Political Rights: 6
Civil Liberties: 5
Status: Not Free
Population: 9,300,000
GNI/Capita: $200
Life Expectancy: 49
Religious Groups: Muslim (51 percent), Christian (35 percent), animist (7 percent), other (7 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Sara (28 percent), Arabs (12 percent), other (60 percent)
Capital: N'Djamena


Overview

As the first revenues of a World Bank-sponsored oil drilling project reached state coffers, economic life in Chad in 2003 remained harsh for most citizens. Despite government assurances to the contrary, political stability continued to raise questions as President Idriss Deby announced a sweeping government reshuffle and dismissed a prominent manager of the state's cash reserves.

Chad has been in a state of almost constant war since achieving its independence from France in 1960. President Idriss Deby gained power by overthrowing Hissein Habre in 1990. Turmoil resulting from ethnic and religious differences is exacerbated by clan rivalries and external interference. The country is divided between Nilotic and Bantu Christian farmers who inhabit the country's south, and Arab and Saharan peoples who occupy arid deserts in the north.

Chad was a militarily dominated one-party state until Deby lifted the ban on political parties in 1993. A national conference that included a broad array of civic and political groups then created a transitional parliament, which was controlled by Deby's Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS). Scores of political parties are registered.

In May 2001, Deby was reelected president with more than 67 percent of the vote. The six opposition candidates, who alleged that the election was marred by fraud and called for the result to be annulled, undertook a civil disobedience campaign and were briefly arrested. The government subsequently banned gatherings of more than 20 people, although political protests continued.

Parliamentary elections in May 2002 increased the dominance of the MPS in the National Assembly. The MPS captured 110 of the 155 seats. Its parliamentary ally, the Rally for Democracy and Progress, won 12 seats, with the opposition Action Federation for the Republic obtaining 9 seats. The elections were boycotted by several opposition parties that claimed the electoral process lacked transparency.

Chad's influence in the region grew with the emergence of a friendly government in the Central African Republic (CAR), where Chadian-backed rebels led by former CAR army commander Francois Bozize succeeded in ousting CAR president Ange-Felix Patasse in March. The announcement in January 2003 of an amnesty for rebels from the National Resistance Alliance (ANR) brought the return of dozens of Chadian dissidents living in exile in the CAR, raising hopes for an improved security situation in southeastern Chad.

In northern Chad, intermittent fighting continued as part of a long-standing conflict between government forces and Libyan-supported rebels, despite a truce signed at the beginning of 2002. In January 2003, the government reached a more lasting ceasefire and amnesty deal with insurgents operating in the southeast led by the country's former army chief.

President Deby further consolidated his hold on the government and ruling party in 2003 with a cabinet reshuffle that ousted rivals and promoted allies and family members. Deby replaced reformist prime minister Haroun Kabadi with a northern kinsman and former public works minister, Moussa Faki Mahamat. The move broke with a long tradition of executive power sharing between the north and south, and fueled speculation that Deby intends to amend the constitution to allow him to run for a third term in office in 2006.

In July, oil began flowing through a financially lucrative but controversial World Bank-backed pipeline to Cameroon. The first shipments reached world markets in October. Despite legal guarantees that oil revenues would be spent on poverty alleviation and development, serious questions remain about the government's ability to manage these revenues in a transparent and accountable fashion. In May 2003, the president of Chad's central bank and a key member of the oil revenue oversight committee was dismissed from his post without explanation.

Chad's army and political life are largely in the hands of members of the small Zaghawa and Bideyat groups from President Deby's northeastern region. This is a source of ongoing resentment among the more than 200 other ethnic groups in the country. The formal exercise of deeply flawed elections and democratic processes has produced some opening of Chadian society, but real power remains with President Deby.

France, which remains highly influential in Chad, maintains a 1,000-member garrison in the country and, despite a sometimes rocky bilateral relationship, serves as Deby's main political and commercial supporter. Brutality by Chadian soldiers and rebels alike marked insurgencies in the vast countryside, but the large-scale abuses of the past have abated somewhat.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

In theory, Chadians have the right to choose their political leaders, although this right is severely restricted in practice. Chad has never experienced a peaceful, fair, and orderly transfer of political power. Recent legislative and presidential elections have been marred by serious irregularities and indications of outright fraud. The National Assembly, whose members are directly elected for four-year terms, is the country's sole legislative chamber. In a referendum held in March 1996, voters approved a new constitution based on the French model and providing for a unified and presidential state. A law establishing an ostensibly independent election commission was passed in 2000, despite significant opposition. The law gives the predominance of seats to government representatives and those of parties in the ruling coalition.

Newspapers critical of the government circulate freely in the capital, N'Djamena, but have little impact among the largely rural and illiterate population. According to the BBC, radio is the medium of mass communication, but state control over broadcast media allows few dissenting views. Despite high licensing fees for commercial radio stations, a number of private stations are on the air, some operated by nonprofit groups including human rights groups and the Roman Catholic Church. These broadcasters are subject to close official scrutiny.

In February 2003, two journalists from the Chadian weekly, Notre Temps, were sentenced to six months in prison for writing an article that accused Hadje Billy Douga, director of social affairs at the Ministry for Social Action and Women and mother-in-law of the president, of torture. The weekly was ordered shut down for three months. They were released in April, but reported particularly harsh prison conditions. The country's sole Internet service provider is a state-owned telecommunications monopoly.

Although religion is a source of division in society, Chad is a secular state and freedom of religion is generally respected. The government does not restrict academic freedom.

Despite harassment and occasional physical intimidation, the Chadian Human Rights League, Chad Nonviolence, and several other human rights groups operate openly and publish findings critical of the government. Workers' right to organize and to strike is generally respected, but the formal economy is small. Union membership is low. Most Chadians are subsistence farmers.

The rule of law and the judicial system remain weak, with courts heavily influenced by the executive. Security forces routinely ignore constitutional protections regarding search, seizure, and detention. Independent human rights groups have credibly charged Chadian security forces and rebel groups with killing and torturing with impunity, and some have pointed to a context of renewed reprisals against journalists and members of civil society in 2003. Overcrowding, disease, and malnutrition make prison conditions life threatening, and many inmates spend years in prison without charges.

In recent years tens of thousands of Chadians have fled their country to escape politically inspired violence. Several of the 20 or more other armed factions have reached peace pacts, but many of these agreements have failed. Chad's long and porous borders are virtually unpoliced. Trade in weapons among nomadic Sahelian peoples is rife, and banditry adds to the pervasive insecurity.

Women's rights are protected by neither traditional law nor the penal code, and few educational opportunities are available. Female genital mutilation is commonplace.

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