From exile to prime minister: Succes Masra, the new face of the democratic transition in Chad

In a watershed moment for Chad’s political history, General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, the transitional president, appointed Succes Masra as the prime minister on January 1st 2024, marking a significant stride towards democratic transition. Masra, once a vocal opposition leader and president of The Transformers party, returned from exile under a reconciliation agreement, reshaping his role in Chadian politics. This detailed analysis delves into the multifaceted aspects of this transformative development, unpacking the historical context, the implications of Masra’s unexpected endorsement of the constitutional referendum, and the challenges facing Chad’s delicate journey towards democracy.

Early Life and Career

Masra’s early life was marked by a diverse education spanning Chad, Cameroon, and France. After studying economics, he began a career with the African Development Bank, where he became chief economist. However, his trajectory took a significant turn in 2018 when he resigned from his position to delve into Chadian politics.

On April 29, 2018, Succès Masra founded Les Transformateurs, which translates to ‘The Transformers.’ This political party was more than a mere opposition movement; it was a platform through which Masra aimed to unite Chadians within and outside the country. His vision was clear: to transform Chad into a functioning social democracy. The party quickly gained prominence as a notable critic of Idriss Déby’s regime, which had been widely criticized for its authoritarianism, lack of democracy, and allegations of corruption.

As the 2021 presidential election approached, Déby announced his candidacy for a sixth consecutive term. Masra, invoking the Chadian Constitution 2018, objected to Déby’s candidacy, which violated the term limit clause. When Masra submitted his candidacy, it was rejected by the Independent National Electoral Commission, leading to violently suppressed protests. Masra sought refuge in the United States embassy in N’Djamena for his safety for six days.

The sudden death of Idriss Déby on April 20, 2021, marked a turning point. The government and constitution were dissolved, and the Transitional Military Council (TMC), led by Déby’s son, Mahamat Déby, was established. Masra vehemently opposed this move, denouncing it as a coup d’état. He called for ending the Déby regime, cronyism, and a democratic transition.

In the wake of Déby’s death, protests erupted in N’Djamena against the presence of French troops accused of supporting the TMC junta. Les Transformateurs, alongside civil society groups, backed these protests, resulting in a government crackdown that led to several casualties. Masra’s party faced suspension but was reinstated in January 2023.

The year 2022 brought a series of protests and a dramatic announcement by Déby to extend his rule, triggering violent responses that claimed lives. Fleeing to Cameroon and eventually settling in the United States, Masra continued his opposition from abroad.

In August 2023, Masra expressed his intention to return to Chad before the constitutional referendum. However, revelations of an international arrest warrant accusing him of inciting hatred and attempting to undermine constitutional order raised concerns about his safety. Threats from the Transitional Military Council forced Masra to delay his return.

Despite facing threats, Masra signed an agreement with the Chadian government in October 2023, brokered by the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS)). This accord granted him amnesty and the right to return to Chad. Criticism arose within the opposition, accusing Masra of absolving the government of accountability for its response to protests.

Masra’s Appointment: A Ray of Hope or a Political Chess Move?

The General Secretary to the Presidency Mahamat Ahmat Alabo’s announcement of Masra’s appointment as prime minister is a huge moment in Chad’s political narrative, and an important step in the region’s stability. However, this move has not been without controversy. Opposition parties distancing themselves from Masra and concerns about his ability to influence General Deby cast a shadow over the government’s commitment to true democratic progress. Civil society groups worry about the perceived influence of military connections within the transitional government, potentially hindering the nation’s journey to authentic democracy.

Masra’s Vision for Chad: Balancing Priorities and Challenges

Masra, undeterred by scepticism, asserts that his appointment does not diminish his commitment to democratic ideals. His immediate priorities include resolving ongoing teacher strikes, improving living conditions for civilians, addressing the fuel shortage, and overseeing the implementation of a general amnesty for those arrested during the October 2022 protests. The intricacies of these challenges underline the delicate balance between immediate socio-economic concerns and the broader goal of establishing a robust democratic framework.

The Unveiling of the New Government: Continuity and Transformation

The composition of the newly formed government, presented by Secretary-General to the presidency Mahamat Ahmat Alhabo, includes both familiar faces and subtle shifts. With 41 ministers, including 5 ministers of state and 11 secretaries of state, the government underscores its commitment to inclusivity. Notably, there is a deliberate emphasis on elevating women and youth within its ranks, reflecting a dedication to diverse ethnic representation. This nuanced approach aims to balance continuity and transformation, responding to calls for a “government of transformation” rather than a mere “continuation.”

Despite these positive indicators, concerns persist within civil society. Neitobei Bidi Valentin, president of the African Party for Peace and Justice, voiced scepticism about the consultation process that led to the formation of the new government. He questioned whether General Deby genuinely consulted with Masra, which asserts broader concerns about the influence of military figures within the transitional government. 

However, in a surprising and compelling display of solidarity, Chad’s newly appointed prime minister renounced his official salary. Instead of personal gains, Masra has chosen to allocate his entire prime ministerial salary towards funding a social scholarship that will benefit citizens across all 23 provinces of Chad. While the exact monetary figures remain undisclosed due to the confidential nature of fiscal data for government officials in Chad.

The road ahead is unknown right now, and the appointment of Succes Masra as a prime minister will surely affect the lives of millions of Chadians. It remains to be seen whether it will be for worse or for the better.

Written by Olivier Noudjalbaye Dedingar, USA and UN Correspondent.

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Olivier Noudjalbaye Dedingar

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