In the dry searing heat of Chad’s capital N’Djamena, a single face stares out from election campaign billboards, President Idriss Deby’s, though 14 candidates are running in Sunday’s presidential poll.
After 26 years at the helm of the vast largely barren nation that is Africa’s fifth biggest, Deby has consolidated his grip on power and now seems poised to comfortably win a fifth term in office on April 10.
Under Deby’s command, the once unstable destitute country has become both an oil producer and key player in the global fight against jihadist terror. Yet despite Chad’s newfound strategic influence, Deby this year has faced unprecedented dissent at home.
In recent weeks, protest marches have been banned, activist leaders thrown behind bars and security forces called out en masse when small groups of protesters take to the streets. On Thursday, police fired live rounds and tear gas to disperse a couple of hundred protesters after prosecutors demanded six-month jail terms for five anti-government activist leaders.
In districts across the capital, posters featuring the 63-year-old in suit and fine-rimmed glasses, or staring out from under a white cowboy hat, urge people to vote for “Chad’s emergence” or dub him “the young people’s candidate”.
Police are out in force protecting the offices of his Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS), with its trademark colours of blue and yellow. The presidential palace too is under heavy guard and national television runs a steady flow of pro-Deby stories and citizens’ praise. “They can shoot to kill at any time,” said the deputy leader of the trade unions movement, Goukouni Maina.