Chad: An Election Under The Radar

The president of Chad, Idriss Déby, was re-elected to a fourth term with preliminary results indicating he captured nearly 90% of the vote. The three main opposition parties pulled out of the race, alleging rigging in February’s parliamentary elections. Déby has been at the head of the country since 1990, when he took power in a military coup.

Idriss Déby amended the constitution in the early 2000s to remove the two-term limit on the presidential office, and is known for being more of a military strategist than a popular leader. “His single biggest failure was putting his clan before his country“; indeed, Déby has been heavily criticized for putting members of his tribe – Zaghawa – in key positions of power, in spite of the fact the Zaghawa represents less than 2% of the population. Yet, his regime has been supported by France, who assisted Déby in fighting against rebel groups in 2006 and 2008, and the Chadian leader has displayed remarkable staying power.

What can we say about this election? Here we have yet another strongman in the region who is playing the system to extend his rule and disqualify any potential opponents, and he’s doing so with quasi-impunity. The international community, as France’s role in propping up the regime suggests, seems more interested in preserving stability than in supporting democratic principles.

The Sahel region is difficult to govern and many parts of it are essentially lawless – in recent years, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is active in the region. Meanwhile, about 115,000 barrels of oil are produced daily by Chad, which became an oil producer in the early 2000s through an ambitious plan involving the World Bank and several oil companies, including Exxon, Chevron and Petronas.

Chad, however, remains one of the poorest countries in the world. According to the World Bank, the latest estimates from 2003 show that 55% of the population lives below the poverty line (compared to 43.4% in 1995). 80% of Chadians rely on subsistence farming for their livelihoods, and the literacy rate is about 35%. Idriss Déby’s rule has arguably not brought any tangible benefits to the people of Chad, yet he still managed to get 89% of the vote in the election. I suppose there is no alternative, and perhaps voters worry about the consequences of casting a ballot for someone other than Déby. Whatever the reasons, it seems that Déby’s power is deeply entrenched.”Mr. Lonely“,  a 2010 Foreign Policy magazine profile of Idriss Déby, notes: “People believe he will stay in power until he dies — or is killed.”

Given the recent election results, this appears to be a likely scenario.

Photo credit: afcone