By Jennifer O’Riordan

Chad’s civil society has found that organizing roundtable discussions produce more than just talk, which it learned last summer when discussing diesel prices and later the high cost of transportation.

In early July, the price of diesel was $1.61 per liter. Chad imported diesel from neighboring countries, until late July when the government put in operation the Chad refinery and set the price of diesel at $1.83 a liter. After this decision, diesel disappeared from the local market and a black market for diesel emerged. The price of locally produced diesel on the black market varied from $1.22 to $1.60 per the liter.

On the heels of that move, the Civil Society Forum, established and supported by Counterpart’s PEACE Program in Chad, organized a roundtable discussion in the capital of N’Djamena that focused on the supposed shortage of diesel in the area. The Civil Society Forum was concerned since it affected public transportation diesel generators, which are commonly used for electricity in Chad.

Chamber of Commerce President Souraj Koulamalah and the Hydrocarbon Company of Chad General Director Mohamat Kasser Younous attended the forum and publicly denounced diesel shortage speculation and exorbitant prices at the pumps. A week later, the government took measures to enforce lower prices for consumers.

“The government should work with merchants and fulfill its obligations to control the prices at the market place,” said Koulamalah at the Aug. 5 forum. “Official prices need to be enforced in order to protect citizen’s rights”

The National Advisor of the Chadian Association for the Promotion of Human Rights chaired the roundtable discussion, which was attended by around 40 civil society representatives and 11 media organizations.

The forum, which meets regularly to highlight issues faced by citizens and devise solutions, was established as part of the Promoting Elections, Accountability and Civic Engagement (PEACE) program.

The PEACE program – funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Counterpart – also provides forum members with technical assistance and advice based on best practices learned from similar civil society initiatives.

On August 19, the Civil Society Forum held a discussion on the cost of urban transportation. The event opened dialogue with officials and private transport companies about lowering prices for consumers as a result of the lower price of diesel.

The following week forum organizers met with Transportation and Civil Aviation Minister Abdelkerim Souleyman Teryo, who encouraged them to put forward suggestions for the government to consider.

“These Civil Society Forums have a proven history of success in other countries,” says Martina Hanulova, a Program Coordinator with Counterpart. “And they are having the same impact in Chad, as events clearly show; the main focus of civil society is to voice marginalized people’s rights.”

Forthcoming issues to be discussed by the forum include: the increasing cost of living; lack of access to water and electricity; high population density; and the need for clear urban planning.

PEACE is a two-year, USAID-funded program that began in July 2010 to assist civil society organizations in their efforts to inform citizens and increase involvement in the electoral process. The program also supports these organizations in their role as government watchdogs and advocates for positive change in Chad. It also supports the Independent National Electoral Commission.