Chad Anti-jihadist ally of the West, battered by crises

The crisis has meant students have not returned to schools, colleges and universities after the summer holidays.

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A street in the Lake Chad region's N'Bougoua play

A street in the Lake Chad region's N'Bougoua

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A key ally of the West in its fight against jihadists in Africa, Chad is mired in crises that have rocked the authoritarian regime of President Idriss Deby, as the opposition plans a general strike for Tuesday.

The costs of fighting the Boko Haram Islamists, plunging oil revenues, deficits, austerity measures and strikes by civil servants have all stirred popular anger in a country with high poverty levels despite its oil reserves.

"Chad has ground to a halt. We fear the worst," said Maoundoe Decladore, a spokesman for the civil society organisation "Ca doit changer" ("Things must change").

The dire situation is evident in the main market of the capital N'Djamena.

"I spend a whole day with barely 1,000 francs (1.50 euros) in takings. There's no money. People are not coming," said Fatime Zara, a vegetable seller in her forties.

Teachers have been on strike since September to demand payment of wage arrears.

"All the money from oil has been diverted to the people in power," said Michel Issa, a school teacher, echoing complaints from civil society and the opposition about Deby, who came to power in 1990, and his government.

The crisis has meant students have not returned to schools, colleges and universities after the summer holidays.

Other sectors have also been hit such as health, forcing patients to seek treatment in neighbouring Cameroon, and justice. Deby met with judges on Friday to try and end their strike.

The situation is worse outside the capital of the vast nation of 10 million people, where more than one in three children under the age of five suffer stunted growth.

The political opposition, riding the wave of popular discontent, is demanding "inclusive dialogue" with the regime while contesting the reelection of Deby for a fifth mandate last April.

The example of Compaore

Deby officially received 60 percent of votes in that election. Saleh Kebzabo, his main rival, won just over 12 percent.

"Idriss Deby is an illegitimate president. We are not seeking dialogue in order to accede to government. Our concern is to return Chad to a democratic path through fair and transparent elections," Kebzabo, who is behind Tuesday's strike, the third in just over three months, told AFP.

The situation has led to speculation that Deby, who has been in power since 1990, could suffer the same fate as Blaise Compaore in nearby Burkina Faso.

Compaore was forced to relinquish power in October 2014 following a popular revolt after he tried to change the constitution to extend his 27-year rule.

Compaore's fate represents a "model for the Chadian social movement," said Roland Marchal, a researcher at the Institute for Political Studies in Paris.

"Many people describe a man who no longer has the same ability to take initiatives as before. There is doubt about his ability to last," he said of Deby, who is 64 and now often walks with the help of a cane.

Marchal viewed as a "sign of weakness" the president's precipitous return to the capital from the climate change conference in Morocco because his government faced a no-confidence vote in parliament on Thursday.

The vote -- called over the government's alleged mismanagement of the economy -- was not held because parliament failed to make a quorum after the ruling party's MPs did not show on orders from Deby.

Diplomatic aces

The president's move was sparked by "fear that some will vote for a censure motion and that the government will be overthrown", Marchal said.

The same day, several opposition activists and politicians were detained in N'Djamena after the government banned a rally following the failed censure motion.

But the president still has some diplomatic aces.

Deby received his military training in France, he is the current head of the African Union, and is supported by France and the United States, who need the cooperation of the Chadian military in the region.

The headquarters of the French military operation Barkhane against jihadists in the Sahel region is in N'Djamena, where it is assumed that strategic information is exchanged.

Deby was also recently received by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

And he relies on an army whose best elements are derived like him from the Zaghawa ethnic group.

But although the army is seen as strong force in the region, it also has its weaknesses.

"In the army, certain ethnic groups are abused by the regime," said a civil society source.

Said Marchal: "We are faced with an army that knows how to shoot, but does not know how to contain a demonstration".

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