See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

Why Chadian Students Braved Arrest and Stormed Their Embassy in Algeria

Issa Kelei, a leader of a student movement that defends the interests of Chadian students in Algeria, was arrested by Algerian authorities on April 29, 2014. He and other Chadian students had been protesting the lack of financial support from their government in front of the Chadian Embassy in Algiers.

As their plea went unanswered, the students invaded the embassy. Following the action, Algerian police intervened and arrested a few students, including Kelei.

He was released a few days later on May 1, but the news of his arrest triggered anger and indignation on local social media. Kelei's friends and family feared that he might be extradited back to his home country Chad, where his life could be in danger.  

Chad has had a spotty history in dealing with opposition protests. Public demonstrations have been banned since 1990. Additionally, the country is plagued with corruption at its executive level and its legal system. In 2005, Chad was named the most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International.

Not only corruption but insecurity abounds. In 2013, the NGO Save the Children suspended its activities in Chad after the killing of two staff members.   

Chadian journalist and activist Makaila Nguebla was one of the few who blogged [fr] about Kelei's arrest. Hisham Almiraat, director of Global Voices Advocacy, spoke briefly with Nguebla about the situation.  

Global Voices (GV): Can you tell us why Chadian students are protesting in Algeria?

Makaila Nguebla (MN): Les étudiants d’Algérie ont observé un mouvement de protestation pour dénoncer le montant des bourses d’études que les autorités tchadiennes leur envoient annuellement.

C’est à l’issue d’une réunion tenue le 17 avril dernier que l’Union des Etudiants et Stagiaires tchadiens en Algérie (UESTA) a décidé de rejeter la somme de 294.000.000 FCA, l’ estimant insuffisante pour couvrir les besoins de 750 étudiants tchadiens. Ils décident donc de ne rien percevoir et donnent un délai de 10 jours à l’ambassade du Tchad et à la délégation venue les payer pour trouver une solution acceptable. Ils affirment également que ces 3 points ne sont pas négociables. Après avoir donné cet ultimatum et n'ayant reçu aucune réponse des autorités, les étudiants ont envahi l’Ambassade du Tchad à Alger sans pour autant causer des dégâts matériels ni humains. Les forces algériennes sont intervenues pour les disperser en arrêtant plusieurs d’entre eux. Ce qui irrite les étudiants tchadiens en général qu’ils soient au Tchad ou à l’étranger, les étudiants n’ont jamais obtenu régulièrement leurs bourses d’études malgré les ressources naturelles dont dispose le pays.

Au Tchad, les manifestations publiques sont systématiquement interdites depuis la prise du pouvoir d’Idriss Deby en 1990. La seule grande manifestation de l’opposition date de 1992, les autres sont organisées par le pouvoir.

Les manifestations estudiantines et syndicales sont réprimées dans le sang les plus souvent dans l’anonymat médiatique total et dans l’indifférence de la communauté internationale.

Makaila NGUEBLA (MN): Chadian students in Algeria are protesting against the amount of stipends they deem insufficient allocated by the Chadian authorities in Chad for students abroad. They don't think 294,000,000 CFA (about 600,000 US dollars) annually is not sufficient to cover the needs of 750 students. In a meeting held on April 17, the Union of Chadians Students and Interns in Algeria (UESTA) announced that they won't take any stipends until the amount was re-evaluated. The students gave their embassy in Algiers a 10-day ultimatum to rectify the situation. Because the authorities did not respond to their demand, the students invaded the embassy, but made sure to not cause any property damage. Algerian police intervened and arrested a few students. What irritates Chadian students in Chad and abroad is that they never received their scholarships in a timely manner despite the country's abundant natural resources.

In Chad, public demonstrations are prohibited since Idriss Deby came to power in 1990, i.e. 24 years ago. Since then, the only significant opposition protest occurred in 1992. The other protests were organized by the regime. 

Students and union protests are often repressed violently, but they receive almost no media coverage or attention from the International Community. 

Issa Kelei via Makaila Nguebla's blog. Used with permission.

Issa Kelei via Makaila Nguebla's blog. Used with permission.

GV: Tell us a little bit about Issa Kelei. 

MN: Issa est un étudiant tchadien qui préside l’UESTA, il fait des études de médecine à Alger.  Il dérange parce qu’il revendique les droits de ses collègues étudiants. Au Tchad, vous risquez des ennuis lorsque vous vous engagez dans un militantisme de cette envergure. Les autorités sont frileuses sur la question des manifestations et craignent le débordement.

MN: Issa is a Chadian student who leads the Union of Chadian Students and Interns in Algeria (UESTA). He is studying medicine in Algiers. He is a thorn in the side of Chadian authorities because he demands and defends the rights of his fellow students. In Chad, being an activist can get you into trouble. Authorities are quite frisky when it comes to protests and fear that the situation gets out of their control.

GV: Why did he get arrested?

MN: Il a été arrêté sur ordre de l’ambassadeur du Tchad à Alger.  

MN: He got arrested upon the Chadian ambassador's request in Algiers. 

GV: What is the state of freedom of expression in Chad?

MN: Vous savez, au Tchad, la liberté d’expression n’est qu'un leurre pour endormir les partenaires internationaux. Les journalistes tchadiens sont souvent interpellés par des militaires et les autorités en toute impunité. Si vous critiquez le Président, les membres de sa famille ou les dignitaires du régime tchadien, vous risquez une convocation de la justice et si vous vous présentez, aussitôt on vous arrête et vous êtes en garde à vue en attendant une parodie de procès pour une condamnation arbitraire. Les journalistes, les opposants, les responsables syndicaux et de la société civile, vivent la peur au ventre et n’osent pas entreprendre des initiatives qui risqueraient de les envoyer en prison. 

MN: In Chad, freedom of expression is a decoy to appease international investors. Chadian journalists are often summoned by the authorities without reasons in total impunity. If you criticize the president, any members of his family or a high-ranking figure of the regime, you face the risk of being summoned to court. If you decide to show up, you are immediately arrested and will be held in police custody pending a masquerade of a trial and an arbitrary verdict. Journalists, members of the opposition, unions and civil society live with this permanent fear in their chests, not daring to initiate any action which might lead them to jail.

GV: Are you still in touch with Issa Kelei?

MN: avant son arrestation, j’étais en contact avec lui sur Facebook à la veille de la manifestation. Mais, après son interpellation, je suis en contact avec un membre de l’association qui me relaye les informations afin de diffuser et d’alerter l’opinion sur leur mouvement.

MN: Prior to his arrest, we communicated on Facebook. But after that, I am in contact with a member of the UESTA who provides me with relevant information. And in turn, I disseminate the information to alert the public opinion about the Chadian student movement in Algeria.

GV: What is his status as of today?

MN: Comme je disais précédemment, Issa a un statut d’étudiant et sa situation est celle d’un homme qui se bat pour les autres. Je précise qu’il est actuellement libre de ses mouvements et qu'il attend selon ses collègues une convocation des autorités judiciaires qui ont reçu une plainte de l’ambassade du Tchad contre Issa. Il est possible de le joindre. Je pourrai aussi vous mettre en contact avec d’autres blogueurs tchadiens

MN: As mentioned before, Issa is a student and his situation is that of someone who is fighting for the rights of all students. I want to highlight that he is currently free and that he is awaiting a subpoena from the judicial authorities that have received a complaint from the Chadian ambassador in Algeria.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices
* = required field
Email Frequency



No thanks, show me the site