Chad is the first African country taken off Trump’s travel ban list

Image: Reuters/Philippe Wojazer
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Seven months after it was added to a controversial and expanded travel ban, the Trump administration announced that citizens of Chad will be able to receive visas for travel to the United States.

“Chad has improved its identity-management and information sharing practices sufficiently to meet the baseline security standard of the United States,” the White House said in a statement. The central African nation was added to the list because it ran out of passport paper which prevented it from supplying the homeland security department with samples. Officials also said Chad had “significant” terrorist presence in its borders and was not “adequately” sharing security-related information with the Americans.

Chad welcomed the news, with foreign minister Cherif Mahamat Zene tweeting they were “pleased” with the decision.

When Trump signed the original executive ban on Jan. 2017, it was widely labeled as a “Muslim ban” because it targeted Muslim-majority nations. With Chad taken off the list, the ban still encompasses two Muslim-majority African countries namely Libya and Somalia along with Iran, Syria and Yemen. The list also includes North Korea and Venezuela. After intensive lobbying and pressure on US officials, Iraq was removed from a revised version of the presidential executive ban last March.

The ban on Chad was at odds with its government’s close relationship with Washington, especially when it comes to regional counterterrorism. Located between Libya, Sudan, Niger, Cameroon, Nigeria, and the Central African Republic, Chad is positioned at a key strategic point in a region teeming with terrorist groups like Boko Haram and an Islamic State-affiliated group. The US has also deployed troops to Chad to help find the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls. The French-led counterinsurgency campaign Operation Barkhane is also headquartered in the capital N’Djamena.

The ban also came as the US administration planned to amp its counterterrorism efforts across Africa. Both Pentagon and state department officials reportedly opposed Chad’s ban, noting that such a move risk alienating a reliable ally, especially in the face of an ascendant China which is increasing its military and economic footprint in Africa.

The removal from the list comes as Chad has blocked Facebook, WhatsApp, and other social media apps besides the BBC’s news site. The cutoff came just after a national conference, boycotted by the opposition, recommended constitutional changes that could extend president Idriss Deby’s rule until 2033—he’s been in charge since 1990. The oil-dependent nation has also been plagued by widespread public strikes, precipitated by the plunge in commodity prices and government-mandated austerity measures.

The Trump administration has issued visa bans in the past not just based on security matters. Last September, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Eritrea were banned for refusing to accept their nationals deported from the United States.