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One year after the death of former president Idriss Déby, ordinary Chadians are pessimistic that the country will ever return to civilian rule

21 April 2022
Reading time: 7 minutes

A year after the death of Idriss Déby Itno, the former president of Chad, and the subsequent takeover of the government by the Tchadian Military Council (TMC), ordinary citizens and opposition parties are pessimistic that the promise of free, fair and democratic elections after the 18-month transition period will ever take place.

Idriss Déby Itno (18 June 1952 – 20 April 2021) was a politician, military officer and head of the ruling Patriotic Salvation Movement. He was president from 1990 until his death in 2021 when he was critically wounded while commanding troops on the frontline against militant forces.

This week, social media was abuzz as Chadians and others across the world paid tribute to Déby, lauding him for being a true leader who was selflessly committed to the development and stability of his country.

Déby was a member of the Bidayat clan of the Zaghawa ethnic group. He took power by leading a coup d’état against then president Hissène Habré in December 1990 and survived various rebellions and coup attempts against his own rule. Déby won elections in 1996 and 2001 and, after term limits were eliminated, he won again in 2006, 2011, 2016 and 2021.

Déby added “Itno” to his surname in January 2006. He was a graduate of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s World Revolutionary Centre in Libya. The 68-year-old Déby died on the day after he was proclaimed the winner of the presidential election held in 2021 which had given him a sixth term in office.

General Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno replaced his father as president, following an announcement by the Chadian Military Council. The army dissolved the government and parliament with immediate effect, vowing to hold “free and democratic” elections after an 18-month transition period.

On Wednesday, April 20, exactly one year after his death, RNI spoke to a reporter and an analyst about the aftermath of Déby’s death, the issue of military-power transfer to civil authority, as well as the overall situation of ordinary people in Chad under military rule.

Mahamat Ali Mouta, RNI’s reporter in N’Djamena, said: “The military proposed that they would hand back power to civilian rule after an 18-month transition period. But 12 months have already past. And, with only six months remaining, there have been no major changes and no arrangements that indicate the country is anywhere close to elections. Power is still very much under the military and there has been no word about transferring it to civilians.”

Mouta said ordinary Chadians remained pessimistic about the return to democracy by the Tchadian Military Council (TMC). “The big question Chadians are asking is that, after the 18-month transition period, will the military leave or will the TMC stay in power?

“The word is that the military wants to renew the 18-month period one more time. The salaries of military personnel have increased enormously and they have been given many advantages, especially in the cause of defence: they have been given more equipment, more training and more incentivising promises compared with other public servant workers.

“So, at this stage, most people believe the military will renew the 18-month transition period, remain in power and put a hold on moving towards democracy.”

Mouta said civil society groups in Chad remained equally pessimistic that the country would return to democratic rule any time soon.

“Last week, Wakitamma, one of the civil society groups, said it did not trust the military government and had suspended all network communications and programmes it had with the military. It said what the TMC was doing would not lead Chad back to normal politics or democracy.

“Other civil society groups are calling on the military government to think about their promise to Chadians and asked them not postpone the planned 18-month transition period. Some civil society groups are collaborating with the military in an effort to support and help them through the process of transferring power.”

Mouta said a few months ago Chad’s military government and dozens of opposition rebel groups held peace talks in Doha, Qatar. It was the first step towards ending the rebellion and holding democratic elections.

“Actually, in Doha, the army and the rebel groups, which are vehemently against military rule, were not able to agree on much and still some of them are in discussions with the Qatari government. They have not spoken to the military government about the continuing peace talks and negotiations. They have said they will ‘come back to the government’.

“The main dialogue is supposed to be held on May 10 but, at this time, it is doubtful that will take place.”

He said the key demands of the negotiations and peace talks between the TMC and the armed rebel groups included power sharing, democratic elections, a guarantee of a general amnesty in which prisoners would be released and the return of confiscated assets.

“The opposition rebel groups don’t trust the military government. They believe the military-led administration will not fulfil its promises of having sincere democratic elections, because they still believe that, even though Idriss Déby is gone, his system continues. The rebels want the military government to step down and for normal democratic leadership to return.”

Mouta highlighted the challenges and critical situation of Chadians under military rule.

“The situation is uncertain; Chadians are more afraid these days. They are scared of their lives and livelihoods being disrupted. They are worried about losing their businesses. Prices have skyrocketed. At markets the hike in goods is noticeable and often people cannot get what they want because they are unavailable. Distribution is not that stable. More kidnappings and killings on the streets are what the Chadians fear most.

“The lack of electricity, especially during the holy month of Ramadan, is another challenge. People say they never experienced power outages in the past two to three years but now they are common and Chadians are not happy. They say it makes their lives so difficult.”

Mouta said the situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Lake Chad region was also critical.

“There are 400,000 to 500,000 IDPs in the region who are trying to survive without and humanitarian aid, such as the provision of food, water and medication.

“Some of the IDPs have not received any humanitarian aid for almost six months now. The government and aid organisations need to help these people or the situation is going to get more complicated and disastrous in the Lake Chad region.”

Haruna Ayuba, the programme coordinator for the Centre for Peace, Diplomatic & Development Studies at the University of Maiduguri, said that General Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno might cling to power as most African leaders had done and this could bring about huge political chaos, crises and instability in Chad. The civil society organisations are already starting to put pressure on the military government to transfer power to civilians.

“You know Mahamat [Déby] is a young man of 37. If you look at the trends of transition in Africa, you will discover that most of our leaders want to remain in power. Going by that, there is no hope for Chad. I cannot tell you the reason but history tells us that most African leaders want to stay in power for years and years. I really do not expect General Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno will be the exception.

“If civil society organisations in Chad are strong and powerful and can express their fears to the outside world to gain support, there might be a chance for the country to succeed from military to civilian rule.

“If General Déby wants to have peace in Chad, he should not go beyond the 18-month transition period. Any attempt to go beyond 18 months is an invitation to political chaos, an invitation to political crises, as well as an invitation to political instability. So, they should try get as much support as possible from the outside world to ensure that the military goes ahead with fair and democratic elections within the specific time frame.

“Right now there are numerous calls against the military government by civil society organisations and ordinary civilians. They should not allow things to get out of control. If the government allows this, civil society organisations will align themselves with foreign powers and that will be put the country at too great a risk.”


About the author

Mbodou Hassane Moussa

Journaliste de formation et de profession. Passionné par l'écriture, le digital et les médias sociaux, ces derniers n'ont aucun secret pour lui. Il a embrassé très tôt l'univers des médias et de la Communication. Titulaire d'une Licence en journalisme et d'un Master en Management des projets, Mbodou Hassan Moussa est éditeur Web du journal en ligne Toumaï Web Médias. Aujourd'hui, il est devenu Webmaster à la Radio Ndarason internationale et collabore à la réalisation du journal en langue française et dialecte Kanembou.