N’DJAMENA, Chad (AP) — Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno is seeking to extend his three-decade long rule, running for a sixth time in this oil-producing Central African nation that is home to nearly half a million refugees and also plays a prominent role in the fight against Islamic extremism in the Sahel.
Giant portraits of Deby line the streets of the capital, N’Djamena, and the incumbent leader has campaigned on promises of building schools, paving roads and improving living conditions in this country that remains one of the least developed in the world.
Deby is widely expected to win in the first round, in part because two of the leading opposition candidates withdrew from the race as part of a boycott and a third man considered a top contender chose not to run.
The only remaining opposition candidate that has had the resources to campaign outside the capital is Albert Pahimi Padacke, a one-time Deby ally who served as prime minister from 2016 to 2018. Padacke has argued that the opposition boycott only benefits the president.
“Every year, the youth, more and more of whom have only known Idriss Deby Itno, are faced with a more difficult future,” he told Jeune Afrique recently. “Our economy has not benefited from oil resources and has not diversified to create jobs.”
One of the remaining opposition candidates, Bruce Guedimbaye Mbaimon, has accused Deby’s party of using state resources to campaign.
Deby, a former army commander-in-chief, first came to power in 1990 when his rebel forces overthrew then-President Hissene Habre, who was later convicted of human rights abuses at an international tribunal in Senegal. Deby has continued to win re-election over the years, last drawing 61.5% of the vote in the last 2016 election.
In 2018, the country approved a new constitution that allows Deby to run for two more six-year terms.
The landlocked nation of Chad is home to nearly half a million refugees from neighboring Sudan, Nigeria and Central African Republic. Another 330,000 Chadians are internally displaced, the majority in the volatile Lake Chad region where Boko Haram militants are active.
The military base for France’s Operation Barkhane in the Sahel region is also based in Chad, a French colony until 1960. And the country has been a major contributor the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, accounting for many of the casualties because of attacks by Islamic extremists aligned with al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.
Chadian soldiers also have been targeted at home: Last year nearly 100 were killed in an attack that was the deadliest in the country’s history.
Chad has been an oil-producing nation since 2003, which has increased standards of living but also has made the country vulnerable to fluctuations in oil prices. The country also has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world, and female literacy is only about 14% according to U.N. statistics.
EDOUARD TAKADJI I Associated Press
Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed.