As weapons do the talking in neighboring countries, Chad is embarking on negotiations that the politicians of the central African country hope will lead towards a democratic reconciliation. Our correspondent in N’Djamena gives an insight into the chances of success.
When Idriss Déby, the long-time head of state of Chad, succumbed to his wounds obtained when he paid a visit to frontline troops in April 2021, the future of his country looked rather bleak. Not for the first time, one has to admit. General Mahamat Idriss, one of the late president’s sons, took power as the de-facto head of state and made clear his intention of pursuing those he held responsible for the death of his father, namely the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (known by its French acronym FACT). The armed group based in the north of the country, the region bordering on Libya, had attacked a border post of the government after the elections of April 11. The army confronted the rebels and during one of the altercations, Idriss Déby was killed.
With this history of violence in mind, the chances of reconciliation in Chad looked remote. But, despite this troubled outlook, the country didn’t descent into a downward-spiral of violence and retribution, but instead today is preparing for a round of negotiations due to begin later this month and scheduled to last into the month of December. The coalition of rebel groups – the Union of Resistance Forces (UFR) – in recent days agreed to take part in the talks, albeit under certain conditions.
The Making of the National Dialogue
This followed a process that involved pressure from the international community, demands from the unarmed opposition in Chad and a peace initiative by the government of Togo. Lomé organized a meeting between the Transitional Military Council and six major opposition groups that took place between June 21 and 23. The aim of the meeting was to ease the tensions between the military, the democratic opposition and the armed rebel groups in a bid to get a dialogue underway and to pave the way for a peaceful transition to democratic rule. During the talks, the opposition groups affirmed their view that it was the much-criticized electoral fraud of Idriss Déby’s government and the exclusion of the democratic opposition from power that led people to take to the arms. And, by consequence, the question of electoral fraud had to be tackled once and for all, so they said.
The discussions between the military council and the opposition and the pressure from international partners appear to have prompted Mahamat Idriss to follow up on his willingness to pursue a reconciliation process, leading up to presidential elections. He put his weight behind a national dialogue that would exclude nobody and put the organization of the national dialogue in the hands of Sheikh Ibn Omar, the reconciliation minister, and former opposition leader Saleh Kebzabo. Ex-President Goukouni Weddeye will oversee the process as the dialogue’s formal head.
General Amnesty as a Major Hurdle
In a meeting in Paris, the FACT, the Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic (CCMSR) and the Union of Forces for Democracy (UFDD), the country’s biggest rebel organization, met with Weddeye’s committee to discuss the preconditions for taking part in the reconciliation process. The key demands of the rebel groups are the release of prisoners, a general amnesty and the return of property taken from opposition groups.
For the government, the demand to release prisoners seems to present a major concern, despite a nod of agreement. Abdul Rahman Ghulam Allah, the spokesman of the transitional government, said the opposition first had to prove its willingness to partake in the negotiations before the release of prisoners or even a general amnesty could be considered.
Clearly, the goal of national reconciliation requires a lot of work still, from all participants. The opposition, including political parties and civil society representatives in late October met in Geneva to discuss their demands for the democratic transition process. In the so-called «Geneva Declaration» the groups described their plan for the transition, with the creation of four separate committees, including the Republican Transition Council with 15 representatives. The declaration, which was submitted to international partners and the military council of Mahamat Idriss calls for the installation of a prime minister with all necessary powers. Also, a national transition council in the shape of a proper parliament should be charged to organize free and fair elections.
The International Dimension – With a Coup in Khartoum
Apart from the usual actors such as Paris and the afore-mentioned Togo, the way towards the reconciliation process also included Qatar, where Timan Erdimi’s UFR consulted with the government, Saudi Arabia and China.
Meanwhile, the developments in N’Djamena have been overshadowed by events in Ethiopia, Sudan and Libya, where a full-blown civil war, a coup d’état and the arduous process of organizing presidential elections have taken most of the international attention as of lately. Sudan, with which Chad not only shares a long border, but where profound links and also conflicts have existed for many years, looks destined to take a major step back in its development towards democratic rule that began after the fall of long-time dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019.
Sudan was indirectly affected by the death of Idriss Déby as the regional security structure of the Sahel region was upset. It is especially the influence of armed conflict on Darfur and the camps for Sudanese refugees in Chad that seem to weigh on the developments in the Sahel region. In general, though, the military coup has not had an immediate negative impact on the situation in N’Djamena.
Outlook for the Negotiation Process
Despite the initial signs of progress in Chad, the likelihood of success is fairly small. The army’s willingness to commit to the peace process and to yield to the demands of the rebel groups seems weak. Chances are that the military in the end will expand its control of the situation and prolong the transition period. This in turn could well prompt the opposition to leave the table and return to the field.
The factors that may help keep the negotiation alive are related to the situation in the north of Chad and the border region to Libya. The Libyan army recently had attacked the forces of FACT, which had a forceful impact on the troops and left the group exhausted and in a fragile position. With demands on Libya to boot the Chad rebels out of its territory and the willingness of some opposition groups to commit to talks should help the process.
The latter point also shows how important the international actors are in supporting peace talks. With conferences in Lomé, Qatar, Paris and Geneva, the international community has shown its willingness to help the country with its process of reconciliation./MTZ