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One year after the death of Idriss Déby, a transition still uncertain

A year ago, the Chadian army announced the death of Idriss Déby, killed at the front in the fight against the rebels. A military council headed by his son Mahamat Idriss Déby then took power and promised a democratic transition… which now seems stalled.

On April 20, 2021, a page is turned in Chad. The radio-television announces the death of Idriss Déby, leader of the country for 30 years, assassinated at the front by the rebels. Heading a transitional military council, the president’s son, Mahamat Idriss Déby, took power for an 18-month term and promised to organize elections.

However, the “national reconciliation dialogue”, which was supposed to allow this return to democratic order, has since been delayed. As negotiations between Chadian rebels and the military government stall, Qatar began mediation on March 13 to try to find common ground.

Military coup

A year ago, during his first speech as president, Mahamat Idriss Déby, only 37 years old, tried to reassure the population. “The Transitional Military Council does not have the ambition to rule the country alone,” he said sheepishly, eyes glued to his notes.

Although it corresponds, according to the Constitution, to the President of the National Assembly to guarantee the transition until new elections in the event of the death of the President, the Military Council headed by his son has taken power and has dissolved the institutions.

To justify this maneuver, the junta alleges that the president of the National Assembly refused to replace Idriss Déby. The opposition denounces, for its part, a coup d’état and demonstrates in the street.

The unexpected death of Idriss Déby is causing great concern among N’Djamena’s allies. Because the country is a pillar of the G5 Sahel, the regional mission against terrorism that brings together, in addition to Chad, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

“Of these five countries, only two armies are fully operational, those of Mauritania and Chad,” Thierry Vircoulon, associate researcher at the Sub-Saharan Africa Center of the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri), explained to France 24 last February, pointing out with the finger a problem of endemic corruption within the region’s armed forces.

While in Mali, the coup soldiers, in power since August 2020, face significant regional and international pressure, N’Djamena’s allies are far less critical of the new Chadian authorities. France, like the leaders of the G5 Sahel, present at Idriss Déby’s funeral, is committed to continuity, contributing its “common support to the civil-military transition process” led by Mahamat Idriss Déby.


Possible transition extension

Since coming to power, Chad’s new leader has initiated several reforms to facilitate dialogue with opposition forces, such as lifting the ban on demonstrations and two general amnesty laws for Chadian rebels and opponents.

But from the beginning, the transition process suffers from many delays. If a civilian government is quickly formed, by the end of April 2021, it will take five more months for the National Transitional Council (CNT), the provisional parliament that is supposed to ensure a return to constitutional order, to be established.

While the African Union has demanded the holding of presidential elections within eighteen months and the guarantee that the members of the Military Council will not appear there, Mahamat Idriss Déby affirms as of June not ruling out an extension of that period. To date, he also remains vague about his possible participation in the future election.

A risky inclusive national dialogue

As for the inclusive national dialogue, it is still waiting to see the light, now scheduled for May 10 after several postponements. Since March 13, a so-called “pre-dialogue” mediation has been taking place in Qatar, bringing together government representatives and more than 250 opponents from some fifty rebel groups. So far, these groups are refusing any direct negotiations with the transition and exchange authorities through their Qatari intermediary.

At the beginning of the month, one of these groups, the Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic (CCMSR) – slammed the dooraccusing the government of having invited false opponents to Doha to “drown” their demands and impose an agreement in their favor.

At the same time, the main Chadian opposition platform has also announced the suspension of all negotiations with the authorities. For their part, the transitional authorities state that it is essential to include a maximum number of participants in order to achieve the most inclusive dialogue possible.

“These negotiations are very difficult because the Chadian army is a praetorian army that governs all aspects of society and has been widely used in the past to fight the opposition and muzzle freedoms,” stresses Jean-Claude Felix-Tchicaya, an expert in the Sahel. and researcher at the Institute for Foresight and Security in Europe (Ipse). “In addition, the negotiation plan with ‘all’ the armed groups carries the risk of legitimizing some of these entities, sometimes accused of serious abuses, and could allow them to claim a political role within the institutions. Between these different actors, it is very difficult for civil and political society, whose participation is nonetheless crucial, to make itself heard”.

Three weeks after the official start of negotiations in Chad, the account is not there for the opposition forces in Doha. In addition to security guarantees to participate in the inclusive national dialogue, many of them demand from Mahamat Idriss Déby a clear commitment not to stand in the next elections.

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