Chad: Mahamat Deby Itno, Dictators from Father to Son

Democracy is commonly defined as a Government OF the People BY the People and FOR the People. It is as a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives. All these definitions must be alien to the people of Chad who had been dealt the cruel joke of a disguised dictatorship posturing as democracy for over three decades and just now are in danger of being reeled in at their one chance of true reform.

For the past 02 years, the political climate in the African country of Chad has been unpredictable. The nation has slowly slid through a number of unfavourable events over the years, leaving the people in a state of bad governance and uncertainty. In truth, Chad has been in political turmoil and uncertainty for much of its independent existence. Civil war, Coup d’etats and assassinations has caused a line of succession that was at best random and without any right sense of an actual societal advancement. The situation became better by comparison when Idriss Deby, a rebel leader deposed his former ally Hissène Habré in a coup in 1990. In December 1990 Idris Deby officially became President of the country promising “neither gold nor money but freedom and democracy”, and remained in power for 30 years. It sure sounds like a military dictatorship but in fact, Deby conducted so-called democratic elections every 5 years and won every single one. There were democratic elections, but was it by the people and for the people? The evidence screams a resounding NO. The people of Chad continued to live in the mirage of choice.

Chad’s President Idriss Déby Itbno attends a working session of the G5 Sahel summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania June 30, 2020 Ludovic Marin / REUTERS.

Some would say the situation wasn’t all bad. The country was politically stable, there were murders and suppression of opposition voices and whoever dared criticize the government, but at least the people knew who their president would be the next day and the devil they knew was from experience better than the angel they didn’t know. Even while poverty, terrorism and economic downturn haunted the nation, the humble people held on to whatever positives they could find. All the little positives that may have been claimed evaporated on the 20th of April 2021. That day it was announced that Idriss Deby Itno, ruler for 30 years, a length of time which represented most of the existence of the youth in the country, had been killed. It was subsequently revealed that he was at the “battlefront”. Idriss Deby was a military leader and a very hands-on one. In the fight against Islamic terrorists at the border regions of the country the President would often join the government forces on the field. This was in fact one of the few positives his government sold to the people, he had won yet another election just days ago. His death came suddenly and shocked the nation. Idriss Deby Itno was gone, but to their exasperation, they weren’t free of a Deby.

Another Deby

The death of Chad President, Idriss Deby Itno should have signalled the handover to more people involved in government. The constitution stipulated that in the case of the president’s death, the speaker of the parliament should assume leadership. According to the constitution, the speaker of the parliament assumes leadership of the nation for 45 to 90 days in the event of the president’s absence or death, establishing a transitional period before elections are held. Although power would still have remained in the hands of Deby’s party members MPS and they might just as well have taken advantage of the situation, it would have been a different situation. Other candidates would have contested elections which might have been free and fair, elections for which candidates would be picked by the people based on advancements proposed by them to the people. Instead what happened was the rigid, unlawful establishment of an interim government by Idriss Deby Itno’s own son; Mahamat Idriss Deby.

Mahamat Idriss Deby at his father’s burial. Photo: Reuters.

Mahamat Idriss Deby, a 39-year-old General in the army, took over power. It was yet another 

smokescreen government, one which by the letter of the law is simply an institutional coup. The move was stylish but definite and swift in measures which will ensure he was unquestionably running the country. It was no surprise why he could pull this off, his father had ruled like a fictional all-father for 30 years. Mahamat Idriss Deby began to rule with a military council which he headed, two weeks later he created a transitional government headed by him yet again and promised to deliver elections as soon as possible after negotiations with all the relevant stakeholders.

It is quite easy to see the new government as what it is; according to the list released by the army spokesman, General Azem Bermandoa Agouna, the Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS), the party of the late president, continues to hold the majority of the royal ministries. Several former Idriss Déby Itno ministers have either been reappointed to their previous ministries or to their previous portfolios. Mahamat Idriss Deby appointed former prime minister Albert Pahimi Padacke, who finished second in the Sahel nation’s April 11 presidential election, as interim prime minister. President Idriss Deby Itno’s final prime minister was Pahimi Padacke. The old leader’s party members actually consolidated, all headed by the young son of their former father. Mahamat Idriss Deby promised elections in 18 months when he took over but as of the national dialogue with the relevant stakeholders which should kickstart plans for the elections have continued to stall. It looks like the continuation of a dynasty as each day passes.


People protest against the rule of a transitional military council headed by the son of the late President Idriss Deby, in N’Djamena, Chad, April 27, 2021 (AP photo by Sunday Alamba).

There has been some response to irregularities of the military council and its transitional government. There has especially been a pushback against France which has continued to support this dynastic rule. In addition to having colonized Chad, the European superpower is also a crucial ally in France’s campaign against Islamist extremism in Africa’s Sahel region. The French government and the Chadian government have strong ties, and at least twice—in 2008 and 2019—French forces have rescued Idriss Deby’s government from rebels. France has supported the new government, ignoring its illegality and subsequent irregularity. President Emmanuel Macron was the only head of state from a Western country to attend Deby’s funeral. It, therefore, wasn’t all too surprising when placards went up in the streets against the government and against France. The protests were fervent but yielded only arrests, beatings and even reported murder by military forces clamping down on the protesters.

Chad’s military ruler Gen. Mahamat Idriss Deby, left, is welcomed by French President Emmanuel Macron for a meeting on the Sahel crisis at the Elysee Palace in Paris in 2021. (Michel Euler / AP).

Protest leaders were detained and charged in court, but given that the proceedings were governed by military law, there have been concerns about the fairness of the trials. In response to all this turmoil, rebel factions have begun to sprout. With the ease of acquiring weapons in the region, it wasn’t a surprise to international analysts following the situation. A coalition known as Wakit Tamma brought together thousands of opposition party members and supporters in April and May to protest the ban and call for a change to civilian rule. They have become the face of the opposition against Mahamat Idriss Deby’s government. Protests were held all over the country, with numerous Chadians joining in. At least seven people were killed and numerous others were hurt when the security forces used excessive force, including live ammunition, to disperse the protests. Security forces detained more than 700 people, and several of them reported to Human Rights Watch that they had been tortured and mistreated while being held.

Way forward – National Dialogue?

The postponement of reconciliation dialogues in Qatar had further complicated an already precarious situation in Chad. A May 10, 2022, reconciliation dialogue, which was a prerequisite for delegating and setting elections, was sadly postponed. This delay had left international stakeholders and citizens increasingly concerned about the intentions of Deby Jr and his interim government. Many feared that this delay was a sign of an attempt to perpetuate the Deby dynasty, which caused an ever-growing dissatisfaction and unease among the people.

To address these concerns, the military junta announced new details for the reconciliation talks, and Prime Minister Padacke revealed that an “Inclusive National Dialogue” would be held on August 20. However, the absence of  key political players such as the Front for Change and Concord in Chad, the “Les Transformateurs” party, and the Wakit Tama collective was notable during the dialogue, as they demanded the release of prisoners of war and political detainees, as well as prior assurances of the sovereignty of the dialogue. They also sought guarantees that members of the CMT and transition leaders would be ineligible to run in future elections and that members of the proposed transitional government and assembly, the National Transitional Council, could not be replaced.

Inclusivity is crucial to ensure the representation of diverse views and sensibilities across the political spectrum, but the boycott of the dialogue by some key political and military players at the start of the process reflected a lack of inclusion. The withdrawal of other important players during the course of the dialogue, such as the Catholic Church, several professional orders, the president of the National Human Rights Commission, and several political parties and civil society organizations, further undermined the dialogue’s claim to inclusivity.

The discussions during the dialogue were marked by contentious debates and direct questioning regarding the management of public affairs. However, two problems arose that cast doubt on the dialogue’s claim to freedom of discussion. Firstly, the Presidium, which was mandated to direct the debates and agenda, was not appointed by consensus. Secondly, most committee and subcommittee leadership teams had a close relationship with the former ruling party.

For the dialogue’s recommendations to be meaningful and advance peace, they need to be grounded in open and fair discussions. However, it is uncertain whether the Presidium remained neutral or ensured that resolutions reflected the true aspirations of Chadians.

Most participants in the DNIS were either members, sympathizers, or had close proximity to the old system and regime, which undermined the neutrality and fairness of the dialogue and its resolutions. Despite significant criticism, the DNIS decided that members of the CMT, such as President Mahamat Idriss Déby, would be eligible to run in the next elections and that the transition period would be extended for another 24 months.

The DNIS conclusions included plans to organize a unique referendum to choose the form of the state and adopt a new constitution, as well as plans for the dissolution of the CMT. However, President Déby will retain his role and was inaugurated for another two-year term as head of the transition, which raises questions about the effectiveness of the dialogue’s outcomes.

The national dialogue skirted around crucial questions on the future of electoral management and governance division, leaving the path ahead uncertain. The aftermath of this uncertainty manifested in massive protests that shook the country to its core, resulting in violence and chaos.

Despite this, President Mahamat Déby was welcomed to the second U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit in December 2022 in Washington, D.C., alongside other Chadian leaders. However, his attendance raised eyebrows due to the controversy surrounding the Chad government’s response to the October 20 protests and calls for accountability.

Demonstrators in N’Djamena carry signs calling for “security for all.” Photo: Djimet Wiche/AFP.

While the international community condemned the violence that followed the protests, repression and violence against the opposition have continued unabated. The absence of key players in the dialogue, such as the Front for Change and Concord, “Les Transformateurs” party, and the Wakit Tama collective, contributed to escalating tensions and violent confrontations between security forces and demonstrators.

The condemnation from the United States Department of State came swiftly, denouncing the violence and expressing regret for the negative impact of the Chadian National Dialogue on the transition to a democratic and civilian-led government that is inclusive and peaceful. However, despite this rebuke, repression and brutality against opposition groups persist. The Chari and Logone rivers, which course through N’Djamena and Moundou, have yielded multiple corpses, indicating a disturbing pattern of violence. More than 600 demonstrators have been detained, with many incarcerated in the notorious Koro Toro desert prison, without any contact with the outside world. The leader of Les Transformateurs, Succès Masra, has fled to Cameroon and USA after the party’s headquarters were ransacked and many members arrested, while other opposition supporters have been apprehended and confined in undisclosed locations.

Following the protests in Chad, the government defended its actions, claiming that the protesters engaged in looting and continued to gather despite the protests being declared illegal. Over 600 people were initially arrested, with the remaining 401 being transferred to Koro Toro prison for a four-day trial that was criticized by the Chadian Bar Association as a “parody of justice.” Some of the protestors were eventually released, but this did little to ease tensions between the government and the opposition.

A body covered by a Chadian flag and surrounded by fellow demonstrators in N’Djamena on October 20, 2022. Photo: AFP

Both sides have called for an inquiry into the October 20 incident, but initially, the government preferred to investigate within Chad, while the opposition demanded an independent, international inquiry. Eventually, an international commission was established, headed by the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), which included representatives from the United Nations, the African Union, and the Community of Sahel-Saharan States. The commission arrived in Chad on December 14 for 10 days of consultations.

The violence since October 20 and the subsequent trial of those detained, as well as the disagreement over the inquiry process, have widened the divide between the conflicting parties in Chad. This has complicated the prospects for national reconciliation and a return to constitutional order. Additionally, the hardening tone of transitional authorities has raised concerns about a democratic backslide. The political stalemate in Chad may be reduced to a mere theatrical electoral process and a rollback of human rights.

The situation of chad at this moment doesn’t make for good reading. It has looked especially gloomy because the people of Chad who suffer the direct consequences of the political irregularities are helpless. International agencies and organisations can only use dialogue. They can say that despite pervasive instability and insecurity under Idriss Déby Itno, the Chadian regime has been perceived as a stabilizing force in the tumultuous crossroads of North, West, and Central Africa. However, Chad remains one of the poorest countries in the world, and corruption is widespread. Mahamat  Idriss Déby, now in power, seems determined to maintain his grip on power and suppress the events of October 20th.

However, Chadian actors such as Succès Masra, the armed opposition group FACT  and the Archbishop of N’Djamena and Moudou, have criticized the regime’s human rights abuses and called for democratic change. Despite this, international actors have often given the Déby regime a pass for its human rights violations due to its regional security role. This has broader implications, as other coup leaders and military governments in Africa may look to Chad as an example. The failure to recognize legitimate civilian opposition groups increases the likelihood of political violence and conflict in Chad, which could destabilize the region. Avoiding such an outcome will require a rapid return to constitutional order through a fair and free elections that reflect the will of the chadian people, a moderation of the Deby’s regime posture toward the opposition, and a genuine path forward for democratic progress. 

About the author

Olivier Noudjalbaye Dedingar

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