The Republic of Chad will hold presidential elections on 10 April 2016 as incumbent President, Idriss Déby Itno, seeks a fifth term in office. Déby has ruled the landlocked country since seizing power in December 1989 and is widely expected to win by a significant margin again as per the 85% he recorded in the 2011 presidential elections.
Human rights groups and opposition parties were adamant that Déby and his party, the Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS), committed electoral fraud and voter intimidation in 2011 ‒ despite the African Union (AU) pronouncement that the election was free and fair ‒ and the stage looks set for pre-emptive popular demonstration this time round.
The build-up to the upcoming elections has already seen multiple protests, particularly in major urban areas such as the capital, N’Djamena, and the commercial hub, Moundou. Protests have focused on issues such as crime, poor governance and government’s failure to pay civil servant salaries and student bursaries.
While most protests have concluded peacefully, several have been marked by violent clashes between protesters and police and momentum seems to be growing. In February, at least four people were killed by security forces during clashes in two separate incidents and, in an increased crackdown, the Ministry of Public Safety and Immigration on 19 March issued a ban on “any public demonstration outside the scope of the campaign.” On 22 March, three civil society leaders, including a high-ranking member of the Union of Trade Unions of Chad (UST), were arrested for allegedly planning to organise a march protesting Déby’s fifth term bid.
With compounding social pressures, Chad is in the grips of an economic downturn. Its heavy reliance on oil production and exports has left the country severely affected by the current low price of oil. Economic fault lines are, therefore, fuelling frustration among the Chadian population, in particular, the youth and university students looking to enter the job market. In addition, given the relatively weak state of Chad’s opposition parties, student and civil society demonstrations have become the primary vehicle for challenging government and the recently imposed ban on all demonstrations outside political party campaigns portends a worrying increase in violence in Chad’s urban areas. This could be further fomented by the heavy-handed tactics of Chadian security forces making violence more probable at all protests in the coming weeks, a particular concern in N’Djamena and Moundou.
While Déby is nonetheless expected to win the 10 April presidential election by a significant margin, the rise in populist discontent reflects growing disillusionment with the pretence of democracy seen elsewhere on the Continent and its coincidence with the double-edged sword of the resource curse makes for a particularly potent political mix.