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Peace still elusive a year after Deby's death

April 20, 2022

The ruling Chadian military junta has yet to make any significant progress in returning the country to civilian rule since seizing power after the sudden death of former leader Idriss Deby last April.

Mahamat Idriss Deby (center) sits in the honor tribune during the state funeral for his father, wearing a face mask
Mahamat Idriss Deby took power following the death of his father, former President Idriss Deby, last AprilImage: Christopeh Petit Tesson/AFP/Getty Images

A year ago, then-leader of Chad, President Idriss Deby Itno, met his untimely death on the front line fighting rebels belonging to a group calling itself FACT (the Front for Change and Concord in Chad).

Deby's 38-year-old son, General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, immediately seized power with the help of the military, alleging he would continue his father's 30-year legacy of ruling the country. Shortly before his death, Idriss Deby had just won another election to prolong his stay in power.

The West had long regarded Deby as a strongman committed to the fight against terrorists operating within the Sahel region and therefore, his son's takeover was seen as an assurance toward sustaining that fight.

The present-day military transitional government headed by General Deby had promised last year that the army would hold democratic elections within 18 months. That deadline is now fast approaching, and many analysts fear the ground may not be fertile for elections just yet.

Adib Saani, a security expert with the Jatikay Centre for Human Security and Peace Building, told DW by phone from the Ghanaian capital, Accra, that nothing significant had changed since General Deby took control.

"They still deal with issues of militancy, and insecurity is still a major problem in that area," Saani said, highlighting his concern that there isn't enough stability nor a conducive environment to guarantee a free and fair election.

Hundreds of people take to protests in N'Djamena
Demonstrators marched through the streets of the Chadian capital last September, protesting the junta ruleImage: Djimet Wiche/AFP/Getty Images

Not much change

When General Deby announced his plans of ruling with a 15-member military junta back in April 2021, it didn't take long before cracks began to emerge. One zear later, the junta is struggling to reach a deal with the rebels, whose actions led to the death of his father.

Talks with rebel groups in Doha, Qatar, which began on March 13 following delays, aren't bearing much fruit. Chadian rebels and envoys of the military government have been refusing to face each other across the negotiating table the entire time.

Despite this setback, the ruling junta has said it is hoping to hold a national forum by May 10 that will approve the path back to civilian rule. The envisaged "inclusive national dialogue" was intended to bring together the various parties and armed factions from across the nation.

Those plans are now under threat, with rebels still suspicious of the ruling junta and Chad's political opposition threatening to boycott the forum, which is only further complicating the tense situation in the country.

Rival groups fail to reach a deal

Saani said there can be no lasting solution to the crisis in Chad, nor a return to civilian rule, unless the opposing parties are willing to compromise.

"Mediation is about meeting each other halfway. When you have various sides having entrenched positions it becomes a waste of time and resources," he said, stressing that the 250 opposition and government officials involved in talks since last month are yet to have made any kind of breakthrough in the negotiations.

Mahamat Zene Cherif, the transitional military council's foreign minister, told the AFP news agency earlier this month that the rival sides were waiting for progress to happen in a "cordial" waiting position.

"We have exchanges. We discuss our problems," he said. He also further assured reporters that there would eventually be an accord in Doha to make way for national talks expected next month.

"I cannot say who will sign it but the dialogue will go ahead," he added.

Support from the West

The international community, led by France, had shown support for Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno following his father's death, despite previously expressing opposition to the trend of military coups in Africa. General Deby even received tacit endorsement from the European Union.

Saani said the EU, despite wishing to continue the fight against jihad insurgents in the region, will want to see more commitment toward the transition process on part of the military junta.

"The best way out is to negotiate, and I am hoping that something meaningful will come out from that. But largely it will depend on pressure from the French," he said.

Among other things, rebels and political opponents of the military junta have been demanding assurances that Deby won't stand for elections after returning the country to civilian rule. However, this is far from certain.

"My fear is even if elections were held, [Deby] might stand and he will automatically win, and in principle will call himself a democratically elected leader when indeed it is far from that," Saani told DW.

A long way to go

Chad's problems go far beyond the issue of returning to democratic rule, as threats from rebels and terrorists in the Sahel region still loom large. According to the United Nations, some 5.5 million Chadians need "emergency humanitarian aid"; the World Bank has said 42% of the country's population of 16 million live in poverty.

According to the UN's Human Development Index, Chad is the world's third poorest nation. And with the current war in Ukraine and the impact of the global coronavirus pandemic, Chad's economy is only deteriorating.

Saani said "even on a normal day, this country is not able to address simple bread and butter issues."

For him, ensuring sustained security is the only way out of Chad's crisis. "It is about jobs, it is about income and people having access to basic income, it is about quality health care delivery, it is about the protection of the environment," he said.

Since gaining independence from France in 1960, Chad has remained largely in a constant state of conflict, with armed opposition groups fighting each other for decades. With such a long-standing history of suffering, finding a solution out of the current crisis seems elusive, even with the national forum still planned for next month.

Edited by: Sertan Sanderson