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Chad: 5 Things to Know Before the Referendum

Chad, where a constitutional referendum is being held on Sunday, is a landlocked country in the Sahel, governed by a military junta and long a strategic ally of the West in the anti-jihadist fight.

The country was a key player in the G5 Sahel regional organization, created in 2014 to confront jihadism in particular, but this is set to dissolve after the withdrawal of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

Climate change and poverty

Lake Chad, on the borders of Niger, Cameroon and Nigeria, has lost 90% of its surface area in recent decades due to excessive use of its water, prolonged droughts and the effects of climate change.

This has contributed to the impoverishment of millions of fishermen and farmers, making this basin a hideout and recruiting ground for the Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram and its dissident branch affiliated with the Islamic State organization (ISWAP), which are active there.

The World Bank estimates that 42.3% of Chad’s approximately 18 million inhabitants live below the national poverty line, in this country which has been an oil producer since 2003. It is, according to the UN, the second country least developed in the world, after South Sudan.

Around 2.1 million people suffer from severe food insecurity, struggling to have one meal a day, the World Food Program (WFP) warned in October. Chad hosts more than a million refugees from neighbouring countries, including more than 900,000 Sudanese, according to the UN.

Déby dynasty

Thanks to the support of France, a former colonial power, Idriss Déby Itno in 1990 overthrew the dictator Hissène Habré, whose armies he had commanded.

The president, with a highly criticized human rights record, was himself threatened by rebel offensives, but these were defeated in 2008 and then in 2019, with the support of the French army.

After ruling the country with an iron fist for more than 30 years, he was killed while going to the front against rebels in April 2021.

His son, General Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, was immediately proclaimed president by the soldiers loyal to his father and was also quickly dubbed by the international community. The transition period before elections, initially supposed to last 18 months, was extended by two years in October 2022.

While several countries in the region have experienced coups d’état since 2020 (Mali, Burkina Faso, Sudan and Niger) and France sees its influence declining in favour of Russia, Chad still welcomes the general staff French operations in the Sahel.

Habré dictatorship

Hissène Habré took power by force of arms in 1982 after two years of civil war. The “desert fighter” turned into an executioner, carrying out relentless repression (40,000 deaths according to a Chadian commission of inquiry) until he was overthrown eight years later by Idriss Déby Itno.

Habré was sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity by a special African court in Dakar in 2017 on appeal and died in August 2021.

Dean of Humanity

“Toumaï” is the nickname of a hominid skull dating back 7 million years, discovered in Chad, in the Djourab desert (north), in 2001. It is considered to be the oldest known representative of humanity. The famous “Lucy”, the Australopithecus discovered in Ethiopia, arrived almost four million years later.

Award-winning filmmaker

The country’s best-known filmmaker, Mahamat Saleh Haroun, examines the pain and tragedies of Chadian society. In 2006, he received the special jury prize at the Venice Film Festival for “Daratt”, the story of a teenager charged by his grandfather with killing his father’s assassin, a former amnestied war criminal.

Also awarded at Cannes in 2010 for his film “A Man Who Screams”, the filmmaker, briefly Minister of Culture of his country in 2017-2018, also presented “Hissene Habré, a Chadian tragedy” in 2016, a documentary which spoke to the victims and torturers of the former dictator.

Source: Africanews