Conflict Alerts # 564, 27 October 2022
In the news
On 21 October, dozens of people were killed in Chad as security forces clamped down on pro-democracy anti-government protests in the capital N'djamena and Moundou city. The protests were carried out in response to the extension of the transition period to 2024. The newly-appointed Prime Minister Saleh Kebzabo said that at least 50 people were killed and 300 were wounded, adding that security forces responded “only in self-defence as armed demonstrators were seeking to seize power by force.” However, the opposition said the death toll was closer to 70, and the toll was expected to rise with hundreds wounded. The military government declared a state of emergency in N’djamena, Moundou, and Koumra and directed respective regional governors to “take all necessary measures in compliance with the law” to contain the protests.
On the same day, Al Jazeera reported that the African Union Commission Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat “strongly” condemned the incident. He said: “I call on the parties to respect human lives and property and to favour peaceful ways to overcome the crisis.” The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association said: “any use of excessive force against demonstrators exposes their perpetrators to prosecution in accordance with international standards.” The US said it was “deeply concerned” by the number of casualties; the US State Department statement said: “We also condemn the attack that occurred outside the main gate of the US Embassy in which assailants in civilian clothes and private vehicles cleared police checkpoints and killed four individuals.”
Issues at large
First, Chad’s political crisis. Chad’s recent political crisis began with President Idriss Deby’s death on the battlefield in April 2021, ending his three decades of authoritarian rule. His son, Mahamat Idriss Deby, was sworn in as interim president by the military, dismissing the constitution and the parliament. He had promised a return to democratic rule after an 18-month transition, adding further that he will not contest in the presidential elections. The National Dialogue to determine the future of the country, which was promised as part of the deal last year, finally commenced in August this year. The Dialogue which concluded on 8 October extended the transitional period by two more years to 2024. It also declared Deby “transitional president” adding he could be a candidate in the upcoming election. On 10 October Deby was sworn in and he appointed former opposition leader Saleh Kebzabo as the prime minister.
Second, the failure of the National Dialogue. A crucial part of the transition was the promise of an inclusive National Dialogue for a consensus on constitutional reforms and elections. However, the Dialogue was delayed till August 2022, two months before the transition was to conclude. The absence of several major political players and several rebel groups brings to question the inclusivity of the Dialogue and its ability for a democratic transition. Besides, the Dialogue failed to establish a body to direct debates and form an agenda. Most committee leaders had close relationships with the old system and regime.
Third, the series of political upheavals amid military takeovers in West and Central Africa. Military takeovers, the extension of transitional periods, and repression by security forces are increasingly common in West and Central Africa. Mali experienced two coups in 2020 and 2021 and the military government further extended the transitional period. In May, the coup leader of Guinea announced a transitional period of three years. Burkina Faso experienced two coups in eight months in 2022. Further, the military governments in the respective countries use security forces to suppress pro-democratic protests, mostly resulting in clashes and casualties.
First, the protests and violence in Chad taking place in response to the National Dialogue’s decision to extend the transition have raised international concerns that the country could plunge into another period of uncertainty. The exclusionary approach of the National Dialogue suggests to a post-Dialogue period where stakes could be higher along with instances of social and political turbulence.
Second, Chad and other West and Central African countries currently under military transitions share a similar trajectory. Despite the military leaders promising a democratic transition, their actions speak otherwise when it comes to ending the transition periods, thereby challenging the fragile peace and stability in the region.