What it takes to stay in power
Elected by his party the Patriotic Salvation Movement, Chadian President Idriss Déby has done it again- he is serving his fifth term in office after being declared the winner in the April 2016 elections. Déby has been in office since 1990. There are several components required to maintain power for such a long period of time in African countries and one of these factors seems to be maintaining a strategic and mutually beneficial relationship with a global super power. Déby has this down to an art, with France, the USA and China in his corner, unfortunately, to the detriment of the Chadian people.
Déby led a military coup that defeated then President Hissène Habré in 1990. Déby removed constitutional limits to presidential terms in 2005 and since then he has remained at the helm. Many of the elections won by Déby have been controversial and there have been several attempts to overthrow him.
Déby strategically appoints loyal supporters to key positions and controls parliament through the majority held by his party.
Deby’s time in office has been marred by allegations of gross human rights violations, including the restriction of freedom of expression, arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention. His country has, according to Transparency International statistics, a literacy rate of 33,6 % and extreme levels of poverty. Corruption is rife, life expectancy is low and only a select few benefit from the nation’s oil reserves. Yet Déby remains focused on staying in power instead of instituting necessary reform and improving the lives of his people.
Remaining in power for an abnormal length of time requires, among other factors, ensuring one has a close and lucrative relationship with the likes of Russia, China, USA, or France. Most African leaders who have remained in power for more than 20 years have managed this “great feat” with support( in its various forms) from global super powers. China supports President Bashir of Sudan, financially, diplomatically and with military support . He has been in power since 1989. China also provides extensive support to President Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, who has been in power since 1979. China also invests heavily in Uganda which has been under Museveni’s rule since 1986. There are several more examples.
In the case of Chad and its oil deposits France, China, and the US have all had their fingers in the proverbial pie. The result of Deby’s relationships with the aforementioned powers is the generation of wealth that has been directed towards consolidating his authority.
Culprit number one is France. France has been involved in propping up leaders in Chad for many years. When Déby overthrew Hissène Habré, the French troops stationed in Chad to assist Habré, did nothing. It became apparent that the French had chosen to back Déby, having lost faith in Habré.
In 2008 and in 2006 the French came to Déby ‘s aid when rebel groups threatened to overthrow him. Chad clearly remains of great strategic and economic importance to France who reportedly have two military bases there.
Oil companies began to show interest in Chad’s oil in the 1970s and it remained untapped until 2000 primarily due to the nation’s instability . The oil kept France interested in its former colony and like a moth to the flame, it also attracted American attention.
The American oil giants ExxonMobil and Chevron in conjunction with the Malaysia based PETRONAS, operated Chad’s first major oil project-the 4.2 billion dollar, 1070km Chad-Cameroon pipeline in 2000. The World Bank provided loans for the project on condition that the government used the revenue to improve education and health care.
By 2006 it was evident that the revenue generated was being used to enhance Chad’s military capabilities. The World Bank withdrew funding in 2008 and Chad had to pay back the loans. This was not the major setback it could have been, as by that time Chad had established relations with China which resulted in China purchasing the rights to a massive oil exploration area, pumping more money into the country.
Déby has used the profits made from the oil to reward his loyal supporters and to ensure that his army is well equipped and thoroughly trained. These two factors have helped keep him in power and his army is now seen as force to be reckoned with regionally. The Chadian soldiers have been instrumental in the fight against Islamist extremism and this in turn pleases the US and France who continue to see the value in maintaining their symbiotic relationship with Chad. This relationship benefits everyone except the people of Chad.
Vast amounts of time, energy and money are diverted to supporting efforts to stay in power as opposed to serving and providing for the electorate. China, America and France are complicit in this unjust state of affairs.
** This piece orginally appeared in The Star newspaper under the title : Unjust State of Affairs on 12 May 2016.