France has urged Chadian authorities to press ahead with parliamentary elections after securing billions of dollars in pledges from donor countries to help revive the country’s struggling economy.
President Idriss Deby, re-elected in 2016 after gaining power in 1990 at the head of an armed rebellion, said in February the lack of financial resources meant Chad parliamentary elections would be postponed indefinitely.
“The legislative elections are an important moment in democratic life,” French foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes Romatet-Espagne told reporters. “We hope in this regard the Chadian authorities … will be in a position to announce a calendar (for elections) soon.”
In a statement on Friday, Chad’s government said it had secured about $18.5 billion in pledges for a 2017-2021 national development programme, double its original expectations. Romatet-Espagne said France would contribute 223 million euros (202.66 million pounds).
The former French colony, one of the poorest nations in the world, has been rocked by humanitarian crises over the past decade, including conflicts in the east and south, drought in the arid Sahel region and flooding.
That has been compounded since 2012 by instability on its borders with Libya, Nigeria and Central African Republic, forcing Chad to increase its security budget to handle thousands of refugees and counter a growing cross-border threat.
Its economy has been hit by a more than 50% drop in the price of oil, which represent three-quarters of its revenues. Critics say too much of its revenue goes to the army.
“Military spending has helped Chad intervene in the Central African Republic, Mali, in neighbouring countries threatened by Boko Haram and as far afield as the Saudi Arabia-led coalition to fight Houthi combatants in Yemen,” International Crisis Group analyst Richard Moncrieff said in a note.
“This engagement has strengthened relations with Western powers and brought substantial financial and political support. The EU, France and the US in particular today consider Deby a principal partner in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel. For Deby it is win-win: tackle domestic armed opposition, pay his troops and gain significant leverage over donors.”
The headquarters of France’s 4,000-strong counter-terrorism Barkhane force is in the Chadian capital N‘djamena.
Asked at Science Po University whether France’s policy in West Africa was still based on “Francafrique”, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian sought to play down the perception.
“We no longer talk about Francafrique but AfricaFrance,” Le Drian said. “France does not support corrupt leaders, but on the contrary there are presidents who have been elected by universal suffrage – you mentioned Deby and Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou – whose elections were not contested, and that is reality.”
Franceafrique describes an informal web of relationships Paris maintains with its former African colonies and its support, sometimes in the form of military backing, for politicians who favour French business interests.