Chadians celebrating Freedom & Democracy Day today may be wondering what freedom and democracy mean to them.

The holiday commemorates the overthrow of President Hissène Habré by his former ally Idriss Déby on 1 December 1990, and certainly few Chadians will regret the departure of President Habré, convicted by the Extraordinary African Chambers earlier this year of crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and sexual violence and the subject of a moving documentary which premiered at Cannes on the eve of his conviction. And although President Déby did introduce presidential elections some years after having seized power in a military coup, the elections earlier this year which extended his 26-year rule were conducted under heavy police and military surveillance and with severely limited media coverage.

Freedom is typically understood as the four freedoms articulated by Franklin Roosevelt in his 1941 State of the Union address: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Freedom of assembly and freedom of movement are often added to this list, or used as proxy indicators.

Chad has some way to go. Democracy watchdog Freedom House gives Chad a score of 6.5 on its freedom scale of 1-7 (where 7 is the lowest score), and it ranks 185 out of 188 in the Human Development index. It is dominated politically and economically by the president and his Zaghawa tribe, and the 35% Christian minority is largely excluded from central power.

Yet there are glimmers of hope. The elections this year were largely conducted without violence, and the president himself has warned that long terms in office heighten the risk that transitions of power will not be peaceful. And with neighbouring countries such as Nigeria, Libya, Sudan and the Central African Republic experiencing so much violence, Chad deserves some credit for hosting 370,000 refugees in relative stability, if extreme poverty. Let us hope that in commemorating today his overthrow 26 years ago of his rival, President Déby takes the opportunity to use his new mandate, and his prestigious chairmanship of the African Union, to make his holiday’s ambitious title a meaningful reality for all Chadians.

Mark Simmons CEO


Freedom to speak. Fair elections. Education and opportunities. When these are denied, people feel their only choice is between silence or violence. Please support our £30,000 appeal to show them another way.