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Sahel Region: Turbulent times in Chad

2024-03-06 10:49

Jan Záhořík

#FrenchInfluence , #Chad , #Sahel , #PoliticalCrisis , #TribalDynamics , #EconomicStruggles , #ForeignMilitary , #EnvironmentalImpact,

Sahel Region: Turbulent times in Chad

"Examining Chad's Political Crisis, Socio-Economic Issues, French Influence, and Environmental Impacts on Sahel Agriculture."

The first week of March 2024, international media have been full of reports on the political crisis in Chad, reporting massive shooting in the capital city N’Djamena, leaving dozens of people killed or wounded. According to the media, the reason was a clash between president Mahamat Deby Itno and his relative, Yalla Dillo, from the opposition Socialist Party Without Borders (PSF). It was not the first time the clash between the two camps took place as Chad has a long history of power struggle as a result of shifting clan and tribal allegiances.[1] Internet was blocked for several days contributing to even more insecurity and rumors that began to circulate in the capital city and beyond. 



Many people in Chad are interpreting this as an attempt by the President not to allow real democratisation process and to secure his rule after few years of transitional government that was supposed to prepare the country for democratic elections, initiate a reconciliation process and move forward economically. Chadian population is already tired of years of economic suffering, underdevelopment, despite the fact that their country is rich in oil, gold, and other resources. Many people feel, that the wealth of the country has been taken by the elites and by the French.[2] 


Generally, the Sahel region experiences similar problems that include several interlinked factors. These are the absence of good governance, as the politics is characterized by nepotism, corruption, mismanagement, and abuse of power for private goals; the issue of poor delivery of social services that opens the space for informal sector and private schools and other institutions; rising role of Salafist and jihadist movements clashing for more influence and in some ways substituting the role(s) of the state(s); and last but not least the decline of French power and influence all across the region.[3] In this sense, Chad is the last country out of those big Sahelian states where still France has its military troops. Chad has a long history of French military presence going back to early independence and civil war in the 1980s.[4]



When talking to business people in Chad, including those with foreign passports, one can feel the dissatisfaction with long-term French presence which in the eyes of many “did not bring anything good to Chad.”[5] One may easily think that the majority of population of Chad is in opposition to the regime, or, apart from friendly families from the Zaghawa ethnic group, there are not many people who would trust the ruling elites. 


Despite the fact that the elections were announced for the end of spring, the current crisis is far from over. Francophone Africa has an experience with political crises as a "family business" scenario, just like the coup in Gabon last year. Getting back to what we said about interlinked crises in the Sahel region, the majority of the population in Chad sees that the government is only concerned with the army, which is receiving huge amounts of funding and is visible at least all across the capital city, while other sectors such es education and health care are rather neglected




The relationship with France is reflected, among other things, in the fact that many Chadians do not go to France, except for those who have received scholarships, but end up very often in Canada and the USA. The Chad-Canadian diaspora in particular is very strong and visible in N’Djamena and there are a number of businessmen who have a Canadian passport and are going back to invest in their country of origin. Remittances play an enormous role in Chad’s economy as many people cannot rely on the state and become dependent on their relatives abroad.  


Despite political and economic crisis in the country, Chad is also experiencing construction boom as primarily Chinese but also Turkish and Egyptian companies build road, bridges, and highways connecting N’Djamena with other parts of the country. An international industrial zone has been built by the Chinese in proximity of N’Djamena where the new highway is now being constructed. This is a very much needed step in order to initiate industrialization process and go beyond the oil sector that is the dominant contributor to the national revenues. 


Last but not least, one of the issues which the Sahel region is facing in last few decades, is increasing drought which in combination with demographic pressures causes extensive internal migration. There is not enough cultivable land due to high temperatures and shortage of rainfalls which make it very difficult to grow plants without intensive water supplies and modern technologies. Modernization of agriculture should be, therefore, one of the main concerns of every future government in Chad and generally in the Sahel region. Because the young generation leaves the countryside in order to find better lives in major cities, the population of N’Djamena is growing significantly. Although official data talk about 1,5 million inhabitants, unofficial number would be much higher. Rural-urban migration also brings many other issues such as unemployment, prostitution, and criminality in those quarters where the migrant community is recruited.[6]


Whatever may happen before and after the upcoming elections, it is clear that the current situation is not bearable for most of the population whose large parts rely either on remittances or on foreign aid. Any future government, in order to avoid public resentment, should take into account multiple interlinked crises that combine political, social, and economic sectors. Last but not least, the future of the French presence in Chad remains very fragile and it would not be any surprise if sooner or late Chad follows the same scenario from other Sahelian countries such as Niger or Mali. 




[1] See e.g. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/2/29/why-is-chad-boiling-over-ahead-of-long-awaited-elections-and-whats

[2] Personal communication with political analyst in N’Djamena, 2nd March, 2024. 

[3] Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan (2023): L’enchevitrement des crises au Sahel. Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso. Paris: Karthala. 

[4] Politique Africaine (1985): Le Tchad. Paris: Karthala. 

[5] Personal communication with several businessman in N’Djamena, 3rd March, 2024. 

[6] Personal communication with a political analyst, N’Djamena, 2nd March 2024.

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