Chad: an incomplete pre-peace deal

Mahamat Déby's military junta negotiates with main rebel group after 18 opposition organisations reject draft transition agreement
Mahamat Déby

PHOTO/@TamimBinHamad  -   The leader of the Chadian military junta, Mahamat Déby, receives with the Emir of Qatar, Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, members of Chadian opposition groups

Chad's military junta signed a transitional agreement in principle with more than 40 rebel groups in Doha earlier this week. The National Transitional Council (CNT), led by Lieutenant General Mahamat 'Kaka' Déby, the scion of long-serving President Idriss Déby, thus scored a timid political victory five months after initiating dialogue with the opposition, opposed to the consolidation of power by the new military authority. Thanks to Qatari mediation, N'Djamena secured the backing of a myriad of insurgent groups with disparate demands, but the transitional pre-agreement is incomplete. 

As many as 18 militias involved in the peace talks rejected outright the terms agreed in Doha. The most important of these is the Front for Change and Concord (FACT), the country's largest politico-military group that became embroiled a year ago in the death of Marshal Idriss Déby, who ruled Chad with an iron fist for more than three decades until he was killed on the front line. A contested version, but a solid one in the eyes of Oxford Analytica analyst Nathaniel Powell, author of France's Wars in Chad (Cambridge University Press, 2020). 

"I think the evidence [supporting the official version of Déby's death] is pretty clear. Alternative theories suggesting that he died during the delicate negotiations or as a result of some kind of settling of scores are baseless," he tells Atalayar. The only questions surrounding the death of the former Chadian president at the age of 68 relate to the actual day of his death and the manner of his death on the battlefield, "but none contradict the official story". The FACT itself also acknowledges the facts.

Idriss Déby
AP/JOEL KOUAM  -   Supporters of Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno gather for a rally in N'djamena, Chad, Friday, April 9, 2021

Since the end of April 2021, a military junta has been pulling the strings in N'Djamena, following in the footsteps of other regional actors such as Sudan and Mali. In the case of Chad, it was Déby's most recognised son, Mahamat, who took the reins through a semi-coup "that annulled the constitutional provisions requiring the president of the National Assembly to assume power while new elections were organised", explains the Oxford Analytica analyst. Instead, the uniformed installed 'Kaka' in power and surrounded him with around fifteen generals, his father's praetorian guard. The status quo was prolonged. 

Mahamat Déby then announced the beginning of an 18-month transition to restore constitutional normality and call elections, and to this end the so-called Inclusive National Dialogue was created. The contact between the military authority and the insurgent groups, which was to help lay the foundations for the transitional process, has been postponed on numerous occasions and has made little significant progress. "Many opposition and civil society groups accuse the military authorities of dominating the process and refuse to participate unless seats are allocated more equitably and the direction of the dialogue is changed to reflect the political diversity of the country," says Powell. 

The parties first flew to Doha in March to break the deadlock. There they were received by the Qatari authorities, who are interested in mediating conflicts over soft power issues. On Tuesday, after five months of negotiations, the participants anticipated an agreement, although the Welsh analyst points out that "the Doha "pre-dialogue" was widely seen as a necessary preliminary step before any broader national dialogue could take place". "The reason they are in Doha is because they cannot negotiate on Chadian territory - no rebel leader would risk that - and, in addition, both Chadian government officials and several rebel leaders have Qatari connections," he explains. 

For Powell, however, it is not a peace agreement "whatever you call it", because the main political demands have not been addressed: "At best it is a ceasefire and at worst it is simply a co-opting and buying off of a number of opposition and rebel figures". "Most of the "rebel" groups represented in Doha have virtually no military weight on the ground," the expert concludes. The Inclusive National Dialogue is scheduled to begin on 20 August, this time in N'Djamena, with the aim of making further progress. 

FACT refusal

"The government did not respond to our main demands, such as giving equal representation to opposition groups in the national dialogue committee, the immediate release of prisoners once the agreement is signed, or preventing the leader of the military junta [Mahamat 'Kaka' Déby] from standing in the elections after the transition," sources from the Front for Change and Concord (FACT) tell Atalayar, justifying their refusal of the Doha draft. However, negotiations between the FACT and the military junta "are ongoing" despite the fact that its representatives have not been given minimum security guarantees to be able to attend the meeting on Qatari soil. The leader and founder of the militia, Mahamat Mahdi Ali, was not even present in Doha despite an express invitation from the local authorities.

AFP/EJERCITO DE CHAD  -   Suspected rebel soldiers belonging to the Front for Alternation and Concord in Chad (FACT) sit in the sand after being captured following clashes with the Chadian army in Nyze, 50 km northeast of Zigueye, 17 April 2021

"FACT leaders have more reason to be concerned about their personal security, regardless of guarantees, due to Déby's death and the threat posed by the movement. In addition, their demands appear to be more explicitly political in terms of reducing the junta's role in the national dialogue process. They also want prisoners to be released," Powell stresses. The rebel group, active since 2016 following a split within the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) and made up of fractious regime officials, has been N'Djamena's main destabilising asset

Based in Libya's Tibesti mountains, the militia with ambitions to topple the Déby dynasty crossed the arid border on 11 April 2021 to launch an offensive on the capital, when the former president was seeking his sixth presidential re-election, which he won without resistance with 80 per cent of the vote. It was then that he was shot down. Months later, the FACT is guided by the same interests, but claims that its intention is to bring "freedom, justice and equality" to Chad, "to establish a real democracy, not the current one, through free and transparent elections during a transitional period". 

FACT sources tell Atalayar that the militia has no allies in the international community as an armed movement, but Russia's shadow looms over the organisation, which has been linked to the Kremlin through the movements of the Wagner group. The private military company, led by oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, known as Putin's chef, continues to operate in neighbouring Libya and has reportedly enlisted fighters from the rebel group for its cause. FACT also opposes French influence in Chad, which it accuses of propping up the Déby regime. The distances are wide.