16.12.2023 Author: Viktor Goncharov

Will Chad free itself from the heavy legacy of the past?

Chad's President Idriss Deby

Immediately after the death of Chadian President Idriss Déby, who died in April 2021 from wounds sustained in fighting with rebels in the north of the country, the military announced the dissolution of parliament and government and the establishment of a Transitional Military Council headed by his son, thirty-seven-year-old General Mahamat Idriss Déby.

In doing so, the military ignored the constitutional provision that upon the death of the head of state, the presidency is temporarily transferred to the president of the National Assembly, who within 90 days must hold a new election for president, whose age must be at least 45 years.

Once at the helm of state government, Mahamat Déby declared his intentions to hold an “inclusive national dialog” tasked with reaching a popular consensus on constitutional reform, elections and other political issues. At the same time, he officially pledged not to participate in the upcoming presidential campaign. All this gave rise in opposition circles to some hopes for a move away from the authoritarian system of governance and for an improvement in the overall social and political situation in the country.

Dring his 31 years in power, Idriss Déby brought the country to the point of being among the five poorest countries in the world, despite the fact that since 2003 it has been an oil exporter, which brought it about 60 percent of all foreign exchange earnings, largely plundered by the ruling military dynastic elite.

As a result, about 40 percent of the population is below the poverty line with incomes below $1.9 a day, only 6 percent of the population has access to electricity, one in five residents is literate, only one in three babies is delivered under the supervision of a nurse, and the average life expectancy is 53 years, which is one of the lowest in the world.

However, the opposition’s hopes for a major democratic change in Chad were not to be realized. Simply put, the new military regime, as some experts at the US African Center for Strategic Studies were forced to admit, decided to organize a kind of “masquerade” of the transition period as a diversionary maneuver, and to convene a forum of so-called “national dialogue” instead of holding elections as promised. Its aim was to create the impression, both in the West and at home, that the regime was indeed seeking national reconciliation with all opposing parties in order to make the constitutional elections more successful.

The first step in this direction was a meeting in Doha, the capital of Qatar, in March 2022 between representatives of the Chadian military authorities and the leadership of some 50 Chadian rebel groups. Its purpose was to solicit their participation in the forum of the upcoming “national dialogue.” But experts have observed that only four of the armed groups invited to the meeting have military capabilities that pose a real threat to N’Djamena.

These are the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), the Council of the Military Command for the Salvation of the Republic (CCSMR), the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) and the Union des forces de résistance (UFR).

After protracted negotiations lasting nearly five months, some factions, including the UFDD and UFR, signed a cessation of hostilities agreement with the Transitional Military Council in August in exchange for the release of hostages and amnesty for fighters. Others, including FACT and CCSMR, not believing in the sincerity of the intentions and promises of the military top brass, refused to sign it.

The next activity of the Transitional Military Council was the holding of an “inclusive political dialogue” in N’Djamena in August 2022, just two months before the end of the transitional period, which brought together some 1,400 participants from the military authorities, the political and armed opposition, trade unions and civil society organizations.

Beginning on August 20, the dialogue ended on October 8 with the decision to postpone the elections for another 24 months, confirming Mahamat Idriss Déby as “transitional president” for that time and allowing him to participate as a presidential candidate.

This decision of “sovereign inclusive dialog” caused a wave of indignation among the opposition. One of its representatives, the president of the Chadian Patriotic Movement for the Republic party, said that the resolutions on these issues were imposed by the lobbyists of the military junta in order to remain in power against the will of the people.

Experts at the US Institute of Peace explain this by the fact that most of the participants in this forum were selected from among supporters or individuals directly associated with the former authoritarian regime.

The widely publicized dialogue, according to many observers, served as a “screen,” behind which the desire of military circles to prolong the dynastic rule of the Déby clan with the tacit acquiescence of the West, primarily France, can be seen.

Showing unconditional support to Mahamat Déby, French President Emmanuel Macron even at Idriss Déby’s funeral specifically sat next to him, having flown in from Paris to do so. In eulogizing the deceased, he made clear the nature of the French-Chadian partnership: “I share the grief over the death of a loyal friend and ally who was a first responder to the call of countries in the region to protect Africa from armed terrorism in Sahel in 2013.”

Moreover, in seeing off “his faithful friend and ally” to his final resting place, Macron stated rather unhesitatingly that “France will not allow anyone to question the need to maintain Chad’s integrity, or to threaten its stability today or tomorrow.”

As for the US, it did not consider the events in Chad to be a coup d’état, as otherwise it would have had to suspend economic assistance and impose other sanctions under US law, as it did for Mali, Burkina Faso and Sudan. In this case, the US limited itself to statements about the need to maintain “national dialogue” and hold general elections, which, as the American publication Responsible Statecraft emphasizes, only gives a certain degree of legitimacy to the current military circles that have unconstitutionally come to power.

The Economist points out that Western governments, especially the Élysée Palace, are turning a blind eye to young Déby’s apparent authoritarianism because they fear that the regime’s fall could lead to civil war and increased Russian influence in this already troubled region.

After the failures in Mali and Niger, the article continues, France believes that forcing Déby to honor his pledge not to run for president in the elections is “a luxury it cannot afford.”

Taking this into account, the new military authorities, using the “carrot and stick” policy already tested by the former head of state, are building their relations with the political opposition and the leaders of rebel groups based only on their own interests: co-opting into state structures those members of the opposition who are willing to cooperate with them on their terms, and brutally cracking down on those who do not recognize them and demand the introduction of civilian rule.

As for dissenters, on October 20, 2022, when the 18-month transitional period expired, security forces, using tear gas and firearms to disperse demonstrations, killed 128 people and injured hundreds more, according to opposition leaders.

Mahamat Déby accused these demonstrators of “sedition” and an attempted coup d’état. At the same time, according to authorities, 601 people were arrested in and around N’Djamena, including 83 minors, who were taken to Coro Toro maximum security prison, located in the desert 600 kilometers from the capital. During the four-day trial, 262 people were jailed for 2–3 years, while the rest were given suspended sentences or acquitted.

There may be some truth to this statement by the head of state about the coup attempt. It should be recalled here that in April 2021, a group of Chadian army officers, led by General Idriss Abdéramane Dicko, opposed the establishment of the Transitional Military Council. “We oppose this hasty decision taken without popular debate and call on its members to listen to the Chadian people, without which it will be difficult to govern the country,” the General said.

Moreover, on January 6, this year, the Government of Chad stated that security forces had foiled an attempt by a group of 11 army officers to destabilize the country and undermine constitutional order. It was led by Baradin Berdei Tajio, head of the human rights organization, who had already been sentenced to three years in prison on charges of undermining the constitutional order in February 2021.

In this connection, there is an opinion in expert circles that the agreement signed in November this year with Hungary to send 200 special force soldiers to Chad, ostensibly to fight terrorism and illegal migration, is, in fact, intended to strengthen measures to protect the head of state from a possible coup d’état.

In assessing the recent domestic political situation in and around Chad, analysts believe that if the authorities in N’Djamena continue to follow their previous practice of persecuting the opposition, it will further exacerbate an already complex situation fraught with unexpected explosions. Thus, Cameron Hudson, a former CIA analyst, head of the Africa Division of the US National Security Council, now a leading specialist at the US Center for Strategic and International Studies, compares it “to a powder keg that could explode at any time.”

The British analyst is echoed by The Economist, which, referring to recent events in Gabon, reminds its readers of the unexpected results that excessive enthusiasm for clan authoritarianism can lead to.


Viktor GONCHAROV, African expert, candidate of sciences in economics, especially for online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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