Church “on the side of the suffering” in Chad
Crux || By Ngala Killian Chimtom || 27 February 2018
Religious leaders in Chad can’t accept failure as the country faces a political crisis, according to the country’s top Catholic bishop.
The central African country has faced protests over rising prices and an austerity drive that has slashed the salaries of civil servants by a third.
The government of President Idriss Déby said the salary cuts at the beginning of the year were necessary to enable it to comply with a wage ceiling agreed to under a bailout with the International Monetary Fund.
The austerity measures were provoked in large part by falling oil prices that have crippled the country’s economy, which was already suffering from a mountain of debt.
The archbishop of the capital N’Djamena and president of the country’s bishops’ conference, Archbishop Goetbé Edmond Djitangar, has condemned the austerity measures for affecting the poorest of Chad’s already impoverished population.
“The larger number of our fellow citizens have sunk deeper into misery as a result of the crisis,” the archbishop told Radio France Internationale.
He said the lack of dialogue was making things even more difficult.
“We notice that instead of sincere dialogue as a way of getting out of the crisis that should be for everyone’s benefit, we are witnessing threats and indifference,” Djitangar said.
On Feb. 8, teachers gathered at the headquarters of the Federation of Chadian Trade Unions to protest the cuts.
“Teachers have given everything, right down to the bottom of our knowledge, teachers have given everything. President Déby - he’s the result of a teacher, Minister Saber - he’s the result of a teacher,” they chanted.
Opposition leader, Saleh Kebzabo says the crisis goes beyond the fall in oil prices, accusing president Déby, in power since 1990 of bad governance, and for using “brute force” to silence dissent.
Chad has been a nation in conflict for over 50 years. The country’s first civil war took place from 1965-1979 and was immediately followed by the 1979-1985 Second Chadian civil war. The most recent Chadian civil war took place from 2005-2010.
Like many nations along Africa’s Sahel region, Chad is predominantly Arab Muslim in the north, and Christian sub-Saharan African in the south, creating hard-to-resolve tensions. Muslims slightly outnumber Christians in the country, and neighboring nations - especially Libya - have often tried to interfere in its internal affairs.
In recent years, the country has also suffered attacks from the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram, and has also had a stream of refugees entering the country trying to escape the escalating conflict in the neighboring Central African Republic.
In efforts to resolve the current political crisis, religious authorities in Chad have used the ‘Plateforme Interconfessionnelle’ (Interfaith Platform) to mediate between the government and labor unions.
Chad is estimated to be 53 percent Muslim, 20 percent Catholic, and 14 percent Protestant.
On February 8, Catholic, Muslim and Evangelical leaders met with trade union leaders to find a way forward.
“The government and the trade unions need to exercise restraint and go for dialogue,” said the president of the Higher Council for Islamic Affairs of Chad, Cheick Abdouldaim Abdoulaye Ousmane.
There has already been some good news. The Anglo-Swiss mining company Glencore last week agreed to structure a loan to Chad worth more than $1 billion, which will allow the country to borrow more money from the IMF.
The company made the cash-for-crude deal in 2014, but cash in the old price meant Chad could not keep up with the payments.
But the deal has not led the government to cancel its belt-tightening program.
“We first met the prime minister and head of government. We listened to him. Then we met with trade union leaders as well as civil society actors. In all these meetings, we called on the government and trade unions to dialogue in order to find a way out of this crisis. The government and social partners are all agreed on the need for dialogue,” Djitangar said.
The archbishop added that the two parties were called upon to “make concessions,” noting that no agreement can be reached without real dialogue.
“If no agreement is reached, that means there is a breakdown in dialogue. As religious leaders, we can’t accept failure as long as there is life and hope,” Djitangar said.
He said the religious authorities will ensure that the strike is called off, and that dialogue becomes a permanent feature in the search for solutions.
Djitangar said the Church will always “be on the side of the suffering.”