At least 7.3 million voters are expected to vote in Chad’s presidential election on Sunday.
Ten candidates appear on the ballot paper, however three of them have withdrawn from the race, citing intimidation and an “already rigged election” in favor of President Marshal Idris Deby Itno.
Deby came to power in the oil-rich African nation 1990 through a military coup that removed Hissene Habre from office. He has maintained his grip on power since then, winning all five times he ran for office.
“Most of the young people amongst you were not born when I came to power,” President Deby told cheering supporters at a campaign rally in the capital N’Djamena on Tuesday.
Critics describe President Deby as a strongman who is leading the country with an autocratic style. Many have accused him of turning Chad into his backyard.
He has ruled over a profoundly fragmented nation, with multiple ethnic groups and clans vying for power.
Unlike his predecessors, Deby has remained in power for 30 years, thanks mainly to his political cunning and prowess as a military tactician.
Deby is an experienced military man, who last year was awarded the rank of marshal, the highest military accolade.
Few officers and dictators worldwide have been given this title.
Deby’s critics accuse him of using oil revenues to build patronage networks and a crackdown on dissent.
“Frequent divisions of political actors have also allowed Deby to perpetuate his reign in the division, intoxication, and manipulation,” Opposition politician Yaya Dillo Djerou told DW.
Djerou accused the Chadian leader of using state revenues to pay off his confidants, and using the anti-jihadist war in the Sahel to get support from Western countries.
“All this has enabled Deby to quell all dissenting voices, including assassinations of credible actors,” Djerou said.
On February 28, 2021, Djerou’s home in N’Djamena was raided by government forces, and five of his relatives, including his mother and son, were killed. He had planned on challenging President Deby in Sunday’s vote. Now he is in hiding.
Cracking down on dissent
Chad’s security forces have “ruthlessly cracked down on protesters and the political opposition in the lead-up to the Sunday presidential election,” according to Human Rights Watch.
“As many Chadians are bravely taking to the streets to call for change and respect for their basic rights peacefully, Chad’s authorities have responded by crushing dissent and hope of a fair or credible election,” Ida Sawyer, deputy Africa director at the rights organization said in a statement.
Alain Didah Kemba, national coordinator for NGO Citoyez le Temps, has been organizing the protests in N’Djamena — demanding the authorities respect civil liberties.
Kemba was arrested four times in as many years and jailed for staging what the government called “illegal assembly”. “We are dealing with a corrupt regime, and that has shown terrible governance,” Kemba told DW.
Several hundred young people and opposition supporters are behind bars, according to the opposition and human rights groups.
The Chadian leader says he still has a lot to offer to his people. He’s vowed to stabilize the jihadi-torn nation and build the national economy.
Justifying Deby’s decades in power, presidential spokesman Brah Mahamat said his boss is a visionary man who has turned around the country’s misfortune and built the education sector.
“President Idris Deby Itno has covered 30 years of experience, 30 years of sacrifice for his country,” Mahamat told DW. Against all odds, he added, “the president has exploited Chad’s oil to enable the country to build new infrastructure.”
This weekend’s election will see seven people running for the presidency, but government critics say the actual opposition members have been barred from running for office.
Opposition candidate Succes Masra’s chances of facing long-time ruler Idris Deby were dashed after a 2018 constitution revision, preventing candidates under 40 years of age from running for office. Masra is only 38.
“He [President Idris Deby] doesn’t want me to run for office; that’s why he changed the minimum age required,” Masra told DW.
Despite the criticism and severe allegations against the incumbent president, die-hard supporters like Desire Mbairamadji still see President Deby as capable of moving the country forward.
“He is the only Chadian President who has built universities in the provinces,” Mbairamadji said, adding that the incumbent is the only man who can tackle terrorism threats faced by the country and the Sahel region.
Chadians impoverished amid oil wealth
The Sahel nation produces 1.5 billion barrels of oil auunally, making it one of Africa’s largest oil reserve holders. The oil revenues contribute 60% to Chad’s national budget.
However, Chad’s population is one of the world’s poorest, and the World Bank says around 40% of children aged under five suffer stunting.
Young people complain they can’t find jobs. Adissou Dibam has a master’s degree in political science, but he could not get a job in the past ten years. “This about death and life. We can’t live without work,” Dibam said.
The Sunday vote is expected to go ahead — without the participation of key opposition figures. And the incumbent president is set to extend his 30-year grip on power.
By Fred Muvunyi