Chad after Idriss Déby’s death: comments and projections

Fecha 2/05/2021 por Raimundo Gregoire Delaunoy

On April 20th, the longtime President of Chad was killed and, according to the official statement, no specific information was given. Beyond this confusing issue, the fact is that Idriss Déby, who had recently won the presidential election, is dead and, therefore the country is facing an unknown fate.

Raimundo Gregoire Delaunoy | May 2nd, 2021

In order to understand the situation, it is necessary to briefly explain  the context in which Deby’s death happened. As it would be too long to describe the whole scenario, the focus will be put on the latest circumstances that took place before the passing away of Idriss Déby.

Firstly, presidential elections were held on April 11th, in an electoral process that was boycotted by three of the main opposition candidates. These latter ones argued that the insecurity and the lack of transparency, among other problems, where an obstacle to democratic elections.

At the same time, Idriss Déby’s regime experienced clashes with the Front for Change and Concorde in Chad (FACT), a rebel group founded in 2016, that supposedly has 1.500 fighters and that has found shelter in the southern part of Libya’s territory. After fighting against Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), in 2017 they signed a pact of ‘non-agression’ with Haftar and in 2019 became part of this latter’s forces. As it can be seen, the FACT is composed by tchadian mercenaries that, due to their implication in the Libyan conflict, were able to form a well equiped strength. Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that, according to local and foreign sources, the FACT lost at least 300 fighters during the latest clashes -which started on April 11th, the day of the presidential election- against the Chadian government.

It is necessary to add that while the FACT members are mainly Tubus (an ethnical group spread through Chad, Libya and Niger), Idriss Déby was a Zaghawa. While this is not the main reason of the confrontation between the FACT and Déby’s regime, it could be relevant in the further events that could take place in the political and social arena. Why? Basically, because the Tubus would surely like to return to power and other ethnical grups, like the Arabs, could also have the same goal in mind. However, the Tubus and Arabs would not be the only ethnical groups implied in the fight for power as Déby’s nepotism generated annoyance and rage in the Zaghawa people. In fact, an opposition branch emerged during the latest years and confronted the abuse of power of the recently dead president. 

Finally, on April 19th,the official results of the presidential election, held on April 11th, were published. Idriss Déby won with 79.32% of the votes and therefore assured a sixth period as President of Chad. The participation rate was 64.81% and the process was contested by opposition parties and the civil society. Among other accusations, the main were political harassment, violence against civilians, imprisonment of political rivals and lack of transparency. As a matter of fact, Human Rights Watch published a report about the mentioned abuses.

What will happen now

The fight against terrorism is the main topic that keeps attention, as Idriss Déby played an important role in Sahel’s counterterrorism. For instance, Chadian forces joined the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and also were part of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF). Even more, Chad had sent some troops to Nigeria, in order to attack and control Boko Haram movements in that country. Now, the big question is what will happen but there should not be any big change in Chad’s approach to this issue. Albeit, in the short-term, Chadian forces could return to Chad, in order to maintain the internal security of the country and, especifically, to confront FACT and other rebel groups that, eventually, could follow the steps of the Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic (CCMSR), which has joined the FACT in its political-military fight against the Chadian government. In fact, there are reports about the withdrawal ()  of Chadian troops from the triple border. Also, France has already expressed its concern and Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, recently recognised that they have analysed if Chad will be able or not to accomplish the military engagements in the Sahel. Furthermore, it should be put on the table the possibility that AQMI and Islamic State decide to attack Chad, so that they force Chadian troops to return to the country and, therefore, allow the terrorists to achieve some victories in the Lake Chad and triple border areas. In this scenario, it is not a surprise that on April 27th 12 Chadian militaries were killed in an attack mady by terrorists in the Lake Chad region.

France has lost a big ally in the Sahel and, thus, it is a logical thing that Emmanuel Macron declared that France will support the Transitional Military Council (TMC). Security is one of the most important issues for the French government and Chad’s efforts in counter-terrorism are well appreciated by France, especially after Chad deployed 1.200 militaries in the triple border region (Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso), where Barkhane -whose headquarters are located in N’Djamena- is already fighting against terrorist groups.

The tie with France has been very strong in the military field, and, for example, Idriss Déby was able to send 2.000 troops in 2013 to northern Mali. That is why Chad is a key player for France in the Sahel. As a matter of fact, Déby confronted more than ten rebellions or attempted coups, highlighting those of 2006, 2008 and 2019, and in the two last ones, he received France’s military support, something that allowed him to continue in power.

Another relevant aspect will be the challenge of having a military-civilian transition that allows Chad to have stability and start a process of slow, but progressive democratisation. In regard to this issue, a transitional chart has been published and it created three main bodies. The most important is the Transitional Military Council (TMC) will be led by Mahamat Déby. The TMC will be in charge of the security aspects, the peace of the nation, the stability of the country and the main frameworks of cultural, political and economic affairs. A Transitional Government, composed by the Primer Minister and ministers, has also been established and its main task will be to “lead and implement the national policy defined by the Transitional Military Council”.  As it may be seen, it will not be an independent entity and it should work within the limits given by the TMC. Finally, the Transitional National Council -whose members will be chosen by the TMC’s President- is going to be responsible for the legislative function and will examine and adopt a new Constitution Project.

Currently, Mahamat Déby -Idriss Deby’s son- has come to power as the chief of the Transitional Military Council. Even though he has been described as a respected and well prepared leader, the problem is that the Chadian Constitution has been overtaken/surpassed. In fact, according to this latter one, in case of a void presidency, the President of the National Assembly should hold the attributions of the President and if there was an impediment for that, then the first Vice-President should come into power. Furthermore, article 82 of the Constitution establishes that the interim President cannot dissolve the National Assembly, nor change the Constitution or remove members of the government. Unfortunately, these three limitations have not been respected by the Transitional Military Council, which has argued that they have done that in order to preserve national security. In this context, those measures have been categorised as part of a military coup. Thus, the situation of the militaries will be a key issue, as a split of the Chadian forces could destabilize even more the social and political situation. Actually, there have been some testimonies of internal divisions within the Chadian army but there have been no official statement. So, until now, it seems that those informations are merely rumours or just opinions but, as expressed in this article, Mahamat Déby will have to face the challenge of conveincing the older generals of his capacities and, at the same time, keep united the ethnically mixed Chadian forces.

It must be pointed out that, on April 26th, Albert Pahimi Padacke was appointed as the new Prime Minister. This designation was rejected by the opposition, which has claimed that Padacke was a former member of Idriss Déby’s cabinet (he was Prime Minister between 2016 and 2018). Even if he participated in the recently held presidential election, obtaining the second place with nearly 10% of the votes, he is seen as a continuity of the old regime. Nevertheless, external powers, like the United States and France, have approved the appointment of Padacke. Basically, because he is a civilian and not a military, something that could reinforce the necessity of a civilian or civilian-military transition instead of a merely military transitional government. This latter issue is very relevant, as clashes between policemen and protesters have erupted in N’Djamena and the southern part of the country. The confrontations have left  at least six dead, 36 wounded and 12 arrested people. So, that is why it is so important that the TMC has already named a new government, which has been recognised by Saleh Kebzabo, main oppository of Idriss Déby. The leader of the National Union for Democracy and Renewal (UNDR) declared that they made this decision in order to be part of the transitional government. In regard to this latter one, it included some opposition members and even Lydie Beasssemda, the only woman that ran for the recently held presidential election (arriving in the third place). The fact that Mahamat Ahmat Alhabo, from the Party for Freedom and Development (PFD), has been appointed as Minister of Justice and Human Rights can be seen as a signal of conceding power to the opposition. Also, it must be highlighted that the cabinet will have 40 members and nine of them will be women. Finally, the creation of a Ministry of National Reconciliation and Dialogue -given to Acheick Ibn Oumar, a former rebel- seems to be interesting and, consequently, something to observe during the political process of the transition.

Another key issue is the relation between the rebel groups, the TMC and the transitional government. While the rebels of the FACT stated, on April 25th, that they were keen to a ceasefirse and talks that could lead to a political arrengement, the TMC rejected their offer and declared that there would not be any dialogue with them. Even more, the head of the TMC, Mahamat Déby, claimed that they would ask Niger to provide help in order to capture and bring to justice those ‘war criminals’. Some days later, on April 29th, the FACT knocked down a helicopter of the Chadian Armed Forces, worsening the situation and demonstrating that the military confrontation will not stop before an agreement is signed.

Finally, Chad’s situation has spread fears and worries along the Sahel and other bordering regions. For example, the Head of the Presidential Council of Libya, Mohammed Menfi, and the recently elected President of Niger, Mohamed Bazoum, held a phone call in which they shared views about the current situation in Chad. On the same line, on April 24th, Libya, Niger and Sudan expressed their concern about Chad’s situation and, among other issues, called for a meeting of the African Union Security Council. Menfi went beyond the diplomatic encounter and ordered the Libyan army to secure the southern border with Chad. On April 27th, South Sudan sent a security representative to Chad, while on April 29th a mission of the African Union arrived to N’Djamena. Its delegation should stay in the chadian capital until May 6th and will publish a report with conclusions not later of May 8th.

Conclusions

Idriss Déby was a symbol of an old school-type military leader, that is, one that used to wear the uniform and go the battle front. He was one of the last African autocrats or dictators coming from the militaries, such as Muammar Al Ghaddafi, Omar Al Bashir or Isaias Afwerki, that gave political stability but through autoritharism and a regime that put individual or collective freedom -and even Human Rights- under the security needs. While being able to make some tiny changes in Chad’s political system, he just disguised a leadership of a past era. Therefore, even if the sudden murder of Déby was a shock for the country -Chad was not prepared to a quick and unexpected transition- it may be an opportunity to democratise the institutionality of the country and, the most important, to strengthen Chad as a modern State. Being one of the poorest nations in the world, the task will be tough and very riskful, especially with the current context of insecurity, instability and changes in the Sahel and neighbouring regions or countries.  

In regard with the ideas exposed in the previous paragraph, there should be an análisis and revision of the political stability model based on authorisarism. In different contexts and with diverse variables, it has failed in a lot of African countries. The process of political and social change that started in the Maghrebian states in 2011 is a proof of that failure and Algeria, Libya and Tunisia are well demonstrated and studied cases. In the Sahel, Mali has tried to advance steps in the democratisation process but the security risks and the lack of good governance have become a massive osbtacle. Similiar situations affect other Sahelian states, such as Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. Nevertheles, the bet for democratic stability has to be a priority. The big deal is how to compatibilise that task with the capacity of solving current problems and, especially, in urgent issues like counterterrorism, immigration, climate change, covid-19’s pandemic, social unrest and human development.

So, the current situation of Chad must be analysed taking into account the regional context, in which there are lot of menaces (terrorism, drug smuggling, person trafficking, climate change, intercommunity violence, poltical and social instability, among others), conflicts (war in Mali and Libya, Gerd dispute,  political and social instability in Central African Republic, weak stability in South Sudan and transition in Sudan, Niger and Mali) and even nearly failed States, Chad was seen as an example of stability and this allowed Idriss Déby to control the country with an iron fist. Now, Chad will face the mission of maintaining the stability but, at the same time, starting a democratisation process. If it is already a massive task for a nation that has no democratic tradition, the challenge seems even tougher due to the previously described current context.

In this scenario, it is probably that the main powers support the TMC and the transitional government, even if, according to some elements, it is against democratic principles. Actually, France has expressed its will to help Deby’s son and the United Nations has declared that Idriss Déby’s death was a “loss of an essential partner”, demonstrating that the securrity issues are far more relevant than democratic reforms. In the same line, Amina Abba Sidick, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Idriss Déby, has said that even democracy is essential, sometimes the reality makes impossible to avoid some situations or decisions, that is, to put the security as the priority issue. That is why he suggests to support the TMC in order to maintain the unity and stability of the country. As it can be seen, pragmatism seems to be the most accepted approach in the current context as regional and external powers know that the collapse of Chad could have disastrous consequences for the Sahel and bordering regions.

The present conflict will be a test for the G5 Sahel, in order to see if they can take the responsibility of mediating in the conflict. According to some information, the G5 Sahel asked Niger and Mauritania to play an active role in this issue, something that could also have positive consequences, in case of achieving good results, for the transitional processes that both countries are witnessing. If they are able to manage the current conflict towards a civilian transition that paves the way to more democratic institutionality in Chad, including transparent and democratic elections, they could strengthen their leadership as presidents of Mauritania and Niger, countries that also need to work hard for improvements in their quest for a stable and more democratic institutionalities. At the same time, it will be a good way to measure the extent of the diplomatic arms of France and if Emmanuel Macron will understand that his latest failures (Mali and Libya) impose him not to play an active role and just give the demanded support. Concerning other African countries, it will be a challenge for integration blocs (as CEDEAO, Sahelo-Saharian Community, African Union) and neighbouring States. In this point, it could be a good opportunity to see mediations from the Maghrebian countries or even from those coming from the Horn of Africa, as conflicts in the Sahel have direct implications for the mentioned regions.

Another relevant topic is the presence of thousands of mercenaries in Libya. Since last February, Libya has a national union government -something that happened after seven years of confrontation between the National Government (GNA) and Khalifa Haftar’s forces- and recently have been signed some agreements, including, among others, a cease-fire arrangement. Furthermore, different parties involved in the conflict have stated that it is imperative to expel or withdraw diverse mercenary forces that currently are involved in Libya. This could have important consequences for Chadian rebel groups that are based in Libya’s southern region but also for neighbouring countries. What could happen with the rebels, and especially the FACT, if they are compeled to quit Libyan territory but without being able to return to Chad? This is just one of the questions about this issue and, in fact, United Nations’ Security Councial has already expressed its concern about the future of nearly 25,000 thousand mercenaries that currently are in Libya.

The consolidation of a civilian transition will strongly depend on the ability of the FACT to be a leader of diverse rebel groups that represent different ethnical groups. The civil society can put a lot of pressure and, for example, the Union of Syndicats of Chad (UST), called the people to go on strike and to protest against a transition led by a military. Also, the participation of the rebels should be taken into account, as the FACT has already expressed, on April 24th, their desire of a cease-fire that is accompanied by a political solution to the conflict. In regard to this issue, it is important to recall that the FACT has a political purpose (to topple Déby) and, at least until now, they are just a rebel group trying to change the political scenario and not a terrorist grup. Thus, in order to have a strong and durable dialogue, they should be part of the transition, as an exclusion of them could lead to further confrontations between the FACT (and maybe other rebel groups that have declared their support to them) and the TMC. So, the latter one’s decision to do not negotiate with the FACT, officialized on April 25th, can be categorised as a mistake. However, there have been positive signals, as the announcement of a transitional government with civilians and opposition members in it, the support of the Syndical Confederation of Chad (CST) and the meeting between Mahamat Déby and representatives of the CNJT, among others.

It should be said that the current situation in Chad is a demonstration of how different political, social and military issues are so connected between them. Chad is part of the Sahel, a region that is always linked with the Maghreb, Wesstern Africa and the Horn of Africa. In these three geopolitical zones, diverse players are defending their interests and, therefore, complicating even more the board. For example, the dispute between Turkey and Qatar against United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia -even though there have been some approaches during the last weeks- is taking place in Libya  and Somalia, but also in the Eastern Mediterranean. In the case of Egypt, it is implied in the Gerd’s conflict (against Ethiopia and involving Sudan), has played an important role in Libya -where it confronts Turkey- and is always paying attention to what happens in its southern borders (that is whay Chad is very relevant for Egypt). Russia is a key actor in Central African Republic, but also in Libya and even in the Horn of Africa (mainly Sudan), while the United States and the European Union have a strong presence in the Sahel and Libya.  There are more examples of how connected the diplomatic moves and the geopolitical interest are, so it seems that the region composed by the Maghreb, the Sahel and the Horn of Africa may get even more attention and will witness the fight for power between the most powerful nations but also among regional or other international key players.

It is important to understand that Chad’s developments could aggravate the humanitarian situation in the country and in the Sahel, a region in which, according to a report published by UN on April 27th, 29 million people were in need of assistance. Even more, OCHA has established that 6,4 million people are in need of assistance in Chad but only 3,8 millions of them have been targeted. The country hosts 473,000 refugees and has 236,000 internally displaced people.  Futhermore, nearly 4 million people are facing alimentary insecurity, a number that could rise up to 5,1 millions during the June-August period. Finally, 15 of the 23 provinces have an alarming nutritional situation. Refugiados y desplazados.

Internally, it must not be forgotten that clashes between herders and farmers have been taking place in the Salamat region (Southeastern region of Chad) and this situation could worsen with the sum of various of the elements previously mentioned in this article.

Finally, it is impossible to project what will happen in the future, as it depends on the international developments taking place in Chad. In this regard, there are three main scenarios. The first one is that Idriss Deby’s son gives continuity to his father’s regime, something that could be very bad news for the Chadian people but good news to the regional or international powers that do not want to lose an excellent ally in their fight against terrorism in the Sahel and the Chad Lake Basin. The second one is a transitional period in which opposition forces progressively come into power. It could be through a national unity government or due to a well constructed relation between the official power (the 18-months TMC), the civil society and the political parties. The third one is the rupture of the regime and political institutionality, something that could lead to unpredictable or unknown scenarios. This should be the worst of all the situations, as it could plunge Chad into chaos and, therefore, worsen the already complex context of the Sahel, Horn of Africa and the North of Africa.

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