The normally quiet airport at the Chadian capital N’Djamena was recently inundated with internationally well-known arrivals.
High-ranking politicians, such as Senegalese president and chair of the African Union Macky Sall, paid a visit to support the Chadian interim president Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, while the African Union (AU) Commission chair, Moussa Faki Mahamat, participated in the opening ceremony of the national inclusive dialogue, which started on 20 August.
There were also some faces that were less well known. They included men and women returning to Chad after many years of exile. They are leaders of what are called politico-military movements. They repeatedly challenged the late president Idriss Déby’s rule by advancing militarily from neighbouring Sudan or Libya towards the capital.
More than 40 of these groups had just signed a peace accord with the Chadian transitional government in Doha after five months of negotiations. They are back in the country to participate in the national inclusive dialogue. Both the Chadian transitional government and the international community believe the dialogue is the way to peace and democracy in Chad.
More than 1,400 representatives of all social groups are to draw up a new social contract and a constitution that will unite multi-ethnic, multi-religious and conflict-ridden Chad after 30 years of authoritarian rule.
The elections are supposed to end the military rule of the transitional government and hand over power to a civilian government.
But many Chadians suspect that the military and the interim president are not willing to do so.
Why a national dialogue now?
Chad is in a phase of transition due to the unexpected death of long-time president Idriss Déby Itno in April 2021.
His death resulted in the politico-military movement Front pour l’Alternance et la Concorde au Tchad (FACT) advancing towards N’Djamena.
The Conseil Militaire de Transition under the leadership of late Déby’s son Mahamat unconstitutionally took over power immediately.
The agreement was that during this period, a national inclusive dialogue would be held, a new constitution drafted and elections organised.
But before the dialogue could take place, a peace agreement was needed with the various politico-military movements that had repeatedly threatened Déby’s authoritarian rule. These movements are led by political opponents, former profiteers of his regime, or even disgraced family or members of his own ethnic group.
As a result a pre-dialogue took place in Doha, the capital of Qatar.
After five months of negotiations between representatives of more than 50 movements and the Chadian government, a peace agreement was finally signed on 8 August 2022.
The Doha peace agreement is aimed at ensuring a ceasefire between the transition government and the movements.
The government promised them security on their return to Chad, amnesty for their fighters and the restitution of their confiscated properties. The agreement foresees a disarmament programme.
For their part the movements pledged not to recruit new fighters.
It all sounds fine, but there are serious shortcomings.
The big questions are about government’s security guarantees and compensation for properties confiscated decades ago. Chad is a country where blood revenge is still the order of the day in some regions. And it is one of the world’s poorest countries.
But most importantly, the two strongest military movements have not signed the agreement. These are the FACT and the Conseil de commandement militaire pour le salut de la République(CCMSR).
The CCMSR has repeatedly confronted the Chadian military near the Libyan border. FACT’s advance in 2021 led to Déby’s death under what are still unclear circumstances.
FACT’s leader, Mahamat Mahdi, justified his non-signature by stating that not all of his organisation’s demands had been taken into account. This included the immediate release of prisoners.
The fact that the two strongest opposition movements are staying away means the prospects for peace aren’t very promising even though some of the former heavyweights have signed.
Among those who have signed are late Déby’s nephew Timane Erdimi, leader of the Union des Forces de la Résistance, who has been in exile since 2006. There is also Mahamat Nouri, leader of the Union des forces pour la démocratie et le développement, whose forces almost overthrew Déby when they reached N’Djamena in 2008.
Who will take part in the national dialogue?
Since the Conseil Militaire de Transition came to power, civil society, led by Wakit Tama, and political opposition have demanded a revision of the transitional charter to assure that Conseil Militaire de Transition members, especially Mahamat Déby, will not stand for the next election.
Mahamat Déby remains vague about his political ambitions. According to the Doha agreement, this question will be included in the national dialogue. But who are the participants who will finally decide on these issues?
The organisers of the dialogue published a list that includes the percentage of representatives of presumably all levels of society. Even if one approaches the list impartially, some of the numbers are puzzling.
For example, the diaspora in the whole of Europe or North America (the US and Canada) are each given two places – the same number as Burkina Faso or Benin, to name two smaller African states.
Once again, the hard hand of the transitional authorities was shown: a demonstration that had been announced for the day before the start of the dialogue was forbidden.
It is little wonder that ordinary Chadians don’t expect a lot from the national dialogue, let alone a change of government in the long run.
Chadians aren’t convinced
For many Chadians it seems to be obvious that the ruling elite, the Déby clan and the generals of the Conseil Militaire de Transition will try everything to stay in power, including contesting in the next elections. This has implications because under the late Déby election results were never a true representation of voters’ will.
International media and politicians praise the transition authorities’ will to reform. Even UN general secretary Antonio Guterres sent a video message at the signature of the Doha agreement.
However, Chadians are very aware of the international community’s and especially France’s support for the Conseil Militaire de Transition. France has a strong military presence and military base in Chad. And the airport of N’Djamena is vital for France’s fight against jihadism in the Sahel.
Of course, Chadians want peace after years of civil wars. But they also do not want to be ruled by a clan that has been enriching itself from the resources of the state for decades instead of investing the oil revenues into the development of the country.
At the same time, people face severe hardship. Chad is one of the five poorest countries in the world. Most of its citizens are struggling to survive.
The above article was written by Helga Dickow, Senior Researcher at the Arnold Bergstraesser Institut, Freiburg Germany, University of Freibur, and first published in The Conversation