My participation in the seminar on “The Political Marketplace: Analyzing Political Entrepreneurs and Political Bargaining with a Business Lens” at the World Peace Foundation has been an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with the “political marketplace” framework put forward by Alex de Waal. “Political marketplace” refers to “a contemporary system of governance, characterized by pervasive rent-seeking and monetized patronage, in the form of exchange of political loyalty or cooperation for payment, in the context of pervasive violence or threat of violence” (de Waal 2014). This framework offers a fresh perspective on politics everywhere (since political marketplaces are not specific to any particular country or region in the world). In this contribution, I build upon de Waal’s framework to give insights into structural patterns of politics in Chad, a country where I have conducted research for the past ten years. I argue that the Chadian political marketplace is characterized by five main patterns: externally-derived rents, the gap between politico-military entrepreneurs and the cheap combatant labor force who participate in “rent-seeking” rebellions, a violent mode of governing associated with a decentralized control over the instruments of coercion, the structural weakness of the civilian opposition trapped between repression and cooptation, and the exclusion of women.

My concern here is twofold. First, it lies in the human cost of militarized, male-dominated political marketplaces. Such economic and political orders exploit and consume peoples’ lives. Rank and file combatants’ and soldiers’ lives have little value on the political marketplace. In addition, both combatants and civilians have to deal with the reproduction of socio-economic and political hierarchies produced in and by violent confrontations. Second, following Robin Luckham’s and Tom Kirk’s invitation to “turn an end-user lens upon the global, regional and national power relations which determine the security of poor and vulnerable people” (Luckham & Kirk 2013), I wish to draw attention to the role of international interventions. The Chadian political marketplace, which is integrated to the global political economy and to global patronage networks, is fueled by externally-driven rents and foreign support. In Chad as in many countries considered “fragile,” international interventions promote a violent stability and a fraudulent democratization: they sustain the very political developments they attempt to curb.

1. Externally-derived rents and global political capital

Government revenues are obtained primarily through rents. The exploitation of oil started in 2003. The original mechanism for monitoring oil revenues that was imposed in 1999 by the World Bank was already dismantled in 2006. Oil revenues have been used to buy political loyalties and to reinforce the military capacity of the state. It is no secret that a significant portion of oil revenues paid for the weapons that allowed government forces to defeat rebels in 2008 and 2009.

Idriss Déby benefits from another kind of externally-derived rent. He has acquired global political capital through diplomatic positioning and military activism: Chad’s international partners, most notably France, are not eager to criticize such a useful ally. Since the end of the proxy war between Chad and Sudan at the end of 2009, Chad has been considered a stable country. At first glance, the situation has improved. There is no more rebellion. Pick-up trucks no longer criss-cross the country going to and from the rebel-held zones. Idriss Déby has apparently traded his fatigues for a suit and tie in an attempt to be seen as the region’s democratic builder and pacifier. He has rendered services. Last year, as 2,000 Chadian soldiers fought with 4,000 of their French counterparts in Operation Serval in Mali, President François Hollande turned a blind eye to Chadian involvement in the Central African Republic. Scandals engulfing Idriss Déby have been rapidly forgotten in Paris. The arrest and intimidation of politicians, journalists and military officials who were wrongly accused of a coup in May 2013 only aroused very measured reactions on the part of Western countries (Marchal 2013). Two months later, a detachment of the Chadian Army was invited to take part in the Bastille Day Military Parade in Paris.

Leaders of so-called weak states have a number of ways of winning international recognition. This is all the more true since counter-terrorism initiatives have multiplied and since governments in the Sahel-Sahara region have received substantial military assistance from the US and France. As I complete this contribution, France is to replace Operation Serval by a new military operation spanning the wider Sahel region: the main objective of Operation Barkhane, which will be based in N’Djamena, is counter-terrorism. The skills with which leaders of Chad and of other countries play the “bad neighborhood” card (Lombard 2013) to negotiate foreign support do not improve people’s daily life.

2. “Rent-seeking rebellions” from the perspectives of politico-military entrepreneurs and of the cheap combatant labor force

Chadian rebellions resemble the “rent-seeking rebellions” described by de Waal (de Waal 2014). Political elites and political intermediaries may threaten to organize a mutiny or a rebellion to be in a better negotiating position. Taking up arms has become a means to claim rights and resources (Debos 2011). Since 1990 dozens of peace agreements have been signed; they have been reduced to political bargaining among prominent actors. Such post-war arrangements benefit some and exclude others. Rebel leaders trade their political loyalty for lucrative positions. Intermediate elites negotiate to make a good deal, while rank and file combatants do not have much to negotiate.

In a militarized political marketplace, politico-military leaders easily recruit and replace their cheap labor force. Combatants do not follow a career path nor join the political elites (even if they survive war). They dream of spectacular upward social mobility but they seldom experience it with weapons in hand. Rents are unequally redistributed. The gap between the leadership and the rank and file combatants is both a feature of rebellion in Chad and in the wider region, in particular the Central African Republic (Lombard 2012). Militarized political marketplaces produce and reproduce power hierarchies and inequalities.

Under such circumstances, political loyalties are fluid. The relationships between opposed forces are unstable, and brothers in arms may soon be opponents. Sudden shifts in alliances, which are puzzling to observers with a Western perspective on conflicts, are often associated with disorder and chaos. Yet, in a factional system, warfare is not unregulated: border-crossing and fluid loyalties are the result of constant bargaining among politico-military entrepreneurs.

In this regard, a key question is: do rebel leaders who exchange their loyalty for resources and positions within the political system have other options? Is transforming their rebel group into a civilian opposition party an option? The peace agreements that have been signed in the past 20 years provided that rebel movements would transform into political parties, but such a shift did not occur. In a militarized political marketplace, this is not a realistic option. Rebel leaders are not more opportunistic than other political entrepreneurs. They are not less opportunistic either. They are merely trapped into a political system where arms have remained the key to political success. Rebel leaders who want to survive andto make a career have no choice: they have to join the government fold.

3. Governing with arms: impunity and decentralized control over the instruments of coercion

Rent-seeking is, however, an incomplete explanation for armed rebellions. The threat of violence is used by rebels, but most importantly by power-holders. Where actual and potential threats coincide with massive inequalities, where violence and impunity are routinized, it is no surprise that people enter the bush to protect themselves and their relatives. In Dar Tama, a department on the border with Darfur, almost all ex-combatants I interviewed told me that they (or their relatives) had been victims of violence before they took up arms.

The threat of violence is associated with a decentralized control over the instruments of coercion. Idriss Déby’s successful coup attempt in 1990 coincided with the end of the cold war and the acceleration of neoliberal policies. This global change led to a significant transformation of the mode of governing: the links between the state and men in arms have been informalized. Security forces (or, rather, “insecurity forces”) have gradually gained autonomy. This process has fostered uncertainties and insecurity. I often heard this commentary in Chad: “when someone was arrested under Habré, we knew things would go poorly for him or her, but we knew who had given the order. Today, we don’t know.” While the dispersal of the means of violence is often perceived as a state weakness, it may also be fully-fledged mode of governing. By saying so, I do not mean that Chadian authorities control all the armed men who threaten or extort civilians: a large number of them work for themselves. However, if the level of control of the state over men in arms is open to question, the threat of violence with impunity and the possibility that an anonymous attack could be connected to state power have effects. When political personalities, human rights activists, or ordinary citizens are assaulted, people are unsure of the identity of the aggressors. Are they bandits who rob passerby, or, rather, individuals well-placed in the power apparatus who execute a politically motivated order? Should one blame bad fortune or power-holders? Whatever the reason for the aggression, the simple fact that one poses the question produces effects. Any political opponent, activist or journalist, who has been the victim of an aggression, has wondered about the potential links between this aggression and his or her activities. Uncertainties generate fear that, in turn, may discourage resistance.

4. Repression and cooptation: the structural weakness of the civilian opposition

What do political parties look like in a militarized political marketplace? In Chad, the civilian opposition negotiates its survival in the gray zone between repression and cooptation without much hope to truly weigh on the political trajectory of the country. Political parties are numerous and weak. They have to face the powerful clientelist machine of the ruling party, the Patriotic Salvation Movement (known as by its French acronym MPS). Moreover, the boundary between the majority and the opposition is blurred. Opponents regularly rally to the ruling party, while fake opposition parties are manufactured to create the false perception of political competition (CSAPR 2013). The problem does not lie in the political opponents’ alleged lack of commitment. The very functioning of the political system prevents the formation of powerful coalitions that would be able to defy the ruling party.

What are the effects of elections in such a context? They are unlikely to bring any significant change. However, international actors have put efforts and resources in the organization of elections in Chad. In 2002, in response to Déby’s decision to amend the constitution in order to retain power, the political opposition formed a coalition and called for a boycott of all electoral consultations. The main political opponents did boycott the subsequent elections. In 2007, the European Union encouraged and facilitated an Agreement that brought together the civilian opposition, the ruling party and government officials. By signing the 13 August 2007 Agreement, opposition parties accepted to participate in the electoral process. A few months later, in February 2008, as the rebel coalition launched an unsuccessful attack on the capital, the leader of the coalition of opposition parties, Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh, was arrested by governmental forces. He is still considered “disappeared.” This well-targeted assassination has dramatically changed the political life of the country.

However, after a short period of unease, negotiations resumed and the European Union pushed for the implementation of the Agreement. As a result, presidential and legislative elections were organized in 2011. The MPS won an absolute majority at the Parliamentary election. A few months later, major opposition figures boycotted the presidential election. With no surprise, the President Idriss Déby was re-elected. In 2012, local elections were held. The opposition was able to take several neighborhoods (“arrondissements”) of N’Djamena as well as two major cities in the South, Moundou and Bebedjia. The devil is, however, in the details. While some opposition parties were able to win elections in some specific areas of the capital city and in the South, they did not have the same room for maneuver in the North and the East, regions that are considered strategic by N’Djamena. For example, in the Dar Tama department, the only candidates in the legislative elections belonged to the ruling party. Why bother falsify the elections when it is easier to coopt opponents and to prevent the emergence of a strong civilian opposition?

The 2007 Agreement’s aim was also to promote an appropriate environment for participatory politics and credible elections. Public administration’s de-politicization and de-militarization were among its most ambitious provisions. However, they have never been implemented. Interestingly, the European Union as well as political parties focused on the elections. They have not pushed for the implementation of these provisions. In Chad as elsewhere, it is easier to organize elections than to restructure state administration and to alter the mode of governing.

The previous elections have not modified the rules of the militarized political marketplace. Under such circumstances, one may wonder: for whom are such elections credible? For electors and citizens? Or for international actors eager to confer an external legitimacy to governments which have rendered useful services?

5. A male-dominated political marketplace

Access to the public sphere and the political field is gendered. A small group of female activists are well-known for their involvement in human rights, women’s rights, justice and peace issues. They are however exceptions in a country where the political marketplace is both militarized and male-dominated. All political parties have male leaders. Less than 15% of MPs are female. Women are underrepresented in state administration. In 2010, there were only 2 female prefects among 56 prefects. No woman has ever been appointed governor (AFDCPT 2010).

While the exclusion of women is part of a continuum of social structures that perpetuate gender inequalities and forms of domination, it is compounded by the very functioning of the political marketplace. Militarization and the exclusion of women from politics and state administration reinforce themselves. Women seldom bear arms and pursue careers as fighters. When they do, they are little rewarded. The few female combatants who were recruited into the United Front for Change in the mid-2000s did not benefit from their participation in war; their leader was assassinated after she rallied to the government. Politico-military entrepreneurs are male and they consider their occupation as a men-only activity. While women under-representation is not specific to Chad (or to Africa), the militarization of the political marketplace and the associated hegemonic militarized masculinity make it even more difficult for women to participate in politics and to promote their rights.


This short contribution on the political marketplace in Chad is an invitation to take issues of repression, social injustice and inequalities seriously. The human cost of such militarized political marketplaces is high. This contribution is also an invitation to consider the role of international interventions in the reproduction of such economic and political orders. Interventions that focus on the stability of such countries without paying much attention to the actual functioning of political marketplaces are a double mistake. First, international actors easily forget that so-called stable countries are not that stable themselves and that they participate in the instability of the region – consider the role of Chad in the Central African Republic. Even if we use international actors’ own standards and goals to evaluate their own policies, we have to conclude that they have failed. “Stabilization missions” and counterinsurgency have never had positive effects in the long run, neither in the Horn of Africa (see Reno 2014) nor in the “Greater Middle East.” Second, the legitimacy of such interventions that claim to promote stability in fragile countries should be questioned. Apparent stability very often hides the continuation of forms of domination. When international actors support rulers who are (often wrongly) considered as safeguards for the stability of the region and as partners in the “war on terror”, they sustain damaging militarized political marketplaces. The global political capital acquired by Idriss Déby is bad news for people in Chad: Déby knows that his survival depends more on external support than on internal legitimacy. Interventions drafted to maintain an apparent stability render useful services to power-holders, not to the people.



Association des Femmes pour le Développement et Culture de la Paix au Tchad (AFDCPT), 2010, Proposition de réponses supplémentaires du Tchad. Retrieved from:

Comité de Suivi de l’Appel à la Paix et à la Réconciliation (CSAPR), 2013, Les partis politiques tchadiens. Quelle démocratie pour quelle paix ? Retrieved from:

De Waal Alex, 2014, “The Concept of the ‘Political Marketplace’, Introduction to the Seminar “The Political Marketplace: Analyzing Political Entrepreneurs and Political Bargaining with a Business Lens”, World Peace Foundation.

Debos Marielle, 2011,  “Living by the gun in Chad. Armed violence as a practical occupation”, Journal of Modern African Studies, (49)3, p. 409-428.

Lombard Louisa 2013, “The Usefulness of a ‘Bad Neighborhood’”, Blog Post retrieved from:

Lombard Louisa, 2012, Raiding Sovereignty in Central African Borderlands, Phd dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from:

Luckham Robin, Kirk Tom, 2013 “The Two Faces of Security in Hybrid Political Orders: A Framework for Analysis and Research”, Stability: International Journal of Security & Development, 2(2): 44, pp. 1-30,

Marchal Roland, 2013, “Le Tchad entre deux guerres? Remarques sur un présumé complot”, Politique africaine, 130, p. 213-223.

Reno William, 2014, “Twenty-First Century State-Building in Somalia”, Contribution to the Seminar “The Political Marketplace: Analyzing Political Entrepreneurs and Political Bargaining with a Business Lens”, World Peace Foundation.


The author thanks Alex de Waal, Louisa Lombard, Justine Brabant as well as the participants in the seminar on the political marketplace for their insightful comments on an earlier version of this text.


Marielle Debos is Assistant Professor in Political Science, University Paris West Nanterre, Institute for Social Sciences of Politics (ISP).

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