Chad’s presidential poll to exacerbate north-south divideMon, 06 May 2024 05:29:51 GMT

Moundou, a city of small businesses nestled in Chad’s fertile south, offers a stark contrast to the dusty capital of N’Djamena far to the north in the vast and largely desert Sahel nation.The country’s second-largest city is the capital of a south populated mainly by Christians and animists, but also Muslim merchants and entrepreneurs.It is also home to administrative pillars of a central power that has been dominated for more than 40 years by majority-Muslim clans hailing from the north and east. Monday’s presidential election is likely to expose the north-south divide with President Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno favourite to prevail over his southern Prime Minister Succes Masra.In his 2023 book “Le clivage Nord-Sud au Tchad” (The North-South political divide in Chad), historian Lambo Beguerem foresaw a poll offering a form of “cancer for social cohesion and unity”.Chad obtained independence from France in 1960 under first president Francois Tombalbaye, a southern Christian. The south has, however, been an opposition stronghold since 1979, when a rebellion by southern and eastern clans forced out another southern Christian president, Felix Malloum, leading to a Muslim-led coalition taking power. There followed eight years of severe repression under Hissene Habre (1982-1990).Today, a large part of the southern population still feels politically ostracised and economically disadvantaged by the Zaghawa clan of the “Deby dynasty”, which originally hails from the east, and its northern allies. Killed by rebels in 2021 after 30 years ruling with an iron fist, Idriss Deby Itno gave way to his son Mahamat, and the 40-year-old is now favourite for the presidential election. Masra, also 40, comes from Beboni, less than 100 kilometres (63 miles) from Moundou. He has been ramping up considerable support on the stump in recent weeks and is seen by southerners as their standard-bearer.- Blood money –   “Here, when we don’t like something, we say so. It’s the same between a chief and a simple citizen, we don’t consider chiefs to be sacred, unlike in the north,” said Moundou’s Bishop Joachim Kouraleyo Tarounga. Cultural differences also stem from religious differences, Tarounga said.  Notably, so-called “diya” or blood money in Islamic law, where compensation is paid to families of homicide victims, is highly resented in the south. “It comes from the north,” said Sylver Tamaibe, 33 and a lawyer with the Union of Women for Peace in Moundou.”The (financial) amount always disadvantages people from the south, in a conflict with someone from the north, whether they are the victim or culprit,” Tamaibe said. Conflicts between indigenous farmers and nomadic herders from the north cause deadly fighting in the south — sparing neither women nor children on either side. “After 1979, northern herders, the families of army officers, took up arms, killing and stealing entire herds,” said Mbaindo Djasnabeye, member of the Chadian Association for Non-Violence in Moundou.     – Economic tensions -Tensions between the north and south are also economic. The south does not profit from its significant economic activities, including cotton and oil. In the southern oil city Doba, for example, there is virtually no electricity and students learn outside at the foot of derricks. Whereas in Deby’s desert home region, the northern Amdjarass city, electricity powers hundreds of uninhabited luxury villas. “The economy is flourishing in the south, but mainly at the hands of northerners,” said Golmadji Sanambaye, 50 and coordinator of the peace and reconciliation committee CSAPR. “As a southerner, I am not oppressed by the north but by a regime,” Sanambaye clarified. “If a southerner wants to set up in transport or petrol stations, barriers are put in the way or they are forced to sell,” added Djasnabeye.Muslims make up just over half of Chad’s population, with Christians forming about 40 percent and animists 10 percent.  But other than northern urban centres, like 1.5 million-strong N’Djamena, the fertile south is the most densely populated. “We have the same qualifications as those in the north, but it’s impossible to get a job if we’re not close to the government,” said a 22-year-old University of Moundou student, who refused to give his name “for fear of reprisals” but will vote for Masra. “The north-south divide could be exacerbated by the election results,” feared Sali Bakari, a teacher and researcher at the Ecole Normale Superieure in N’Djamena.