Chad’s “Democratic” Transition

In assessing Chad’s upcoming elections, the junta’s actions should speak louder than their words.   

On February 28, Chad’s Prime Minister, Succès Masra, told listeners at an Atlantic Council event in Washington DC that he and the country’s military leaders were working together to build Chad’s future on a foundation of reconciliation, dialogue, and common interest. It was an appealing vision, and as a recent opposition leader who fled his country after the junta’s lethal crackdown on demonstrators who called for a timely return to constitutional order, Masra made for an intriguing messenger. He returned to Chad only months ago, and was appointed prime minister in January.

But that same day, Chadian security forces attacked the headquarters of another prominent opposition party and killed party leader Yaya Dillo Djérou, claiming that he had resisted arrest and had been behind an attack on the National State Security Agency. Yaya Dillo denied the accusations and warned that the junta wanted him eliminated shortly before he was killed.  Security forces surrounded opposition party headquarters and authorities shut down the internet for several days during the violence and its immediate aftermath. Reconciliation and dialogue did not leap to mind as overarching political themes.

By March 2, the leader of Chad’s military government, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, announced that he intends to run for president in elections planned for May 6, despite previously denying that he planned to do so when he emerged as the leader of the military group that seized power after his father, Idriss Déby, was killed in 2021. With his most significant opponents either co-opted or eliminated, and critical electoral institutions stacked with his supporters, Déby Itno’s victory is all but certain.

It’s worth asking what purpose the May elections will actually serve, and why anyone is calling the events unfolding in Chad part of its “democratic transition.” If growing skepticism about democracy has gone hand-in-hand with resentment of the West in general, it’s not hard to see why when one considers developments in Chad. Major security partners and donors declined to acknowledge the reality of Chad’s 2021 coup d’etat, engaging in linguistic gymnastics to avoid the word altogether.

Chad may well be “transitioning” back to its regular order, in which a Déby and his inner circle wield power to sustain themselves in the country’s turbulent landscape, but that has little to do with democracy. Elections under the previous Déby regime were predetermined affairs with no relationship to empowering citizens or holding leaders accountable, and it certainly appears that what is coming in May will be more of the same. It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that the electoral exercise is, in part, intended to make life easier for external actors who need to engage with Chadian authorities for a host of reasons, from accommodating refugees to combatting terrorists. If this is true, it’s no surprise that young people in the Sahel are less than impassioned in their support.

This story was originally sourced from Council on Foreign Relations

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