Since former president Idriss Déby Itno’s death on the battlefield in April 2021, Chad has been governed by a Transitional Military Council. Led by Déby’s son Mahamat Idriss Déby, the council is responsible for organising a dialogue on national reconciliation and elections to restore constitutional order. But with 10 months of the transition left, how inclusive will the talks be, and will the transition timetable be respected?
The dialogue should have taken place on 15 February but has been postponed until 10 May to allow for preliminary discussions in Doha, Qatar with the political-military movements. These discussions too were meant to have started on 27 February but were pushed out to March.
Some opposition parties and activists believe these delays reflect the trouble that the Inclusive National Dialogue Organising Committee is said to be facing in accomplishing its mission. They also suspect political manoeuvring to extend the transition period.
The inclusion of political-military groups has become a vital part of the discussion, as armed violence has been one of the major destabilising factors in Chad since independence in 1960. These groups must commit to renouncing force as their primary means of protest. It remains to be seen which of them will join the dialogue, at what cost, and with what guarantee of non-aggression.
The general amnesty law designed to draw political-military groups into the process seems to exclude some entities, such as Mahamat Mahdi Ali’s Front for Change and Concord in Chad. This group was involved in the fighting that caused Déby’s death last year.
The leaders of some other armed groups expected to participate in the Doha talks may also not be involved because of behaviour deemed seditious by Chad’s authorities. This includes Timan Erdimi of the Union of Resistance Forces. In an audio recording, he reportedly indicated his intention to use the Russian paramilitary Wagner Group to overthrow the Transitional Military Council.
Some political parties and movements challenging the council’s legitimacy, notably Les Transformateurs, also complain that they weren’t involved in the preliminary discussions. The same goes for civil society platforms such as Wakit Tama. Before the national dialogue starts, these stakeholders must be heard if the process is to be genuinely inclusive.
The Transitional Military Council can take credit for the return to Chad of opponents and activists who were hostile to the previous regime. But critics warn that this move is really driven by expediency and the council’s desire to control the reconciliation process. Instead of a strategy based on clear criteria and negotiations, these returns seem to be based on case-by-case transactions aimed at winning over opponents.
But political-military groups and opponents in exile shouldn’t be the only focus of the reconciliation process. Justice, accountability and social cohesion need more attention. At least 80 people have died in roughly 10 inter-communal conflicts since May 2021, most recently in Abéché and Sandana in the Moyen-Chari province. Over 10 people were killed in each conflict. These skirmishes are most often caused by rivalries over local power and territory, community vendettas or natural resources.
As these local conflicts simmer, the reconciliation agenda becomes more urgent and requires a stronger commitment from the government. In addition to encouraging the surrender of armed groups and the return of opponents, the groundwork must be laid for reconciliation among all Chadians. This can only happen by learning from the mistakes of past political practices and charting a new course. Since the beginning of the transition, no steps have been taken in this direction.
The Transitional Military Council also seems to be having difficulty breaking with the old political class, which some Chadians accuse of being partly responsible for the country’s problems. The predominance of this old guard, including members of the former ruling party, the Mouvement Patriotique du Salut (MPS), in the National Transitional Council (the seat of legislative power) and other bodies makes this clear.
The MPS is using every trick in the book to retain its grip on the Transitional Military Council and thus on the national debate and politics. The council should distance itself from these political manoeuvres. It could then remain above the fray and maintain its role as guarantor and mediator in a debate intended to be frank, open and fair.
With two months to go before the new date for the national dialogue, these core issues must be the focus of debate in Chad. The partners supporting the country’s transition, dialogue and reconciliation processes should be firmer on the need to respect the timeframes and ensure inclusiveness so that no stakeholder is left on the sidelines. A stalemate on these issues could see Chad slide back into political instability.
Written by Remadji Hoinathy, Senior Researcher, ISS Regional Office for West Africa, the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin