Interview with Maître Delphine Kemneloum Djiraïbé

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As part of the campaign to free Fariba Adelkhah and Roland Marchal, Marielle Debos interviews Maître Delphine Kemneloum Djiraïbé, who explains how “Roland Marchal’s analysis has allowed us to move forward in our own work towards peace and reconciliation.” To support the campaign, follow @FaribaRoland on Twitter.

Marielle Debos: You worked with Roland Marchal when you were coordinator of the Committee Responding to the Call for National Peace and Reconciliation in Chad (CSAPR). How did this collaboration begin?

DKD: I met Roland Marchal in 2002, when we were setting up the peace and reconciliation initiative in Chad. We needed a better understanding of the country’s situation and of the interests of the major powers – especially France, which was both the ex-coloniser and one of Chad’s key partners. In conjunction with the Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development (CCFD), we were looking for someone objective to offer support and guidance. The CCFD recommended that we contact Roland Marchal, who immediately expressed interest in our approach.

In 2006, we could see the war coming. Roland understood that. No other scenario was possible. There were very active rebellions and, inside the country, political closure was such that the only solution was to open a political dialogue. It was Roland’s analysis that led us to suggest an inclusive dialogue, to curb the desire to seize power by force of arms and allow a process of peaceful and democratic transition in Chad. The regime was not convinced, and unfortunately, the rebels did attack N’Djamena. Even so, we continued talking about inclusive dialogue – because it was the only credible outcome. In 2007, there were negotiations between the government and the opposition parties. Despite our requests, civil society was neither invited nor consulted. Following the Agreement of 13 August 2007, we again called on Roland in a bid to understand the motivations behind, firstly, the government’s persistence in wanting to continue without frank dialogue and, secondly, France’s persistence in supporting Idriss Déby, even though he refused to address the real problems facing the country.

Roland Marchal has been a key contact for us ever since. In him, we had found an objective researcher. There is never any bias in anything he does. He tells it as he finds it. When we’re on the wrong track, he doesn’t mince his words! I remember our first discussion on the political process in Chad. He told us, “If you want an inclusive process, President Déby has to be part of it, there is no way around it”. At first we were angry: we did not want to hear that the president, who is at the heart of every problem, could still be at the heart of the political process. But in the end he was right: we could not talk about inclusive dialogue by excluding an actor ourselves.

We learned a lot from him. He’s a real specialist in Chad and the Central African Republic. It’s hard to disprove what he says, or sweep his argument aside. His analyses have allowed us to move forward in our own work towards peace and reconciliation.

MD: The CSAPR had asked Roland Marchal to conduct some research on France in Chad. The report entitled: Petites et grandes controverses de la politique française au Tchad  (French Policy in Chad: minor and major controversies) published in 2015, sets out the mechanics of French support for Idriss Déby focusing on the interest groups and currents of thought that underpin this policy in Paris. The report generated a lively debate in France. Can you fill us in on the background to this report? How did it go down in Chad?

DKD: The CSAPR did indeed commission a study on the involvement of France and the European Union in Chad, in order to understand the unconditional support that President Déby enjoys. Roland Marchal came to Chad several times. He met with the various actors – both those in power, and those in opposition. He also met people from the French embassy and the European Union. Roland Marchal’s questions sometimes provoke anger, and it wasn’t always easy for him. But, in the end, he managed to write that report. And we were not disappointed! When we presented it in N’Djamena, there was some discontent. The French embassy took it very badly. It cooled our relations with the embassy a little bit, even though our committee had, up until the report’s release, had a good relationship with the ambassador of the time. But what was most disturbing was the fact that what was written was both relevant and true. The report shows that France’s support is linked to the interests of a group of servicemen keen to support a fellow soldier [Editor’s note: President Idriss Déby, who trained in the military]. When it comes to Chad, there are networks that strongly support the existing system.

MD: Why is it important for you to work with a French researcher? You could have had these discussions among yourselves…

DKD: Having someone like Roland Marchal lends a certain profile to our activities. What is not done by a Chadian will not be considered partisan. We have achieved this goal. Roland is a renowned French researcher. He doesn’t work exclusively on Chad, but also on the Central African Republic, Sudan and Somalia. It’s important to have someone at that level who will give a conference in N’Djamena, who will say things. His voice carries. This allows us to build advocacy and stimulate political debate. It was important because we were at an impasse. Domestically, the political system allowed neither loose tongues nor for people to say things to one another. But Roland came to lead a conference-debate on the theme of France-Chad relations, and we filled the largest CEFOD amphitheatre [Editor’s note: Centre for Studies and Training for Development]. It was standing room only. That’s a measure how much his commitment means. When we look at the prevailing socio-political situation in our country, all we can say is that – unfortunately for us – Roland’s analysis is correct.

I was really shocked to learn that he had been arrested and charged with endangering the security of the state. That doesn’t sound like him. Even in a context as difficult as Chad’s, when he is here, he does not hide away to talk to the various actors or say what he thinks. He just does his job. We are thinking of him and we hope he’s not feeling too bad. Knowing that he is in prison – it makes my skin crawl. May God keep him safe.

Marielle Debos is Associate Professor in political science at University Paris Nanterre and a researcher at the Institute for Social sciences of Politics (ISP).

Delphine Kemneloum Djiraïbé is a lawyer and human rights activist in Chad. She was the first president of the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (ATPDH). She is now lead lawyer at the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC) in Chad.

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