Ladiba Gondeu; University of N´Djamena, Chad
Published in 2020 by L’Harmattan, Paris
Available at: https://www.editions-harmattan.fr/livre-valeurs_republicaines_et_vivre_ensemble_au_tchad_appartenances_religieuses_ladiba_gondeu-9782343189024-65940.html
Social science analyses by historians and anthropologists usually refer to the past. However, due to the significance of their subject, some publications maintain their topical relevance over time. In fact, sometimes current affairs can render such research even more topical. Ladiba Gondeu’s book is one of these. In Valeurs républicaines et vivre-ensemble au Tchad. Appartenances religieuses (Republican Values and Coexistence in Chad. Religious allegiances), which he calls an essay, Gondeu shows that essential political debates in Chad since independence have revolved around cohabitation and peaceful coexistence. He describes how coexistence has been anything but peaceful in this central African country over the past 61 years, however. Of course, when his work was published in 2020 Gondeu could not have foreseen the sudden death of long-time president Idriss Déby Itno and the subsequent military coup, nor the takeover of power by a military transitional government in April 2021. Yet precisely because of this dynamic, the issues of “coexistence and republic” as well as the future political order of the country are currently of unsurpassed relevance. Since the coup, the opposition and civil society have been discussing the restoration of a democratic order in a religiously and ethnically diverse stratified state, in which the small but powerful elite has enriched itself for decades while the population remains completely impoverished. Gondeu, a social anthropologist at the University of N’Djamena, enumerates and discusses these points.
Gondeu chooses the disputes over the introduction of a new personal and family code to reveal the complexity of Chadian society. Through an examination of discussions about the new legal code, he sheds light on the different groups and lines of conflict that characterise the country. Furthermore, along these lines of conflict, he shows why no sense of national identity has been able to develop in Chad since the end of the French colonial rule. On the contrary, regional, linguistic, ethnic and religious affiliations continue to determine self-identification, a sense of belonging and social and political alliances. Equality and equal treatment of men and women are a long way off. He blames the authoritarian political leadership for the main burden of the cleavages, as it has used them for decades in a precisely calculated way for the preservation of its own political and economic power.
By detailing the – still not adopted – personal and family code (Chadian legislation is modelled on that of the France), Gondeu exposes the different social currents and interests that are hidden behind the dry word “cleavage”. The new code, which encompasses 991 articles on 243 pages and was worked on from 1994 to 2000, is often in conflict with Muslim and Christian values. Moreover, traditional law, which has been on an equal footing with state and religious jurisprudence since colonial times, also sets different standards than modern jurisprudence in the code, as Gondeu illustrates.
Referring to selected paragraphs of the draft of the new code, Gondeu explains the different views on the status of women, marriage, inheritance, adoption and many other points of the Protestant and Catholic churches, Islamic authorities represented in the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, and traditional law. The various principles, doctrines and traditions handed down are difficult to reconcile. It is therefore not surprising that it has still not been possible to reach agreement on the code. Yet it was drafted with the intention of strengthening national identity and homogenising the legal authorities.
Gondeu is not primarily concerned with the adoption of personal and family law, but with the values that make the population of a state a nation. Despite all the deficits and cleavages he points out, he nevertheless concludes optimistically. On the one hand, he relies on the secularism enshrined in the constitution. But ultimately, his hope for the feasibility of social transformation rests on his fellow citizens and especially on the younger generation. Together they will grow a “republican tree”, as he calls it. This republican public spirit is needed today more than ever. After all, Chad should not remain in the hands of a ruling dynasty, in the opinion of this reviewer.
Ladiba Gondeu also introduces the reader to the established literature on the theory of state and society. This serves as an interpretive basis for his own analysis of the complexity of Chadian society and politics and the debates that have arisen from it. His focus on the text of the planned code is particularly original and helpful. As an insider and close observer of Chadian politics, Gondeu has a sharpened eye for nuance. In some places, a list of acronyms would have been helpful. Otherwise, the book is an impressive read for anyone who wants to better understand and contextualise the complexity of Chad and its cleavages.
Reviewed by: Helga Dickow
To all contributions of the ALMA Reviews Blog
Foto: ©Cynthia Matonhodze, Harare, Zimbabwe