Chaos in Chad: Roman Catholic Bishops, Opposition Accuse President Deby of Overseeing Sectarian Violence, Promoting Political Exclusion

Catholic Bishops in Chad have in their Christmas message called on President Idris Deby Itno to intervene in the raging conflict between grazers and farmers in the country. Scarcity of land and water has blighted relations between the two communities with several people killed in fighting over the past couple of months.

In the last three weeks, at least fifty people have been killed in Mayo Kebbi East, ten in Tandjilé East in Southern Chad and around twenty in Batha East, in the centre of the country, according to government reports.

On December 12, in the locality of Achiguek (Batha province), 25 people were killed in fighting. A day earlier, in Doulbarit, 45 km from Abeche (Ouaddaï province), media reported an incident between farmers and herders resulting in at least eight dead and 11 wounded. On December 13, in the locality of Darengdje (Tandjilé province), a conflict between farmers and herders resulted in at least three deaths. Last month, on November 23, in Mayo-Kebbi east province, a conflict between herders and farmers is reported to have resulted in 22 dead, 34 wounded and 66 arrests.

Farmer-herder battles in Chad continue to leave casualties while the government appears either powerless or unconcerned (C) Development + Cooperation

The string of attacks has attracted the ire of the country’s Bishops.

“How can we understand that the farmers and ranchers who are condemned to complement each other cannot get along?” Asks Father Xavier Kouldjim, Secretary-General of the Episcopal Conference of Chad.

The Clerics said, President Deby has the reputation of fighting off other threats, including the Boko Haram insurgency, and other terrorist threats in far off places like Mali, and believe that a similar level of presidential engagement would help tame the tensions.

“...this phenomenon (of farmer-grazer conflicts) which undermines living together, if he (the President) engages in resolving it, we are convinced that it will come to an end”, the Bishops said.

The country’s political class also believes the President’s involvement could bring the conflict to an end.

Opposition leader, Alladoum Baltazar Djarmah has also called for President Deby's personal intervention, and said it was necessary to “depoliticize” the issue.

“... Sub-prefects, prefects and governors all have cattle in the hands of these herders,” he said, and suggested that could be the reason for the lukewarm attitude of the administration towards resolving the conflict.

In even more vitriolic fashion, another opposition leader, Saleh Kebzabo, President of the UNDR party, has called on youths in farming communities to fight back against the herders, saying the government of President Deby had failed to tackle the problem.

“This problem will never end as long as Deby is in power…Your parents suffered for you, they cultivated for six months, their work is reduced to zero by the cattle that come to eat the crops. (...) You have to organize yourself; you must not be afraid. (...) It can only stop if you, you organize to stop it. If you count on the government of Deby, you will wait even 100 years,” he said.

Manasse Andigué, a member of the National Political Bureau of Mr. Deby’s ruling party, has called for peaceful co-existence and downplayed accusations that the government was unwilling to resolve the problem.

The clerics said continued sensitization would be key to bringing the conflict to a halt. They said it was critical that pastoralists continue to respect transhumance corridors and so avoid running into trouble with farmers by getting their cattle into farmlands.

“It is at this price that this conflict will be resolved, and the two communities must relearn to live as in the past-to live in peace”, the Bishops said.


Political engagement of the youths

Besides addressing the question of farmer-grazer conflicts, the country’s Bishops in their Christmas address also spoke about apparent political apathy and political exclusion in Chad. They were at variance with hasty political decision-making that very frequently never favours inclusiveness.

“At the level of the political climate, we deplore the haste in the taking of certain political decisions which, instead of putting the rights of citizens first, rather reduce them to being only passive observers of the electoral process”.

“The perpetuation of this way of conceiving politics only breeds mistrust and suspicion in intercommunity relations ", the Secretary-General of the Episcopal Conference said.

The Episcopate worried that because the population is only considered important when politicians want their votes “a large part of the population is thus forced to build their lives without feeling concerned by the country's politics. How can future generations be imbued with the noble meaning of their participation in political life if some are involved in politics only as a means of illicit enrichment and structured and structural lying?”

They said such political exclusion has been more pronounced within the framework of the revision of the electoral registers that has seen many excluded from the lists.