Misanet.com / IPS, 31 May - Civil society groups are urging the World Bank to use its economic leverage to secure the release of jailed opposition leaders in the troubled central African nation of Chad. The bank is deeply involved in the main development project in Chad's history.
- We are asking the Bank to stop collaborating with the corrupt government in Chad until the restoration of democracy and free and fair elections are held, Delphine Djiraibe of the Chadian Association for the Defence of Human Rights said Wednesday.
- The Bank has just given 260 million dollars in debt relief to the country, it agreed to finance the Chad-Cameroon pipeline last year and all of this has strengthened the hand of a corrupt regime, Djiraibe says.
Chadian police Wednesday arrested six election rivals of President Idriss Deby, including Ngarlejy Yorongar leader of the Republic Action Federation, in a move seen as an attempt to strengthen government's hold on power following a wave of protests in which five people are reported to have died. The politicians were however released today, after massive protests against their detention.
Opposition supporters have been challenging provisional results of last week's presidential election, which saw Deby retain power with 67 percent of the vote. Yorongar, an outspoken critic of Deby's oil policies, won 14 percent of the votes and former journalist Saleh Kabzabo six percent. The opposition alleges widespread fraud, while this is rejected by international election observers.
Critics of the World Bank's role in Chad have long charged that human rights abuses by Deby's government disqualify it from support from Washington.
Yet last year, the Bank approved a loan to finance Africa's biggest infrastructure project, the 3.7 billion dollar Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline. And last week, the Bank and the International Monetary Fund approved a 260 million dollar debt reduction strategy for Chad under the enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC).
A senior Bank official refused to speak on record Wednesday, saying the situation was still too sensitive for the Bank to involve itself.
- We are calling on James Wolfensohn (World Bank president) to intervene with the president of Chad, as he has promised he would do, in the event of human rights abuses in the country, said Daphne Wysham of the Institute for Policy Studies, a non-governmental organisation in Washington DC.
- We are dealing with a regime renowned for intimidation, said Wysham referring to Deby's government, which came to power through a bloody military coup in 1990. Chad's first presidential poll in 1996 was marred by allegations of fraud.
If the election results stand, Deby's government, which presides over one of the poorest countries in the world, could benefit from the oilfields in southern Chad when they start production in the latter part of his presidential term, thanks in part to the World Bank.
The World Bank Group is lending nearly 200 million dollars to the governments of Chad and Cameroon for the oil project while its private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation has pledged to mobilise a further 300 million dollars from commercial banks.
Work began last year on a 1,070-kilometre pipeline from the Doba basin of landlocked Chad to Cameroon's port of Kribi on the Atlantic Ocean. The project is operated by ExxonMobil which has a 40 percent share, Malaysian state oil firm Petronas with a 35 percent stake and the US' Chevron with 25 percent.
On completion in 2005, the pipeline is expected to pump 250,000 barrels of crude oil per day and generate between nine and 18 billion dollars for the private sector consortium. The governments of Chad and Cameroon are expected to share about 3 billion dollars.
While the World Bank's contribution pales in comparison to that of its private sector partners, without the Bank's involvement in the volatile former French colony, the companies had indicated they would not proceed with the risky venture.
The Bank's approval came despite pressure from international environmental and human rights groups who had asked for a moratorium on the construction. The civil society groups charged that not only would the project harm fragile rainforests in Cameroon but also worsen an already violent human rights situation in Chad.
Reports that Deby's government allegedly used 4 million dollars of the oil project's funds last year to buy weapons have only bolstered opposition to a project dogged by controversy since the early 1990s when public consultations began.
Sharon Courtoux of the French non-governmental group SURVIE said in a statement Wednesday that the European Union should also take a stance against the Chad-Cameroon pipeline until "conditions are established that will benefit the Chadian people."
With per capita gross domestic product of 188 dollars in 2000, Chad is extremely poor, ranking 167 out of 174 countries listed in the UN Human Development Index.
By Gumisai Mutume, IPS