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Chad's oil revenue

Dirke Köpp / shOctober 9, 2013

Chad's President Deby has no time for critics. Opponents are either silenced or bought off. Internationally, Deby scores points for the contribution by Chad's well-equipped army towards resolving regional conflicts.

Chad's President Idriss Deby surrounded by Chadian soldiers
Image: STR/AFP/Getty Images

On the UN Development Index Chad currently occupies position 184 out of a total of 187 states. It ranks higher only than Mozambique, the Democratic Repubic of Congo and Niger. Life expectancy in Chad is put at 50 years, only one in three adults can read and write and 62 percent of the population of 11 million live on less than one euro ($1.3) a day.

Human rights are ignored, unwanted opponents are silenced, says Martin Petry, a consultant focusing on peacebuilding and conflict transformation in Chad.

"Members of the opposition are arrested and intimidated. There are many arbitrary arrests, minor cases of corruption or abuse of office by the police and military are widespread," Petry told DW. Anyone whose rights are violated in Chad has little chance of redress, he added.

Army benefits from oil income

President Idriss Deby has been in power since 1990. Few other African leaders have wielded power for longer: Teodoro Obiang Nguema in Equatorial-Guinea, Jose Eduardo dos Santos in Angola or Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe.

President Deby (AP Photo/Thierry Charlier, File)
President Deby is one of Africa's longest serving rulersImage: AP

Deby's army is reputed to be the best trained and best equipped in sub-Saharan Africa. This is largely due to the income from oil production which began 10 years ago.

"From a foreign policy perspective, the oil money has helped Deby expand his military might," said Helga Dickow from the Arnold Bergstraesser Institute of Freiburg University. "Within Chad it has helped him expand his political power. The government has access to the entire oil income and can use it, for example, for electioneering purposes."

Dickow also sees increases in the use of patronage and the co-opting of political opponents. In other words, help is provided for people regarded as potentially useful to Deby while opponents are brought into line, for example by being given prestigious jobs. Large sums of money are used to expand the regime's power rather than develop the infrastructure or help in the fight against poverty.

Curbing criticism

Deby uses the army, which has been strengthened with the oil money, to acquire prestige abroad. For example, in January 2013 when he put 2,400 Chadian soldiers at the disposal of French President Francois Hollande to help with the intervention in Mali.

Through such operations against Islamist rebels and terror groups, Deby seeks international recognition. One result is that Chad faces less criticism than it should as result of its human rights violations.

According to Helga Dickow, "Deby always presents himself as someone who fights against al Qaeda and Boko Haram and who seeks to bring about a balance between Christians and Muslims." Martin Petry agrees. "There is no massive pressure brought to bear on the Chadian president because he is needed for the international fight against terror."

Helga Dickow, Arnold Bergstraesser Institute (Photo: private)
Oil income has largely benefited the army, says Helga DickowImage: privat / A. Herrmann

Former colonial power France has always maintained close ties with Chad. In 1990 France helped Deby oust his predecessor Hissene Habre. In 2008, French help was swift when rebels threatened to mount a coup against Debre. For France, Chad is both economically and strategically important. France has two important military bases in the capital N'djamena and in Abeche in the east of the country.

Chadian social scientist Remadji Hoinathy, who works at the Max Planck Institute for Ethnological Reseach in the German city of Halle, has analysed Deby's strategy. "Chad's military diplomacy allows the state to adopt a position of strength towards its partners. If, for example, France needs Chad in a certain area, that allows Chad to speak with France as an equal. One could put it like this 'I'll support your mission in Mali but in return you won't bother me with certain questions'."

An African Union (AU) resolution highlights the success in Africa of Deby's strategy of making himself indispensable internationally. The AU intends to support Chad's candidacy for a non permanent seat on the UN Security Council in 2014/15.