At the end of last month, Chad’s military junta, the Conseil Militaire de Transition (CMT), declared a general amnesty for nearly 300 individuals charged with “crimes of opinion,” “terrorism,” and “harming the integrity of the state.” The decision partially fulfills the preconditions demanded by the armed Chadian opposition for their participation in an inclusive national dialogue. Since assuming power last April, following President Idriss Déby’s unexpected death in battle, junta leaders have touted this dialogue as a key step in the return to civilian rule. The dialogue, however, fails to include many actors who represent a civilian opposition to the military-led transition.
Instead, the dialogue seeks to engage an armed opposition comprised of politico-military groups deemed rebels or mercenaries by the Chadian state, who have been negotiating the terms of their participation through a technical committee led by former President Goukouni Oueddei. Himself a former rebel, Oueddei’s experience brings authority, respect, and kinship ties that uniquely position him to play the role of mediator.
Many of the armed opposition groups have rebelled against the Chadian state since the 2000s, but they have routinely refused to disarm during previous amnesties offered by the former President Déby. Should his son succeed in bringing these groups to the table at a national dialogue, it may signal a significant change for Chadian politics—though, not for democracy or stability. Instead, it would signal a shift in power distribution without a shift away from the violent means by which power is and has been derived in Chad.
How Chad Arrived at this Juncture
After years of on-again off-again rebellion, an armed opposition group known as the Front pour l’alternance et la concorde au Tchad (FACT), led the most recent sortie into Chadian territory crossing the border with Libya on 11 April, 2021. The column of fighters advanced quickly through the northern Chadian desert defeating Chadian soldiers in a series of battles. By 18 April, FACT fighters had reached an area of Kanem Province near the municipality of Nokou, situated roughly 300km north-northeast from the capital city, N’Djamena.
Officially, the FACT and Chadian soldiers engaged in intense fighting around Nokou where President Idriss Déby joined his troops on the frontlines. During the fighting on 19 April, Déby was wounded and evacuated to N’Djamena where he succumbed to his wounds. His death in combat fulfilled an oft touted and self-made promise that he would die gun in hand. It also conveniently cements Déby’s image as the quintessential Chadian warrior leader, a myth and message that Mahamat Déby continues to propagate.
Déby’s surprising death left the military with a power vacuum, which almost instantly became filled by the 13-member junta. The military leaders unanimously selected Mahamat Déby to lead the country as interim President during a transitional period. The junta then suspended the constitution, the legislature, and the executive branch of government.
“The junta executed a constitutional coup d’état to maintain power and continuity of rule within Déby’s family and allies.”
The younger Déby quickly selected several civilians to occupy ministerial posts. The government included notable allies from the elder Déby’s inner circle, former rebels with important constituencies, and members of political parties that belonged to the opposition. Naming a government functioned to ease tensions among Chad’s political class and further sidelined the democratic opposition actors who dared to challenge the authority and legitimacy of the junta’s power grab.
The junta also quickly published a transitional charter to function as its legal framework. The document outlines the transition’s goals and provides a roadmap to its culmination with elections. The charter, however, leaves many key questions unresolved. It does not stipulate what conditions will be applied to the eventual elections. Nor does it exclude members of the transition from participating in the elections as is the case in similar charters in other contexts. Instead, such decisions will be determined by the inclusive national dialogue, which will also lay the foundation for a new constitution.
In short, in the wake of Idriss Déby’s death, the junta executed a constitutional coup d’état to maintain power and continuity of rule within Déby’s family and allies.
Implications for Chad and Beyond
On the international scene this coup and military transition have flown under the radar. Mahamat Déby has so far successfully portrayed himself as the guarantor of Chadian stability. He has done so by maintaining that the Chadian case is special or unique and thus requires a less stringent application of the African Union’s protocols or sanctions following coups by western governments. So long as the junta continues to profess its desire to organize democratic elections within 18 months, these actors have acquiesced to the junta’s control and have not suspended Chad or imposed sanctions.
Such a stance, however, overlooks just who will take part in the ‘inclusive’ national dialogue. The dialogue appears unlikely to include the most vocal opposition to the junta, which has not taken up arms. A citizens’ movement known as Wakit Tama (Chadian Arabic for “the time has come”) has rejected the notion that the dialogue is representative and refused to participate. The movement has organized several peaceful protests to challenge the legitimacy of the junta and which have been violently repressed by the security forces.
“The dialogue, however, fails to include many actors who represent a civilian opposition to the military-led transition.”
Other movements, such as the l’Observatoire citoyen de transition have attempted a more conciliatory approach. Groups comprising this movement have called on the international community to hold the junta accountable to recommendations of the Africa Union’s Peace and Security Council. These calls have landed on deaf ears, however, as the transitional authorities continue to claim the need for an inclusive national dialogue to determine a new constitution and the electoral process.
The junta’s heavy emphasis on engagement with politico-military groups in this dialogue raises important questions about who will determine the future for Chad. Leaders of these groups have used lethal violence and rebellion as means to gain leverage and political power. Chad remains staunchly in its latest iteration between war and peace.
The actors sitting down to dialogue will not achieve stability, much less sustained peace, prosperity, or democracy. Those who support civilian rule and civilian transition have been excluded from the transition. The junta’s inclusive national dialogue serves their own narrow interests by appeasing their current set of armed opponents and perpetuated their political power through military might and violent repression.
This article originally appeared on ispionline.it as part of a ISPI Dossier “Back from the Barracks: The 2021 Comeback of Putschist Africa.”
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