AFRICA/CHAD -Archbishop Djitangar: Impatience growing against foreign military presence in our country

Saturday, 7 October 2023 local churches  

N'Djamena (Fides News Agency) - We are the youngest Church in Africa, so much so that we will be the last African Church in 2029 to celebrate 100 years since the first evangelization" says Archbishop of N'Djamena, Goetbe Edmond Djitangar who is pleased with the 'primacy of youth' of his Church. The Archbishop who is also President of the Episcopal Conference of Chad and President of the Association of Episcopal Conferences of Central Africa, tells Fides Agency with candor and realism about the tensions and problems that old and new colonialisms continue to stir up in the daily lives of the peoples of the region.

Does the Church in Chad still need the contribution of missionaries from abroad?
Ours is certainly a Church deeply marked by missionaries. But now the time has come when European missionaries are gradually handing over responsibilities to missionaries from other African countries and local clergy. The problem is that when a new Church equips itself with ecclesial, educational, health facilities, there is a shortage of means. The local clergy rely on their people; just as the African Churches that send us their missionaries do not have great means of funding. We move forward in evangelization with what we are and what we have.

Chad is the fifth largest country in the world in terms of the number of refugees per capita relative to the population. How do you deal with this situation?
There is no open war in Chad at the moment, but our region is marked by conflicts in neighboring states. So we have taken in Central African refugees, Nigerians fleeing Boko Haram, and more recently Sudanese because of the civil war in their country. It is true that Chad is the country on the Continent that has taken in the most refugees in relation to its population (see Fides 9/27/2023). But it is also true that Chad is an "artificial" country, whose borders (drawn by the colonizers, ed.) are felt as unnatural by the inhabitants on both sides of the border who belong to the same people. And when on the other side of the border these people have difficulties they come to Chad because they find their own people, the same families who welcome them. But this does not mean that Chad alone has the means to take in all these refugees. That is why there are increasing calls for international aid to Chadian organizations involved in assisting these people.
At the state level, these organizations have difficulties operating properly because of corruption; however, I believe the government does its best to welcome those seeking refuge in Chad.

An "artificial country" created by bringing together areas with very different populations. But does the "Muslim north-Christian south" pattern still apply?
An "artificial country" created by bringing together areas with very different populations. But does the "Muslim north-Christian south" pattern still apply?
Things changed especially after the civil war that peaked between 1979 and 1985 and has dragged on for some time as we are still suffering the consequences. In addition, the periods of severe drought in the 1980s, along with the civil war, caused strong internal population movements. A number of Muslim herders from the north have moved south in search of pastures, bringing their own social organization that does not recognize the local one and sometimes not even that of the state, which causes a problem. Also with the civil war many military personnel, originally from the north, have settled in the south. All this means that there is a lot of pressure on the people in the south. Now in the south there are as many Muslims as there are Christians, , the north is virtually empty except for the oases. The northern population has largely moved to the south where life is easier. This creates problems with the native populations and religious tensions are created.

Interreligious dialogue is therefore very important...
There are different levels of dialogue. We have the "natural" dialogue among the neighborhood, among people living in the same areas. Then we have the somewhat distorted dialogue at the national level in which the state often uses religions as a means to impose itself. Since the state does not have a lot of authority over the populations while religious leaders have a strong ascendancy over their followers. So the state pressures religious leaders, Muslim and Christian, to achieve its goals. That is why we have made sure that interfaith dialogue is out of the reach of the state, which tries to influence it to its advantage.

What impact do you think the coups that have affected neighboring states may have on Chad?
Chad is part of the so-called G5 Sahel formed by 5 Sahelian states (Chad, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger) to counter jihadist groups. Now 3 out of 5 states have abandoned this formation-Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. That leaves two countries that can now do little on their own. The French military presence in the Sahel is now concentrated in Chad, where the population here is also beginning to stir and oppose making the country the last bastion of Paris in the area. It may be that France will regain its place in the Sahel but it must overcome the mistrust of the region's populations who perceive it as a forceful power seeking to impose itself in order to exploit local resources. Chad exports oil but in its own capital, N'Djamena, there are neighborhoods that have electricity only two or three days a week. The same thing happens in Niger, which exports uranium to fuel nuclear power plants in other countries but has no electricity. In our countries all the national wealth is in the hands of a handful of people while the rest of the population languishes in poverty. If France has the intelligence to impose community development by building roads, schools and hospitals, aiming effectively to benefit the local people, we will respect it again. (LM) (Fides News Agency 7/10/2023)