Chad's President, Idriss Deby, has recently appointed a new Prime Minister in what appears to be a desperate move to restore investor confidence in his country, considered to be the world's fifth poorest. Upon the resignation of Nassour Ouado, who had served for two years, Deby selected a former aid, Nagoum Yamassoum, to fill the position. According to correspondents for the BBC cited on December 14, the appointment of a new Prime Minister had been widely predicted in light of the continuing insurgency in the northern region of Tibesti and because of delays in developing oil reserves in the southwest of the country.
Yamassoum was formerly Chad's minister of education and minister of culture. He has already formed a new government, the BBC reports, perhaps signifying the immediacy of the problems Chad currently faces. But it remains unclear whether Yamassoum represents a significant shift of policy over his predecessor. As former PM Ouado survived a cabinet reshuffle this past January, it is probable that Deby was not dissatisfied with Ouado's handling of the government. Yamassoum's appointment is more likely an attempt to change the appearance of the government as a response to internal and external pressure.
Deby, who came to power in a 1990 coup, has, since last year, been plagued by a rebel movement called the Movement for Democracy and Justice. In May and June of this year, the rebels made significant gains in the North, with movement leader Yusuf Togoimi predicting they would capture the capital of N'Djamema by the end of the year. Rebel grievances include corruption, lack of tolerance for political dissent and election fraud. Amnesty International, in its 1998 annual report, accuses Chad of extra-judicial executions, maltreatment of prisoners and detainment of political opponents without charge.
While it remains uncertain whether the rebel movement poses a real threat to Deby's power, the challenge posed by the rebel movement is that it has helped to create an atmosphere of instability that seems to have hampered Deby's development plans. The President's plans for economic renewal appear to hinge almost exclusively on the exploitation of the Doba oil field in the southwest of Chad. Plans for the field's development had included a consortium of three foreign oil companies -- Royal Dutch Shell, Elf and Exxon -- who proposed the building of a huge pipeline through Cameroon to access the land-locked Chadian reserves.
Chad would receive $2.5 billion in royalties over 25 years as a result of the deal, according to a report released by the World Bank. That would mean $100 million a year, or about 40 percent of Chad's annual export of goods and services. Speaking to the UN Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) on November 17, Chadian Information Minister Moussa Dago said, "For Chad it [the project] is extremely important for infrastructure, poverty reduction and improving living conditions."
Chad's major export crop is cotton, with export revenues generating $75 million in 1996. But according to a November 26 report from the USAID Famine Early Warning System, world cotton prices have been steadily declining since 1995 and this year will reach an all time low, with farmers in Africa's Sahel region expected to be seriously affected.
But plans for the desperately needed pipeline may be in danger of being abandoned. Exxon, in a statement found on its web page, continues to back the project and describes the rebel movement as "sporadic armed banditry" that "does not represent a significant risk." But Elf and Shell have recently lost confidence in the Chadian oil project. Dago told IRIN that Elf and Shell had on November 8 informed the Chadian government they would withdraw from the project. While the companies have both cited economic reasons for the withdrawal, Dago himself told IRIN he was suspicious that the reasons may be political, given the suddenness of the withdrawal despite years of research. The project is currently hoping to attract new investors, but Exxon is now its only major backer.
As thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of N'djamena in mid-November to protest the withdrawal of Elf and Shell, President Deby is no doubt under enormous pressure to push forward with the development plans. If Deby cannot find the investors for what is perhaps viewed as Chad's last hope for survival, the rebel movement may yet succeed in toppling the government without having to actually take the capital. Unresolved internal unrest certainly is a primary factor in a company's investment decision. While the true impact of Yamassoum's appointment has yet to be felt, it is probable it will take more than a new face in Deby's government to both placate internal unrest and entice foreign investment.
Zakariya Wright is a regular contributor to iviews.com