By Vincent Kende Niebede

According to the most recent data, there are 2,328 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Chad, including 105 deaths. The number of infections increased towards the end of 2020. On December 31, 2020, the government announced a lockdown, cutting off all entrances to N’Djaména, the Chadian capital.

Isolated from other cities in the country, N’Djamena is under lockdown, with a curfew in place from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. This exceptional lockdown follows a rise in the number of COVID-19 infections in the country. Security officers have received orders to enforce health measures, including the terms of the lockdown.

The decree announced that the lockdown in the city of N’Djamena would be confined to a period of one week that began January 1 at midnight. Land borders of the city of N’Djamena as well as airspace were closed. Schools, public and private universities, places of worship, bars, restaurants, large stores and markets, urban and intercity transport, and public and private non-essential services were closed. Any public or private gathering of more than 10 people was forbidden, and gatherings for baptisms, marriages, deaths, and burials were prohibited. Only health centers, clinics, hospitals, bakeries, pharmacies, food stalls, small food shops, fire departments, water and electricity service providers, hotels, and cargo flights were allowed to operate, with minimum service for banks, fuel stations, and cell phone companies. The lockdown angered the population of the capital city, with N’Djaménois complaining that the reason for the confinement was not explained.

According to Hassan Garba, an inhabitant of a district of the capital, “It is a repressive measure and not a response to the spread of the coronavirus. Otherwise, how else can we understand that to fight against a virus, the government deploys an arsenal of soldiers without any communication to the people. And they want us to believe that this is because of the fight against COVID-19. If it is to fight against this virus, do we really need to exert violence on the peaceful citizens?”

Madjitoloum Alain said, “The government is leading us to despair. It is pointing out that before the coronavirus kills us, we will starve to death. The price of food has doubled or even tripled. This is a genocidal decision.” And faced with the ban on public transport, the cost of transport by motorcycle rose, with the price for a distance of 5 kilometers that used to cost 250 fcfa, having risen to 2,000 or even 5,000 fcfa in some places.

Some politicians, such as Deputy Béral Mbaikoubou, believe the lockdown was a measure aimed at repressing the people. For him, “defense and security agents responsible for implementing all these measures are not intellectually equipped and are mostly illiterate. Executing even a clear order is difficult for illiterate agents. Even more so, this decree alone is a festival of confusion. … Power is using the health argument as an excuse to apply its authoritarianism, which is part of its identity.”

Human rights defenders are reacting
According to Loalngar Max, president of the Chadian League for Human Rights, the epidemiological situation did not justify the exceptional lockdown. According to the statistics of the National Health Response Coordination, the peak of infection was reached last May, and since then, the situation has seemed to be under reasonable control. Therefore, the lockdown did not reflect the reality of the disease or take into account the social situation of the population. Instead, it offered the defense and security forces, which are naturally inclined to do harm in Chad, a blank check to violate the population. For his part, Maître Koudé Mbainaissem, president of the Chadian Association for Free Speech to Youth (ATLPJ), emphasized that freedom should be the principal mode of operation, and restriction the exception.

Whom should we believe?
On January 2, a few days after decree 2585, the Minister of State, Secretary General of the Presidency of the Republic, Kalzéubé Pahimi Deubet, made it clear, at the end of a council meeting with the ministers responsible for the execution of the decree, that the city of N’Djaména was totally confined, except for services exempted by decree 2585. This communication put Chadians in a state of total fear. The alarm created by the announcement of the sudden decree was somewhat relieved during a lively press briefing on January 4, in which Health Minister Abdoulaye Sabour Fadoul reiterated that the measure was not intended as a means of authoritarian control, but rather to prevent the spread of disease. The lockdown was lifted on January 22, however a curfew remains in place daily from 8:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m.

Translated by Nathalie Gorey