In May, Chad embarked on its Fourth Republic. Its new constitution, approved by parliament in April, effectively allows the president (Idriss Deby) to serve two more, six-year terms past his current term – i.e., to remain in office until 2033.
The constitution also contains a new article (105) requiring new cabinet ministers to swear an oath in front of the President and “following the confessional formula sanctioned by the law.” I haven’t been able to track down the precise wording that the Supreme Court requires, but essentially it seems that ministers at the swearing-in ceremony on 10 May had to swear either on a Qur’an or a Bible, and had to invoke the name of God (using the word Allah, although apparently Deby intervened in one case to allow one minister to use the French word “Dieu” or “God”).*
A bigger deal was the situation of Rosine Amane Djibergui, the minister-designate for civil aviation. She refused to swear to God under any name, stating that she felt the demand contradicted the secularity (laïcité) of the Chadian state. She was effectively fired on the spot and replaced by a general. You can watch video of the incident here. Several other sub-cabinet officials were also fired for refusing to swear, in their case because they were Christians who hold that swearing contradicts their faith (a position some Christians took in early America, which is why you sometimes see the phrase “swear or affirm,” for example in the presidential oath of office).
Several Christian pastors have since publicly taken up the issue, arguing that the oath-swearing violates principles of laïcité.
It’s possible that all this bespeaks a nefarious intention on Deby’s part to undermine laïcité or even to “Islamize” Chad, but I actually wonder whether it’s not just about a certain sloppiness and aversion to dissent – in other words, perhaps the authorities didn’t really think through the idea of a new swearing-in formula, or perhaps they adopted it under pressure from one particular lobby group. In either case, the authorities likely didn’t expect any dissent and were probably caught off guard by Djibergui’s stance. In the moment, their reflexive urge was to shut her down, so they just followed that instinct. Deby’s people, I think, are not used to being challenged, especially to their faces.
This is not to say that there was no consultation on the formula. The day before the incident with Djibergui, Deby met with the head of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, the vicar-general of the diocese of N’Djamena, and the deputy secretary-general of the Coalition of Evangelical Churches and Missions in Chad. Presumably they signed off on the new formula, which may also help explain why authorities may have felt caught off guard (and been instinctively defensive) when they started getting objections to the oaths.
On a related note, the head of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs died in January, but the succession involved almost pure continuity: his deputy took over, preserving the power of the Tijaniyya Sufi order within the Council, and two other major religious figures associated with the Council basically moved up one level in the hierarchy.
*Practitioners of other religions also apparently have an option to swear on their “ancestral rite.”