President Idriss Déby, in power for 24 years this December, is watching as a coalition of civil society groups, “Trop c’est trop” (enough is enough), is coming together and feeling its way. Formed on 18 November 2014, the coalition is composed of about 15 groups focusing on human rights, corruption, women’s and youth rights, and includes labor unions. The coalition champions citizens’ welfare issues, such as the rising cost of living, lack of access to electricity, and widespread corruption.
The creation of the “Trop c’est trop” coalition follows on the heels of a spontaneous demonstration on November 11 that spread from the southern city of Sarh to the capital N’Djamena and Moundou – affecting the three largest cities in the country. Hundreds of people rallied to protest against gas shortages and skyrocketing prices for fuel (in a country that produces 130,000 barrels of oil a day), as well as teacher salary payment arrears. The fuel shortages are widely perceived to be artificially created to benefit a small number of traders, some of whom may be closely associated with the president.
“Trop c’est trop” was the refrain chanted by protesters in late October against Blaise Compaoré’s attempt at perpetuating his rule through a constitutional change eliminating presidential term limits. The Chadian activists claim, however, theirs is not a copy-cat coalition but the result of a long period of reflection, and that their aim is not to “seize power or overturn any regime.” The government is not convinced. Prime Minister Pahimi Kalzeubet Deubet issued a strong warning within days of the coalition coming together. In a public statement he accused civil society of coalescing with opposition political parties against the government, with the risk of inciting disorder and violence.
Prime Minister Deubet stated the government would react firmly to actions perceived as threatening social cohesion and national stability. Putting words into action, police hindered “Trop c’est trop” from doing a press conference on Saturday, 13 December. The coalition wanted to draw public attention to a potential financial scandal involving SOGECT-TCHAD (Societé de Commerce Général de Construction et de Transport), a construction and import-export company headed by a nephew of Idriss Déby. SOGECT has diversified into a number of sectors with lucrative contract possibilities, including biometrics, and had until recently benefitted from an agreement with the Chadian government for the production of official documents such as passports, identity cards and driver’s licenses. Three months before its expiration, the government broke the contract with SOGECT, which promptly sued the state for 34 billion FCFA (64.5 million USD). According to his critics, this outcome was intended all along by President Déby as a way of getting access to quick cash through the pay-out to SOGECT of its claims.
Déby is likely to stand for reelection in 2016. He is a survivor of rebellions and has gradually emerged as a regional powerbroker and purveyor of battle hardened soldiers to UN peace missions in the Africa region. Most recently, Chad has backed negotiations between the government of neighboring Nigeria and Boko Haram. Chad is an important military ally of France whose counter terrorism “Opération Barkhane” is headquartered in N’Djamena.
While Déby will not have to tinker with the constitution, as presidential term limits were already eliminated in 2005, the upcoming poll could still be a unifying opportunity for his opponents, inspired by the Burkina Faso example – reportedly students demonstrating on November 11 chanted “Burkina Faso, Burkina Faso.” It remains to be seen whether other aspects of the Burkina Faso example would translate to the Chadian context, such as the close collaboration between opposition parties and civil society, and the role of the military that ultimately chose to refrain from causing a bloodbath.