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!

Croquemort: ‘Je voudrais porter un casque’

‘There is a lot more hidden behind the helmets!’,  I tweeted on 9 March. Indeed there is. The student manifestation in N’Djamena at the beginning of March and the way it was turned down provoked a lot of discussion in society, of which some was posted on Facebook. Discussions that do not only reveal anger, but that also request change. It discloses a discussion about change that competes with our (academic) theories of (social and political) movements. Let the population in Africa first decide what this change should be. Africa is the world and we need to solve problems together, but together means foremost that we listen.

The students have started following lectures again since 1 April, although their demands have not been met.

Croquemort FB post Mars 2015 bewerktSlammeur Croquemort composed a song that analyses what is behind the helmets. He introduced it on Facebook as follows:

“My contribution to help advance my beloved country Chad that I adore so much. The title is: ‘Je voudrais porter un casque’.”

Translation of the song text (the original French text is below):

I would like to wear a helmet

I would like to wear a helmet
One that protects me against traffic accidents
To avoid head wounds
Or to be completely crushed
To avoid blowing up my cherished  brain

I would like to wear a helmet
That protects me against the electricity cuts
Of the grimy streets in my neighbourhood
To be able to watch TV
One that protects against our discharged computers
And our closed petty trades

I would like a helmet
One that fights against the police atrocities
And the violence at schools
All the students who were beaten
While writing their exams at the faculty
Who will end up traumatized
The emergency rooms overcrowded

I would like to wear a helmet
Not just a kind of mask

I would like to wear a helmet
One that lowers the market prices
The emptiness felt in the shopping baskets
And the expensiveness of a bag of cement
The trouble caused by the scarcity of fuel

I would like to wear a helmet
One that protects us against insecurity
That will save our robbed motorcyclists
Killed in our non-illuminated streets
By free running assassins

I would like to wear a helmet
One that gives drinking water to our cities
That protects our children against diarrhea,
Malnourishment, fever and headaches
The pupils that sit on the cold soil
In their classrooms made of Seko (dried grass),
ignorant of their rights

I would like to wear a helmet
That prohibits the shooting on children in Doba
Sarh, Moundou or N’Djamena
Unpunished blows of rubber sticks
On innocent children’s bodies

I would like to wear a helmet
That protects us against the lies
The realities that are washed away
The faked autopsies
And the broken Hippocrates oath

I would like to wear a helmet
Not just a kind of mask

I would like to wear a helmet
One that punishes the embezzlement of public funds
By the potbellied who steal our money
And who never worry
Because they have never been in jail
One that cries over the emptied treasure
That holds the free thieves accountable

I would like to wear a helmet
One steering the dialogues between those in power and the population
That confronts our problems and their solutions
That responds to the cry of the youth
With real promises
And not with shooting of teargas
The killing, the detentions with no shame

I would like to wear a helmet
One that fights against unemployment
One that punishes the unjust bargaining
In the coulisses of the public service
Or in the police quarters.

I would like to wear a helmet
One that guarantees freedom of expression
That allows us to speak of pain and deception
That does not silence our convictions
That allows the population a voice.

I would like to wear a real helmet
Not just a kind of mask

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Original French text:

Je voudrais porter un casque

Je voudrais porter un casque
Celui qui me protège contre les accidents de circulation
Pour m’éviter sur la tête des lésions
Ou d’être complètement broyé
Eviter d’éclater mon cerveau tant prisé.

Je voudrais porter un casque
Qui me protège contre les coupures d’électricité
Des rues lugubres de mon quartier
Pour qu’on puisse regarder la télé,
Qui protège contre nos ordis décharges
Et nos petits commerces fermés.

Je voudrais d’un casque
Celui qui lutte contre les exactions policières
Et les violences en milieu scolaire,
Tous ces étudiants recevant la raclée
En plein examen dans leur faculté
Et qui finissent traumatises,
Les urgences bondées

Je voudrais porter un casque
Pas juste une sorte de masque

Je voudrais porter un casque
Celui qui baisse les prix sur le marché
Le vide ressenti dans les paniers
Et la cherté du sac de ciment
Le tort causé par la pénurie du carburant

Je voudrais porter un casque,
Celui qui nous protège de l’insécurité
Qui sauve nos motards braqués,
Assassinés dans nos rues non illuminées
Et surtout des assassins jamais retrouvés

Je voudrais porter un casque
Celui qui donne de l’eau potable à nos cités
Qui protège nos enfants des diarrhées,
De malnutrition, de fièvre et des céphalées,
Des élevés assis à même le sol froid
Dans des salles en Seko et ignorant leur droit.

Je voudrais porter un casque
Qui protège des tirs sur les gosses à Doba,
A Sarh, à Moundou ou à Ndjamena,
Des coups de matraque assenés impunément
Sur des corps d’enfants innocents

Je voudrais porter un casque,
Celui qui protège des mensonges,
Des réalités qu’on éponge
Des autopsies falsifiées
Et du serment d’Hippocrate violé

Je voudrais porter un vrai casque,
Pas juste une sorte de masque.

Je voudrais porter un casque,
Celui qui châtie le détournement du denier public,
Des ventrus qui volent notre fric
Et qui ne sont jamais inquiètes
Parce que jamais emprisonnés,
Celui qui pleure sur le trésor vidé,
Qui demande des comptes aux voleurs en liberté

Je voudrais porter un casque
Celui du dialogue entre le pouvoir et la population
Qui met face à face nos problèmes et leurs solutions,
Qui répond au cri de la jeunesse
Par de vraies promesses
Et non par des tirs de lacrymogènes,
Des assassinats, des arrestations sans gène.

Je voudrais porter un casque
Celui qui lutte contre le chômage
Qui châtie le marchandage
Dans les couloirs de la fonction publique
Ou dans les bureaux des flics.

Je voudrais porter un casque
Celui qui assure la liberté d’expression
Qui nous laisse parler de douleur, de déception
Qui n’étouffe pas nos convictions,
Qui fait entendre la voix de la population.

Je voudrais porter un vrai casque,
Pas juste une sorte de masque.