Chad's military junta puts peace with rebels on track in Doha

Djamena agrees ceasefire with most of the armed opposition, but fails to convince main insurgent group
Mahamat Déby

PHOTO/@TamimBinHamad  -   Chad's military junta leader Mahamat Déby welcomes members of Chadian opposition groups with Qatar's Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani

Sixteen months ago, Chad was plunged into a period of upheaval. For the first time in more than three decades, Idriss Déby was no longer at the helm of the Sahel-Saharan nation. The long-serving president was killed in unclear circumstances in the western region of Kanem, on the battlefield, according to the official version, a place he frequented to boost his combative image and encourage his troops, while the army was fighting against the Front for Change and Concord (FACT), a Libyan-based rebel group. After his abrupt death, power fell to his son, Lieutenant General Mahamat 'Kaka' Déby, backed by the military establishment and its international allies. The appointment, however, was in breach of the constitutional mandate, which designated the leader of parliament, Haroun Kabadi, a close ally of the late president, as his direct successor. It was a 'light' coup d'état that generated hardly any hostile reactions at the regional level. 

But the paternal-filial succession only accentuated the usual discontent of the repressed civilian opposition, strongly galvanised by long-standing ethnic or political issues. In addition, dozens of armed militias opposed to the prolongation of the previous regime, secured by 'Kaka', took up arms against the military junta installed in Djamena and began to harass the Chadian security forces, who in turn responded with military operations in neighbouring countries aimed at toppling the rebel organisations. The spiral of violence that began in April 2021 seemed to be easing in March of this year, when negotiations began in the Qatari capital of Doha to put national dialogue on track in a country that is crucial to combating the jihadist threat in the Sahel. 

Five months after the start of the Qatari-brokered talks, there is an agreement in principle between the military junta and the opposition. The Transitional Military Council (CMT), led by Mahamat Déby, sealed a peace pact with more than 40 dissident groups in Doha on Monday that establishes an indefinite ceasefire in Chad. The parties have agreed to cease military operations immediately. Djamena will adopt an amnesty law for the rebels and revise the constitution and the army, as well as committing to form a government of national reconciliation. In return, the opposition will start the disarmament and demobilisation process. After two previous attempts in May and June, the third time was the charm. 

Most of the rebel groups present at the Doha negotiating table have initialled the document. However, not among them will be the Front for Change and Concord, which has rejected the terms and conditions imposed in the final draft, claiming in a communiqué that participants in the negotiations would not be treated equally. The FACT, allegedly involved in the death of former president Idriss Déby, is the country's largest opposition group and its absence jeopardises the effectiveness of the agreement. However, he said he was open to dialogue "at any time and in any place".

The 18 political-military opposition platforms which, together with the FACT, have not accepted the terms of the agreement reached in Doha, have gathered around this organisation to issue a joint communiqué expressing their point of view and explaining their refusal in detail. "The government delegation never had any intention of holding a sincere dialogue that would have allowed us to be part of the Inclusive and Sovereign Social Dialogue (DNIS)," said the opposition front, which blamed the military junta for unilaterally decreeing the appointment of the members of the committee in charge of defining the conditions of the political transition.

With the acquiescence of the Chadian military command, Qatar, the mediator leading the negotiations, pressured FACT leader Mahamat Mahdi Ali to come to the Doha negotiating table. This meant that the founder of the rebel group, exiled in France for more than 25 years and a former member of the Socialist Party (SP), left his remote refuge in the Libyan Sahara for a few hours. The lack of guarantees for his safety and disagreement over the content thwarted his trip. The Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad and the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development, among others, have come to the Qatari capital.

Idriss Déby
PHOTO/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON vía REUTERS  -   Chadian soldiers carry the coffin of late Chadian President Idriss Deby during a state funeral in N'Djamena, Chad, Friday, April 23, 2021

The agreement signed by the parties is not ideal, even if it satisfies the parties 'a priori'. Several points have been left unresolved, such as the composition of the organising committee of the National Dialogue, the transitional charter and the reform of the armed forces. Among the opposition's demands, there was one that was repeated ad nauseam but not included: that Mahamat 'Kaka' Déby should not run for the next presidential elections. The Military Transitional Council (CMT) responded that this would have to be decided within the future National Dialogue body. 

The constant disagreements have led the opposition to call for mass protests in the streets against the military, which is in charge of piloting the 18-month transitional period opened after the death of the former president and announced by his offspring. The most prominent demonstration to date was organised in May by the civilian platform Wakit Tama, which opposes the presence of France in the country, which it accuses of having supported the Déby regime. The demonstrations have been harshly repressed by the security forces, and there has been a significant increase in human rights violations in recent months, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). 

Talks to pave the way for a credible presidential election will begin in Djamena on 20 August, according to the Qatari authorities. The transition period ends in September, a factor that puts pressure on the parties to implement what has been agreed. In addition, the country has been officially in a food emergency since June, aggravated by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. At least one in three Chadians is food insecure, and Chadians need state services to survive.