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President Idriss Deby secured passage of a constitutional amendment, subject to ratification by a referendum, allowing him to seek a third term in office amid an opposition boycott. The humanitarian crisis in neighboring Sudan brought increasing instability, as armed militias staged raids across the border into villages and clashed with Chadian troops.
Chad has been in a state of almost constant war since achieving its independence from France in 1960. Deby gained power in 1990 by overthrowing Hissein Habre, who had been president since 1981. The country was a militarily dominated, one-party state until Deby lifted the ban on political parties in 1993. A national conference that included a broad array of civic and political groups then created a transitional parliament, which was controlled by Deby's Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS).
In May 2001, Deby was reelected president with more than 67 percent of the vote. The six opposition candidates, who alleged that the election was marred by fraud and called for the result to be annulled, undertook a civil disobedience campaign and were briefly arrested. The government subsequently banned gatherings of more than 20 people, although political protests continued.
Parliamentary elections in May 2002 increased the dominance of the MPS in the National Assembly, with the MPS capturing 110 of the 155 seats. Its parliamentary ally, the Rally for Democracy and Progress, won 12 seats; the Federation Action for the Republic, nine; the National Rally for Development and Progress, five; the Union for Renewal and Democracy, five; and the National Union for Renewal and Democracy, three. Other independents won 11 seats. The elections were boycotted by several opposition parties that claimed the electoral process lacked transparency.
In 2004, Deby pursued his campaign for a third term of office by pushing through a constitutional amendment that eliminated presidential term limits; opposition legislators boycotted the parliamentary vote. The move prompted outrage from the country's opposition parties, as well as labor unions and human rights groups, who have accused Deby of wanting to install himself in the presidency for life. The amendment will not become official until it is approved in a national referendum, set to take place by the end of 2004. Having lost its court challenge of the constitutional amendment, an opposition coalition has threatened to boycott future elections unless the government ensures greater electoral transparency.
As the crisis in Sudan grew increasingly urgent during the year, Deby assumed the role of mediator between the Sudanese government and two rebel movements in the Darfur region of Sudan, the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement. However, relations soured with an influx of armed groups into eastern Chad. The Chadian government charged that the Arabic-speaking Janjawid militias were collaborating with the Renewed National Front of Chad rebel movement, which had stopped fighting the Chadian government in 2002. Chad is currently hosting 190,000 Sudanese refugees and 27,000 refugees from the Central African Republic. France has deployed 200 troops along the eastern border with Sudan to augment Chadian and African Union security forces.
Millions of dollars in oil revenues began flowing into government coffers in 2004. Unlike in most other oil-rich African countries, however, the money is being closely monitored by the World Bank and a citizens' oversight group. Chad promised to spend 80 percent of oil revenues on schools, clinics, roads, and other basic needs. However, the oversight committee has complained that it is underfunded and lacks adequate information from the government and its oil company partners, predominantly the Exxon Mobil Corporation. Most Chadians are mired in extreme poverty. The country ranked 167th out of 177 on the UN Development Program's Human Development Index for 2004.
France, which remains highly influential in Chad, maintains a 1,000-member garrison in the country and, despite a sometimes rocky bilateral relationship, serves as Deby's main political and commercial supporter. Brutality by Chadian soldiers and rebels alike marked insurgencies in the vast countryside, but the large-scale abuses of the past have abated somewhat.
Citizens of Chad cannot change their government democratically. Chad has never experienced a peaceful, fair, and orderly transfer of political power. Recent legislative and presidential elections have been marred by serious irregularities and indications of outright fraud. The National Assembly, whose members are directly elected for four-year terms, is the country's sole legislative chamber. In a referendum held in March 1996, voters approved a new constitution based on the French model and providing for a unified and presidential state. A law establishing an ostensibly independent election commission was passed in 2000, despite significant opposition. The law gives the predominance of seats to government representatives and representatives of parties in the ruling coalition. Scores of political parties are registered.
Chad's army and political life are largely in the hands of members of the small Zaghawa and Bideyat groups from Deby's northeastern region, whose elite are often treated as above the law. This is a source of ongoing resentment among the more than 200 other ethnic groups in the country. The formal exercise of deeply flawed elections and democratic processes has produced some opening of Chadian society, but real power remains with Deby.
Human rights groups have expressed concern that despite a World Bank monitoring program, the country's oil revenues would be diverted from national development. In 2000, Deby admitted that he had spent $4.5 million of the government's first oil receipts to buy weapons instead of bolstering social programs. Chad was ranked 142 out of 146 countries surveyed in the 2004 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index.
Newspapers critical of the government circulate freely in the capital, N'Djamena, but have little impact among the largely rural and illiterate population. According to the BBC, radio is the medium of mass communication, but state control over broadcast media allows few dissenting views. Despite high licensing fees for commercial radio stations, a number of private stations are on the air, some operated by nonprofit groups including human rights groups and the Roman Catholic Church. These broadcasters are subject to close official scrutiny.
In February, the authorities in southern Chad shut down a small independent radio station, Radio Brakos, after it aired an interview with an opposition politician. Police physically assaulted its director, Vatankah Tchanguis, detained him for three days, and then released him without charge. In a move applauded by press freedom groups, FM Radio Liberte was awarded some $11,000 by Chad's Supreme Court for damages sustained when the station was shut down by authorities for airing statements critical of Deby's third-term bid. The country's sole Internet service provider is a state-owned telecommunications monopoly.
Although religion is a source of division in society, particularly between Christians and Muslims, Chad is a secular state and freedom of religion is generally respected. The government does not restrict academic freedom.
Despite harassment and occasional physical intimidation, the Chadian Human Rights League, Chad Nonviolence, and several other human rights groups operate openly and publish findings critical of the government. Workers' right to organize and to strike is generally respected, but the formal economy is small. Union membership is low. Most Chadians are subsistence farmers.
The rule of law and the judicial system remain weak, with courts heavily influenced by the executive. Security forces routinely ignore constitutional protections regarding search, seizure, and detention. Independent human rights groups have credibly charged Chadian security forces and rebel groups with killing and torturing with impunity. Overcrowding, disease, and malnutrition make prison conditions life threatening, and many inmates spend years in prison without being charged.
In recent years, tens of thousands of Chadians have fled their country to escape politically inspired violence. Several of the 20 or more other armed factions have reached peace pacts, but many of these agreements have failed. Chad's long and porous borders are virtually unpoliced. Trade in weapons among nomadic Sahelian peoples is rife, and banditry adds to the pervasive insecurity.
Turmoil resulting from ethnic and religious differences is exacerbated by clan rivalries and external interference: the country is divided between Nilotic and Bantu Christian farmers, who inhabit the country's South, and Arab and Saharan peoples, who occupy arid deserts in the North.
Women's rights are protected by neither traditional law nor the penal code, and few educational opportunities are available. Female genital mutilation is commonplace.