Almost a year after the violent death of President Idriss Déby, Chad is set to embark on a round of comprehensive talks in February that are slated to define the steps from the current transitional period to democratic elections. It is early days yet and the situation still fraught, but Déby’s son seems intent on proceeding with the talks, writes our correspondent.
Chad is a landlocked nation of some 16 million people with still close ties to former colonial power France, from which it gained independence in 1960. It sits in an unruly region of this world, with countries such as Libya, Sudan, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Nigeria and Niger as neighbors, conflict and violence being a constant threat. When Idriss Déby was killed in an ambush in Northern Chad last year, the nation was taken by surprise, given that the ruler had been in charge for more than 30 years. So, what has happened to the country since April, a country that many see as one of the most corrupt in this world?
After the initial chaos that ensued following the death of Idriss Déby, his son General Mohamed Idriss Déby took over and with him a military council. Déby jun. named a prime minister (Albert Bahimi Padacké) and, five months after installing himself as head of state, an interim parliament – the National Transitional Council. It took months to get the council up and running because the political consultations took such a long time and it is important to note that not only Bahimi, but also the majority of the members of parliament are insiders of the Patriotic Salvation Movement MPS, the party of the late president. So far, not much has changed, one might say.
Popular Army Reforms
Still, at the same time, Déby also got active inside the armed forces and pushed through a number of reforms that were well received by the population. He stopped the forced recruitment (especially of children), dismissed a large number of troops following a census in the army for various crimes, increased pay for those who remained and suspended weapon permit in a bid to reduce the murder rate in the country. Furthermore, Déby strengthened the equipment of the army by adding armored vehicles and other weaponry to fend off a potential attack – one must keep in mind that the country has seen numerous violent battles between rebel groups and the army.
The main group that opposed the regime is called FACT, short for Front for Change and Concord in Chad. It is thought to have killed Idriss Déby during a major battle in the north of Chad in April. FACT is close to General Haftar’s forces in Libya and has its stronghold in the south of the neighboring country. As it went, FACT wasn’t strong enough to topple the government and was recently subject to aerial bombardments in Libya, according to sources.
Other groups include the Military Council for the Salvation of the Republic (CCMSR), the Union of Resistance Forces (which was supported by the former regime of Omar Al-Bashir in Sudan), the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) and the Military Alliance. The latter was established shortly before the April 2021 elections and aims to remove the regime and to build a democratic state.
Amnesty List of November
Credit to the younger Déby goes for allowing and indeed promoting preparatory talks with the opposition over the past months to create enough common ground to launch proper peace negotiations. In the talks hosted by Paris, Qatar and Togo, the different groups specified the conditions under which they would consider to join the negotiating table, and these included an amnesty and guarantees that the regime would honor the results of the talks.
Déby in November signed off on a list of 300 detainees that are to be amnestied. According to sources, a large number of opposition figures in exile have now obtained their travel papers in anticipation of the talks in N’Djamena, slated to take place starting on February 15. Clearly, the international sponsors in the mentioned nations have made clear that they expect the country to proceed on its transitional path to elections. But, it is important to note that trust between the political groups is still very weak. It became evident in the slow response and implementation of the demands set by the opposition for taking part.
Doubts About the Will to Hand Over Power Persist
In conclusion, while certain steps towards a more peaceful future have been achieved, much still has to be done and the work to create a basis of trust between the various groups remains an obstacle. The observers in Doha, Paris and in the neighboring African nations will keep a keen eye on the proceedings up to and including the negotiations scheduled for February.
One particular point of concern is the willingness of Idriss Déby to stop down following the conclusion of the transition period. This may ring a bell – generals have found it difficult to hand over power once their time was up. Déby has promised to leave but signs are that this may not be cast in stone. The preparatory talks of Qatar are key to bring the many groups to join the peace negotiations of February and the talks have enjoyed the support key ally France as well.