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Fleeting Glory in a Wasteland: Wealth, Politics, and Autonomy in Northern Chad

  • Julien Brachet (a1) and Judith Scheele (a2)

Abstract

In January 2012, a new derdé (traditional leader) of the Teda in northern Chad was officially appointed. Held in the Tibesti, a remote, notoriously unruly but strategically important part of the Sahara, the investiture ceremony was attended by Teda from throughout the country and neighboring Libya and Niger, as well as by an impressive number of Chadian civil servants and international diplomats. Yet the ceremony itself was short and messy. Similarly, the historical underpinnings of the institution of the derdé and the selection process were unclear, leaving much room for debate. This uncertainty appears to lie at the heart of the institution of the derdé. Far from a resurgence of “traditional authority” to make up for “state failure” or to partake in the restructuring of postcolonial states—as observed elsewhere on the African continent—the investiture ceremony confirmed the decentralized nature of Teda social organization and the absence of even attempted governance, both with regards to the Chadian state and local political institutions. What mattered from a local point of view were not long-term strategies of power and control, but rather the immediate and gloriously wasteful distribution of wealth. Admiring eyes were turned not toward the derdé or the state officials who appointed him, but instead toward high-ranking military officers, well-dressed urban Libyan Teda, and trans-border smugglers, models of rapid but often short-lived success. This provides a counterexample to the current emphasis on governance and power in the analysis of African states and politics.

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