By HANNA BAJWA
Pictured above is late President Idriss Déby at a meeting with the President of Rwanda in 2016.
The death of President Idriss Déby in April saw the end of his three-decade rule and left Chad with a sense of uncertainty. Chad’s constitution says that in the event of a president’s death, the speaker of the National Assembly would organise a new presidential election within 90 days, and until then would serve as the interim head of state. Yet this did not happen. Chad has since been governed by the Transitional Military Council, which is led by the late president’s son, Mahamat Idriss Déby. The military junta has suspended the government, legislature, and constitution – thus fundamentally amounting to a coup. This has not gone unnoticed.
Since the beginning of the political transition from father to son, several protests and demonstrations have been banned and suppressed. At least 16 people were killed at protests in N’Djamena and Moundou between April and May. As of October 2021, there have been a number of protests planned by the opposition and pro-democracy activists in Chad. These protests, however, have been repressed by the government, violating the right to freedom of expression of the citizens of Chad.
The authorities in Chad have evidently used intimidation against protestors and suppressed their rights to not just freedom of expression, but also association and peaceful assembly. Most recently, on October 2nd police fired tear gas at hundreds of demonstrators gathering at the headquarters of the opposing political party. These protests have provided the military junta another opportunity to co-opt opposition voices.
Moreover, the junta has published a transitional constitution to serve as its legal framework, outlining an 18-month plan for the transitional period to occur in which a new charter will be drawn up, culminating in new presidential and legislative elections. This charter has strengthened and supported President Mahamat Déby's rule by essentially giving unrivalled authority to the transitional military council, removing any checks and balances on his executive power.
Déby has also selected and named a 93-member interim legislature and has used these appointments to reward loyalists and appease potential competitors. One-third of the seats are held by women, which has led to the seemingly inclusive nature of the body being championed by transitional authorities. However, this can be seen as a self-serving distraction to what is really going on.
So, it is clear that while some of the opposition have chosen to participate in the legislature and join the interim government, many others continue to protest against the regime. Since the junta’s rise to power, a social movement calling itself Wakit Tama — “the time has come” — has refused to recognise the junta. Their central demand calls for an inclusive national dialogue to establish a democratic transition, rejecting the current process as illegitimate.
Although Déby has ignored this movement so far, there have been various street protests that have amounted to further violent crackdowns. Most recently, on October 2nd, supporters of the Transformateurs (a political party belonging to Wakit Tama) amassed at its headquarters in the capital, N’Djamena, in preparation for an officially approved demonstration. Yet, in an attempt to break up this gathering, the police fired canisters of tear gas and violently dispersed the crowds, wounding dozens.
Chad has a long and complex history regarding security and stability in their region. Chad contributes the largest military contingent of peacekeeping forces to the UN missions in Mali, deals with concerns in the Sahel region for the benefit of their Western partners, and is said to be an ‘impartial and trusted partner’ of the UN, with over 14 UN programmes and agencies operating there. Yet all of this overlooks Chad’s internal instability due to years of armed opposition and civil war that have now continued under the current junta’s rule.
So what can be done about this situation? Establishing a truly inclusive national dialogue in order to reconcile Chad’s authoritarian history and build a consensus around a civilian-led transition could relieve these tensions. However, this would require President Mahamat Déby and his military junta to step down from their position of power. International actors, including Western governments and African intergovernmental organisations, need to recognise that allowing for Déby's rule to continue through hereditary succession ultimately prolongs insecurity and precipitates future instability.
Image: Flickr (Paul Kagame)