Life flourishes amid political chaos in Central Africa’s Chad

A group of girls and boys near the entrance of the Danamadja refugee camp near the border with Central African Republic. (Francesco Merlini)

Since 1996, political power in Chad has been firmly in the hands of President Idriss Déby and his political party, the Patriotic Salvation Movement. The country remains plagued by political violence and attempted coups d’état. While the Chadian constitution defends the freedom of expression, the government has regularly restricted this right, and at the end of 2006 began to enact a system of prior censorship on the media.

Chad has more than 200 distinct ethnic groups which create diverse social structures. The colonial administration and independent governments have attempted to impose a national society, but for most Chadians, the local or regional society remains the most important influence outside the immediate family.

Soldiers are everywhere, especially since Boko Haram’s recent attacks on the Chadian shore of Lake Chad, giving life to new refugee camps near the lake. Along the western part of the country, there are many refugee camps near the border with Sudan that are hosting refugees from Darfur. Other places, more recently in the southern region of the country near Gorè, are hosting refugees from Central African Republic, many of them with Chadian origins, the so-called “Retourné.” In this district, which hosts many camps like Dosseye and Danamadja, the population has doubled in the past 10 years and continues to grow. To save their lives and the lives of their children, tens of thousands of people have escaped across the border, leaving all their belongings, their primary source of energy coming from the wood of the forests.