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Oil Riches Play Role in Chad's Crisis


Less than three years after Chad starting shipping its oil, there is growing resentment and even hostility toward Chad's government, widely perceived here as corrupt and inept in its handling of the country's oil revenue. Now, Chadian President Idriss Deby, after fending off a second coup attempt earlier this month, wants to divert a hefty share of the oil profits to fight a rebellion.

Because there are only a handful of gas stations in this sun-baked capital, most people buy their petrol at roadside vendors who sell it in old liquor bottles, which seems ironic for a country that produces 160,000 barrels of oil a day.

But then Chad's oil riches, valued at nearly $400 million since Chad began shipping its oil in late 2003, have yet to lift living standards for the vast majority of Chad's 10 million people.

Outside the capital, few people have access to running water or electricity. There are few paved roads. There is no public school system. Life expectancy is only 46 years for men, and 50 for women.

The growing resentment has spurred opposition leaders and emboldened rebel movements, which have twice in the past two months tried to overthrow the government, the latest being an April 13 attack in the capital.

"We are really very upset because it was agreed that the oil revenue should help the population, but it is not the case right now," said Massalbaye Tennebaye, the president of Chad's Human Rights Commission and has followed the government's handling of the nation's oil wealth.

Where is the money going? A group overseeing Chad's oil revenue expenditures found a litany of corruption and mismanagement.

Among a catalog of dubious deals, the oversight group found that a construction company was paid $360,000 to build a water tower, and never built it. Government ministries bought equipment such as computers and furniture for as much as three times their market worth.

In what many here say is a clear case of nepotism, $51 million in road projects were awarded to a partnership between a foreign construction company and a company that happens to be headed by President Deby's brother.

Transparency International, a German-based watchdog agency, last year rated Chad as Africa's most corrupt country.

In January, the World Bank, which helped finance Chad's oil infrastructure, suspended $124 million in loans and grants and $125 million in oil royalties after Chad's government reneged on an agreement to spend the vast majority of its oil revenues on helping the poor.

After the April 13 attack, a rattled President Deby threatened to shut down the country's oil production at the end of the month unless the World Bank lifted the suspensions.

President Deby said he needed the money for weapons to stop another invasion by rebels he says are backed by Sudan. Diplomatic sources in N'Djamena say Chad plans to buy at least six Russian-made helicopter gunships. Chad has two attack helicopters, but only one was working during the April 13 attack.

Lol Mahamat Choua is an opposition leader who, like other opposition figures, is boycotting Chad's May 3 presidential elections in which President Deby is slated to extend his 16-year tenure. Choua criticizes President Deby for threatening the shut down Chad's oil industry, which he says belongs to the people, not the president.

"Let me tell you something, oil does not belong to [President] Deby. No, it is for Chadians. And what is happening now is due to the fact that we do not respect our engagement. And this is, for [President] Deby, it is blackmail," he said.

World Bank officials appear to have worked out a deal Thursday to restore Chad's access to its oil money. But, as part of the deal, as much as 30 percent of Chad's oil revenue - twice the current amount - will go directly to the government, making it easier for the revenue to slip under the radar of international monitoring agencies.

For ordinary Chadians, it is a sign that their country is embarking on a road taken by other African petrol states, Angola, Sudan and Nigeria, where more and more of the oil riches benefit the political elite or are squandered on weapons to fight back increasingly restive opposition groups and rebel movements.

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