Student protests over fuel shortages in oil-rich Chad leave five dead

by Rob Holmes
Posted 11/17/14, 11:35 am

N’DJAMENA, Chad—Riots in Chad left at least five people dead at the hands of Chadian police forces last week. On Tuesday, riot police units fanned out across Chad’s capital, N’djamena, as demonstrations erupted there and in other provincial cities. Protesters blamed the government for fuel shortages and escalating prices. Many also marched in support of public school teachers protesting unpaid salaries.

Around the country, high school students organized and made up the bulk of the protestors and some resorted to violence when police arrived on the scene. Residential and commercial areas also suffered as wafting tear gas prompted the closure of at least one market when vendors fled.

At N’djamena’s Female High School, police fired tear gas on the crowds, forcing nearby residents to cower inside their homes in soaring temperatures. Police also used tear gas in other high school precincts around the city. Liberty High School fared the worst as protestors burned tires and clashed with police, wounding nine officers. Two protesters died in the densely settled neighborhood of Walia. 

“My guard’s sister had her legs broken at Félix Eboué High School on Tuesday when a police truck ran over her in a group of student protesters,” the American leader of a U.S.-based NGO told me. He asked to remain anonymous to protect aid projects. “Tear gas and hot water cannons were fired. Students overturned a police vehicle and a few private vehicles driven by those caught in the melee,” he said.

Protests also occurred Tuesday and Wednesday in the two largest southern cities, Sarh and Moundou, in Chad’s oil-producing region. Two students died during protests in Sarh and another in Moundou when police fired on them. 

Several residents of N’djamena told me they normally wait hours to buy gas. Some even stay the night draped on their motorcycles to keep their places in line for fuel. Service stations stand out because of the mass of vehicles and motorcycle queues.

The CPDC, a coalition of political opposition parties, published a letter on Wednesday calling President Idriss Déby to immediately cease the murder of student demonstrators and “satisfy without delay the just and legitimate complaints of the young [students] and workers” as well as demanding the “release of all demonstrators arrested and tortured … and payment for their care.” 

Nadingar, who is from Sahr and declined to give his last name, has worked as a guard for four years after finishing university. He said the demonstrations were somewhat successful because the teachers got paid Friday, though people died over the issue. But he laments the lack of rights in general and said the demonstrations underscore how powerless Chadians are: “The law says we have the right to demonstrate, but you see there really is no law. People are afraid to speak out because they might be killed.” 

His view of the future is bleak, especially after Déby in 2005 removed term limit restrictions on his presidential office: “The majority will not speak out, or they will get killed like animals,” Nadingar said.

Reelection would mean a fifth, five-year term for Déby—not counting his first six years in office after seizing power from the previous president, Hissein Habré. An African Union-sponsored court in Senegal convicted Habré last June of crimes against humanity.

Chad recently announced plans to double its oil output by the end of 2015. The capital region’s Djermaya refinery is currently paused for necessary equipment cleaning, but its daily output is only 20,000 barrels. 

In October, the government-backed Société des Hydrocarbures du Tchad began to report the total quantity of fuel distributed daily throughout the capital. The measure followed accusations that shortages were due to fuel being delivered to select wealthy clients connected to the government or military who then monopolized stocks to drive up the price. 

Added to high fuel prices, the cost of other basic goods has risen because Islamic militants with Boko Haram are intercepting trucks en route to Chad from nearby Nigeria.

Protests likely will continue if fuel prices and availability remain unstable. Despite official assurances that stocks are more than enough to cover demand, Chadians rue their status as an oil producer which continues to endure fuel shortages.

Rob Holmes

Rob is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute’s mid-career course. Follow Rob on Twitter @SouthernFlyer.

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