In the midst of the 2011 election season in Chad, many Chadians remain uncertain about the impact of the elections on their future. Despite the lack of opportunities for public dialogue and memories of past elections marked by conflict and violence, Chadians remain hopeful that this year’s election will bring about peaceful change in their country.

As an employee for Chadian state television expressed, “the entire crisis that the country went through in the past may happen again, and the only way to avoid this happening is to talk about it, to let people know how it happened and how to prevent it”.

That is exactly what the Commission Nationale Justice et Paix (CNJP), Counterpart International’s grantee under the Promoting Elections, Accountability and Civic Engagement in Chad (PEACE) project, is doing. In December 2010, CNJP received a Dispute Reporting and Resolution Grant from Counterpart International. The grant to CNJP aims to empower local civil society organizations in detecting and reporting administrative election violations andin enhancing a peaceful election environment.

Panel discussions stimulate conversation

On February 6, 2011, CNJP broadcasted a panel discussion on the management and resolution of electoral conflict featuring Chadian religious leaders. Participants in this panel included representatives from the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, the Entente of Churches and Evangelical Missions, and the Catholic Church. The debate was broadcasted on national television and the audio version was broadcasted on state radio.

Reaction to the debate has been overwhelmingly positive. According to an employee of a rural NGO located in Guelendeng, a small city 60 miles from N’Djamena, this kind of event reflects a major step in discussing topics that have been considered taboo in Chad in the past: “Daring to gather religious leaders on national television to discuss electoral conflict and issues will allow Chad to begin a new age which will lead to more open public debates. Through the [forum], we could see that [the participants] went beyond religious boundaries and some selfishness, and cared about the whole country.”

A state TV worker also noted, “This lays the groundwork for opening political debate without any fears, and we hope that the more often we have those kinds of debates the more efficiently we will be able to solve problems without using violence.”

Including all Chadians

Chadians living abroad were also able to watch the debate. A Chadian living in France said, “This is the first initiative in this country to speak publicly of conflict and consider the possibilities of preventing and managing it. It appears necessary to multiply these types of initiatives. Conflicts are the result of a lack of frank discussions. Since religion can spark conflict, it is important to bring religious leaders together to talk publicly and to show that we can live together in peace.”

Many others expressed their appreciation of the debate and asked for it to be rebroadcasted. The state television station rebroadcasted the debate on February 13, 2011 – Election Day in Chad. Fortunately, the parliamentary elections on February 13th were largely peaceful, with few reports of violence.

Safe, fair elections

Demonstrating that communities can take part in peaceful public dialogue is a crucial step in consolidating democracy in Chad and in mitigating election-related conflict. The panel discussion organized by CNJP also demonstrates that constructive dialogue, not violence, can bring about change in Chad.