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Chad's Deby Blames Sudan for Domestic Woes


Idriss Deby, Chad's embattled president, blames Sudan for the country's current political crisis, but many here say the real problems are closer to home: corruption, poverty, and President Deby's own drive to cling to power.

Since the coup attempt Thursday that left 350 people dead and shook the capital of this central African nation, Chadian President Idriss Deby and his top aides have been making fiery speeches blaming Sudan for the country's crisis.

The crisis in Sudan's Darfur region, where government forces and allied Arab militias have killed tens of thousands of people in trying to crush a three-year rebellion. The fighting there has spawned a multitude of rebel movements, some of them hostile to President Deby's government for allegedly backing Sudanese rebels.

But many here in N'Djamena, Chad's capital, believe that such rhetoric is being used to hide the problems in the country, according to Massalbaye Tenebaye, head of the Chadian Human Rights Commission.

The main problem, Mr. Tenebaye says, is the lack of democracy and the lack of accountability in President Deby's government, such as its failure to explain what is happening to the oil revenue.

"We are really very upset," he says, " because it was agreed that the oil revenue should help the population, but it is not the case right now."

Despite Chad's oil supply netting about 307 million US dollars since October 2003, when it began shipping its oil, Chad remains one of the world's poorest countries. And according to the watchdog agency Transparency International it is also one of the most corrupt.

Accusations of corruption and mismanagement of the country's oil wealth by Déby and top officials in his government have weakened his political standing and emboldened opposition groups.

President Déby's threat on Saturday to shut down Chad's oil production on Tuesday is widely seen as an attempt to force the World Bank into releasing about $124 million in aid it suspended after accusing Déby's government of siphoning off much of the oil revenue to buy weapons and military equipment. To circumvent the shutdown, President Deby called on Exxon Mobil, the U.S. company that leads Chad's oil consortium, to provide up to $100 million until the World Bank released the frozen funds, prompting quick diplomatic intervention from the United States, which urged President Deby for a two-week delay.

For the vast majority of ordinary Chadians, the country's oil revenue is their only hope of lifting themselves out of poverty.

Many Chadians view the threats as a sign of desperation from a president losing his 15-year grip on power.

Still, President Déby seems ready to fight to remain at the helm. He and other ruling party politicians have tried to link the rebels to opposition figures, a common pattern in African politics, because such rhetoric lays the groundwork for a crackdown on a president's chief rivals.

Lol Mahamat Choua, a former president of Chad in 1979, now leads the opposition party, Rally for Democracy and Progress.

Opposition groups do not support the rebels, he declared in an interview with V.O.A. from his headquarters in N'Djamena, speaking through a translator.

"You have to remember we have no link with the rebels," he said. "Our way is for democracy whereas the rebels use other means to get the power. They may have their ideas, we have ours, too."

For now, the mood in the capital is relatively calm, despite the stepped-up presence of security forces on alert as rumors circulate that the rebels, having twice been fended off by government forces, are preparing to strike again sometime before the country's presidential election May 3.