People throughout Chad's capital N'Djamena and across the country whistled for 15 minutes straight this morning, some blowing on physical whistles while others simply used their fingers. At 9pm this evening they will once again be encouraged to spend another 15 minutes whistling, all part of the latest peaceful protest action against President Idriss Deby's attempt to extend his 26-year-long stint in power.
Chadian civil society groups organized the so-called "citizen whistle" in the face of presidential elections coming up next month that will see Deby face off against 14 other candidates, including two former prime ministers.
Residents were encouraged to participate in the mass whistling from the comfort of their own homes, mostly to avoid any arrests or government crackdown, according to Abdelkerim Koundougoumi, the European representative for a network of civil society organizations in the Central African country known as Enough is Enough.
Since seizing power through a coup more than two decades ago, Deby has since won several elections and will be seeking a fifth term. The head of state, who held a constitutional referendum in 2005 to eliminate term limits for his office, has said after this year's vote that the two-term limit will go back into effect.
"We decided to use this to tell the government that we do not agree with this plan, we do not agree with his governance," said Koundougoumi. "[Whistling is] one of the strategies we found to protest safely. In chad we have not the right to protest… [there isn't] any way you can protest the government or his action without being beaten or fired on by the police."
Koundougoumi went on to explain that there are concerns over the transparency of the vote, particularly since the four previous elections have been criticized for not being free and fair. He expressed lack of confidence that this time around Deby and his administration would conduct transparent elections, or stick to their word and reinstate term limits.
The latest display of defiance follows a flare-up in civilian tensions and public outcry against the government. In February people took to the street in unprecedented numbers to protest against a gang rape and assault perpetrated against a young woman allegedly by government officials' sons. Around the same time, civil society groups also orchestrated a national strike where people stayed home and did not go to work or out in the streets.
The government has ramped up its restrictions on popular protest and free speech in recent months as the country battles against regional militant group Boko Haram, along with countries like Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon. Koundougoumi, who lives in Paris for security reasons, said the government has cracked down on citizens under the guise of fighting terrorism.
Koundougoumi said the current protest movement in Chad has taken inspiration from the demonstrators in Burkina Faso in October 2014, who brought down President Blaise Campaore after 27 years in power. The difference, however, is that in Burkina Faso the young opposition was able to take to the streets. In Chad, for now, this is not an ideal option, although the human rights activist said there are plans for continued demonstrations.
"We don't need a person in power for 30 years, that's enough. We don't need a strong man, we need a strong constitution," Koundougoumi said. "Many generation knows only one president, that's not normal."
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