.o. because of their access to internet.
Instead, they are confronted with ideas, new styles, with hopes for different futures condensed in the advertisements of mobile telephony companies, the beer advertisements, and also by discourses by politicians watched on TV, or accessed through the social media. One such discourse is about youth migration towards Europe that resonates their hopelessness and their difficult search for identity. African and European media have made this into one of their major discourses, obscuring others.

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Android Youth

Competition
My recent observations however, do reveal another tendency that could steer the youth discourse in a different direction:  the appearance of competitions for innovative and business-like initiatives of youth. This resonates with ‘development’ approaches that no longer talk about projects, but businesses, innovations, and social entrepreneurship. I observed some of these ‘competitions’ closely,  like the start-up award of Total, the start-up competitions of Reach4Change (which I assisted in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad), pushing the youth into competition to carve out a prosperous future. Access to these competitions is through internet and social media, Facebook in particular. The procedures around these prizes are entirely ‘Facebooked’. On 29 October I was present at the first award ceremony in Abidjan of again another new initiative: the prix de la Francophonie 35>35 in which 35 youth aged between 18 and 35 compete.

This is how the competition was announced:

L’Appel à candidatures court du 17 février 2016 au 31 mai 2016 
sur le site web : www.francophonie3535.com.

Au 31 mars, la plateforme enregistrait 900 visiteurs en moyenne/semaine 
sur le site web : www.francophonie3535.com.

Hence only accessible for innovative Android Youth!

First steps 
Richard Seshie, the organizer of the Prix de la Francophonie, is himself a youth entrepreneur. He represents those who have studied abroad and set up enterprises abroad but decided to come back to give it a try in their home country. For Seshie this is  Côte d’Ivoire. Here, he aims to combine event management with a social and engaged component. This event that he linked to the Francophonie, the international organization that unites the countries where French is one of the main languages, sprang from his creative and entrepreneurial brain. He did not yet get the support that he wishes, but the start is there. Microsoft was one of the main supporters of his initiative; for them a chance to access the Android Youth. He does his best to give his event publicity, for example by linking it to other events and writing press releases. Despite the organizational flaws of this first edition Richard promises to give a lot of attention to the winners and has high hopes that they will be connected to a different business world through this prize. But, what is probably more important, he is convinced of the idea. This is for him the way forward!

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The candidates with their certificates @Joky

Innovations
The 29th was a chance to meet these Android innovators. I was amazed by all their stories. The crème de la crème of the Francophone world together, from countries as diverse as Burkina Faso, Senegal, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Mauritius, Togo, Vietnam, USA, Mali, etc. They had all come on their own expense to join the ceremony of the Francophonie 35th we already had a chance to listen to the thrilling story of the banker from Mauritius who decided that life needed something more than banking and started to work with blind children. Amazing was the Malian/USA lady, Fatumata Kebe, who closed her presentation with her plea for teaching astronomy to children in Parisian suburbs. She was awarded with the Super Prix de l’Initiative Féminine Jeune Francophone de l’année. I later met the two amazing Guinean men who developed their video activisms ‘Destin-en-Main’, and the Cameroonian young man who lives in Ouagadougou and turns plastic garbage into isolation material for houses.

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Winner of the Super Prix! @Richard Abidjan TV

Also an amazing story of the Nigerian lady, with a pastoralist background, who developed a system to produce animals’ food,  and finally the Chadian Didier Lalaye, who we met earlier in some of my previous blogs  with his project  Dawa m-health that brings health to people in remote areas. He won the super prix: Jeune Personnalité Francophone de l’Année.

They are all innovative youth, often able to travel and hence they have been confronted with other worlds and developed a vision on their own societies. screenshot_2016-11-06-14-10-22Although some of these young people are from a relatively well-to-do background, most of them are not. They are all part of worlds where it is not easy to make a living, or where most of the youth do not see how to carve out a future. They are on their way to become important people in their societies, representing alternative routes for the youth. This becomes clear from the reception of the two young men from the organization Destin-en-Main in Guinea, and the reflection of the people in Chad on their winning candidate Didier Lalaye on Facebook, on local radio and in the public discourse.

Chances and international politics
So what to think of such public events, where the innovative Android Youth of the Francophonie, most from various African countries, are caught into paths to success that have similarities to the famous idea of the ‘American dream’? How does this resonate with the ordinary youth in Abidjan, in the suburbs of Paris, in the rural hinterlands of Mali, in N’Djamena; will this message reach them at all? Is there any possibility for them to play their part in these innovations? Will the approaches of UNESCO, and many others, finally prove to be right? Will the Android Youth be the countervailing power and hence carry the message of the ‘ideology of democracy and welfare’ to the masses?

In the speech delivered by Didier Lalaye after he received his prize, he put his finger on the dilemma many youth are facing. But his speech revealed as well that these inventive youth are opinion makers and socio-political activists in their societies. He turned the question of the youth’s success into a political agenda.

‘A small rant: if we are in digital innovation, it means that somewhere we should have support of the internet but unfortunately in my country, Chad, it is since March 2016 that the government cut Internet. This is so disappointing! To all who are present here: those who might or do host the Chadian government as heroes internationally, are wrong. It is rather a government that is trying to destroy the dreams of the youth. I want you to reflect on that!

I dedicate this thing (the trophy) to all young people in Chad who do not even have the chance to post a video on YouTube. I am here because I live in Holland (to do a PhD). If I would have been living in Chad I would never have had access to the Internet as it should be!’

If the International Community wants to fight against radicalization and the end of poverty it might be best to start fighting against injustice in the ‘façade democracies’ that do not allow their youth to prosper! UNESCO and Microsoft should reconsider their roles!’

‘Ensemble pour un Tchad Émergent’?

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Posters from the elections campaign still present in N’djaména with one of the MPS election slogans (photo from internet)

On August 8, 2016, Idriss Déby Itno was (re)installed as president, for his fifth term.  The electoral victory was celebrated exuberantly and was well attended by international guests. Present were i.a. the presidents of Mali, Niger, Mauretania, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, the minister of defence of France and several representatives of European Union and the USA. Their particular presence shows how power is divided in the world.

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Chiefs of State in Louis IV chairs attending (@RFI)

The war on terrorism was one of the major topics in Déby’s speech, and these presidents ‘profit’ from the strong presence of Chad in this fight. With the other leaders they are the power holders who support each other, hidden behind the façade of a ‘Tchad émergent’. Electoral fraud investigation follows international rules and cannot be invoked by the will of the people.  The leaders were guided through the beautiful and luxurious hotels in the cleaned up neighbourhood Sabangali, along the river Chari, where they were received in one of the most high-end Hilton hotels. The airport roads were cleaned and the entrance to N’djamena beautified.

Background
At the (litteral) background of this ceremony, were protests and ‘villes morts’, despite the ban on demonstrations. On the morning of the 8th, after the march had already been dispersed with teargas, a young man was killed and another man got wounded somewhere else in N’djaména. According to the testimony of a motor taxi driver, he had nothing to do with the protests. He simply came by bus, to the wrong place at the wrong time, trying to visit his family. These were the casualties to be accepted, so it seems. Not much publicity was given to it. Musicians were invited to celebrate by singing the louanges for the regime at the different roundabouts in the city. One of the musicians asked for more attention to the problems the population is facing in Chad. As a reaction, the national TV broadcasting the ceremonies and events was taken out of the air and the musician was kindly asked to move on.

That day N’djaména was not for civilians, but for politicians.

Future of misery
The outcome of the elections in Chad is heavily contested. The Chadian population seems to put up with the fraudulent facts. They have no choice. The movements, protests, people who were killed are not heard, their plight forgotten. The interests are clear: stability and security in Central and West Africa. A friend in N’djamena told me: ‘We do not matter, they forget us, we are non-existent’. The coming five years Chad will not raise itself out of poverty, movements and protests will be a monthly occurrence. Such is the forecast of pessimists. The signs are there that they might be right.

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N’djaména’s hidden side, but reality (@Mirjam)

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N’djaména ‘vitrine de l’Afrique’: Place de Nation

Many Chadians live a difficult life, also those who thought to have a bright future. The petrol income has dropped to such a low level, that the oil fields are closed down and the personnel who were so wealthy and living spectacular lives, are sent home, being suspended. The huge number of motor-taxis in N’djaména shows the hidden youth unemployment. For the last three months teachers and professors have not received any salary. And even though the reasons behind the strike by students and professors are legitimate, it does not help to get paid. They hope to take up work if their salaries are being paid in September.

Knowledge Power
The non-functioning university, however, does not seem to bother Chadian leaders in the least. Is this a deliberate policy to keep knowledge institutions deprived of good means? A population that does not know the full picture will not protest. Since the elections, there have been ‘technical problems’ with the internet on a daily basis. Facebook and WhatsApp no longer function. The closing down of several sites, however, are discussed as being a political act. The movements and protests around the elections were basically featured through Facebook and Facebook activism by the diaspora was really reaching part of the population in Chad. Add to this the high costs to make a call or to link to the internet and read an email and it becomes clear that for a large part of the population information is inaccessible, they are made deaf and blind. This does not, however, stop the younger generations to access social media through VPN techniques which have gone viral in Chad.

The State informs through state media, informing the population (who have a TV) about the huge investments of the government in the city, the marvellous plans of the President for his new term and of course showing pictures of the ceremonies and festivities sharing the image of ‘Le Tchad émergent’. The state treasury’s last billions are spent on image building for the international community.

Presidential elections in Chad: Confusion

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‘Les tirs de joie tuent les gens’
(Facebook Messenger)

10 April: day of the votes
No Facebook, no Whatsapp, no sms messages: this all leads to a weird silence. ‘What are they afraid of?’ asked Croquemort, Chadian protest slam artist, on Facebook. He is in Europe so he is able to post. The answer of other diaspora Chadians is that it is the fear for the people. We are wondering: what is happening in Chad today? Are we witnessing a real change in the political landscape? Is it possible that the sitting dictator/President will be sent away by the ballot box? Will he allow such a transition?

In this blog ‘report’ I summarize my experiences of the Presidential elections in Chad where, eventhough the official outcome has still to be finalised, it is clear that the current President Déby will remain in power, after having already served during a  period of 26 years. This is bad news for the large group of people who voted against him. The first results circulating on Facebook and in bars and the outcomes as announced by the government on 21April are so divergent that the future of Chadian politics is very insecure.  Read more about the elections in the blog of Deuh’b Emmanuel

 

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Kebzabo’s Facebook picture: in front of the masses…

The campaign
The campaign started on 20 March (see previous blog) and the closer the day of the elections the more posts on Facebook. The day before the elections  numerous were the postings on Facebook supporting Saleh Kebzabo, the main opposition candidate to the President. At the ‘Place de la Nation’ Kebzabo assembled more people than the outgoing President Déby did a few days earlier. In Moundou, Kebzabo created a huge crowd in the streets. The pictures posted on Facebook also showed a huge amount of people supporting Kebzabo in Fianga. No doubt that this is real. And it seems indeed that Déby, who certainly wants to be in power for the coming years, did not expect such an overwhelming support for his rival Kebzabo (and by the way for a third candidate, Médard, the mayor of Moundou, economic capital of the south). It is expected that Déby will do everything to keep his power. But from what we have been observing, his power base is crumbling. Are people really fed up with him?

Diaspora
Skepticism about the influence of the diaspora and social media in the political process seems to have definitively settled with the events in Chad. It can simply not be denied how social media have been influencing the process and will influence the process in its ability to follow the elections and report about it. Citizen journalism at its best!

9 April was the day the military would vote. They voted and were expected to support the sitting President. One bureau in the North, where military voted, became the issue on Facebook. The voting was not done in a private environment, but everybody could follow who the soldiers would vote for. Eight soldiers who very openly refused to vote for Déby but supported Kebzabo, were arrested and put in prison. One of them was able to call his family and they (via contacts in the Netherlands) were able to connect to the most active diaspora Facebook-writer in Paris (‘fils de Maina’) who posted the story on Facebook. Nothing is hidden; the story is scandalous.

Voting: informal results
On 10 April more information about the voting was released by members of the diaspora, who obtain this information through calling with their informants in Chad; Despite the biometric cards, stories about fraud and many strange things that are happening during the elections circulate. Apparently the voices of the population can no longer be silenced. (blog Marielle Debos)

In one of his posts, fils de Maina analyses the elections and comes to a stunning conclusion: It could indeed happen that the votes are turned in such a way that Déby will win, but this time the population will not accept.

And then there were the weird moves of the French and the European Union – who urged the population to accept the results – and their demand to Kebzabo to accept the offer of the Déby to become Prime Minister: were they preparing the victory of Déby? The international community is following the elections eagerly as they do not wish Deby defeat, as that would probably mean an end to the Chadian interventions in the war on terror.

A friend confided in me during a Facebook Messenger exchange: ‘We are afraid of what will come’.

Sitting in my house in the Netherlands, Croquemort and I were convinced that there should be a second round, after all, Déby could not claim the first round, given the results that were published on Facebook.

21 April: announcements of (preliminary) results
Thursday night (21 April) MPS supporters’ rifles burst into N’Djamena’s air. After the winning results for their President, they were full of joy. Their bullets injured a lot of people and could be interpreted as a warning not to demonstrate. ‘Les tirs de joie tuent les gens’.The fraud election results, showing 61.5 % for President Déby and hence a prolongation of his term, will most probably lead to unrest in Chad. The future is very uncertain.

Of course everybody was expecting fraud, but the openness of it is stunning! After three empty announcements that the election results would be published, finally, on Thursday 21 April, Chadian television. broadcasted the press conference. The results were read first by the president of the CENI, (Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante) and then by others. They went from the northern to the southern provinces. I was (in the Netherlands) with Croquemort, who was increasingly getting angry and was stupefied
by the announced results. Saleh Kebzabo, who was the croq electiosnbig winner in the pre-results which circulated on the internet, happened to be the big loser. In a few southern provinces he had around 50 %, but the huge victory was not given to him. Instead, Idriss Déby got most of the votes, losing only in a few provinces. In N’Djamena he had 50%, in the northern provinces over 80%, and  a mere 24% in the south. We knew this would happen, but had hoped for results that would have allowed for a second round between Kebzabo and Déby, but alas… The regime of Déby has taken the situation in its hands.
N’ Djamena and other cities are militarized, surveillance is everywhere.

The moment of waiting had come for the opposition to take the future in their hands. Will they indeed develop a shadow government? Or will they all turn to the party of Déby, like four of them already did? Everything can be bought. These four simply have chosen to become part of the system and have a good job, incorporated in the government.

RFI (Radio France International) reported neutrally. The French have asked Kebzabo to accept a post as Prime Minister. He has not accepted. Further silence from the side of the French. And the EU? The Americans?

Facebook, Whatsapp and SMS were all still blocked. No exchanges possible since 10 April, the day of the elections, except for those who know how to circumvent, how to hack.

29 April: Protest?
Facebook and all other connections are back. On 29 April the opposition announced the real results: Saleh Kebzabo and Laoukein Kourayo Mbaiherem Médard (the mayor of Moundou) are on top (resp. 31 and 24%), Déby is the fourth with 10 % of the votes. How these figures were composed is not clear, but they come closer to the informal outcome as was reported just after the elections.

Information is politics!

read as well the blog of Makaila and see this post of Maina with his as ever strong statements:

maina elections

 

Emerging civil society and the elections in Chad

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Dominance of MPS banners in the streets of N’Djamena. (Photo: Bokal).

‘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.

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Banner of presidential candidate Kebzabo. (Photo: Bokal).

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’.

moto 2

Photo: Sjoerd Sijsma.

 

Election hype
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.

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The day of whistling: early in the morning, people blew on their whistles to protest. (Photo: Deub’h Emmanuel).

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?