After the Crackdowns, is Chad’s Transition Unravelling?
After the Crackdowns, is Chad’s Transition Unravelling?
Report / Africa 3 minutes

Chad: Beyond Superficial Stability

The approaching elections could be important steps toward reviving democracy in Chad, but only if President Idriss Déby opens political space for the opposition beforehand.

Executive Summary

On the eve of elections, Chad has a chance to escape the political and military crisis of the last five years. A lull in fighting between government forces and rebel groups and the easing of tensions with Sudan since the start of 2010 may bode well for a gradual return to normality. However, President Idriss Déby’s rigid control of political space and recurrent problems in the electoral process could plunge the country into turmoil once again. The government must take advantage of this moment to bolster relations with Sudan, fully respect its commitments to provide security in Eastern Chad per Security Council Resolution 1923 (2010), carry out the internal reforms it has committed itself to and offer lasting peace to the armed opposition.

An end to the crisis seemed a distant hope in May 2009, when a coalition of Chadian armed groups, the Union of Resistance Forces (Union des forces de la résistance, UFR), attacked government troops. The failed offensive, however, has given rise to three factors that are contributing to stability.

First, Déby’s decision to prioritise the military option in countering the rebel threat proved well-founded. Using much of Chad’s oil revenues, he tilted the balance of power in his favour by better equipping, reorganising and re-motivating the army. Secondly, in the wake of their failure, divisions are growing between the rebel factions. Some have called for negotiations with the government, while others remain committed to bringing down the regime by force. The feuding factions have accused each other of treachery, and Déby has taken the opportunity to buy off some of the protagonists. Thirdly, after the failed UFR offensive, some influential circles in Khartoum began to doubt the utility of an alliance with the Chadian armed opposition and consider a rapprochement with N’Djamena. In light of the April 2010 presidential elections and the self-determination referendum in the South scheduled for January 2011, a better relationship with Chad was a pragmatic option for the Sudanese government.

Fearing his military success may only be temporary, Déby wants to ensure the rebels do not find sanctuary in Sudan to regroup and hopes the rapprochement with Khartoum will reduce their room for manoeuvre. The easing of tensions also allows him to reallocate funds from the defence budget to electoral preparations. Postponed several times because of the war, these are now scheduled for November 2010 (legislative and local) and presidential (April 2011).

The 15 January 2010 bilateral agreement and a series of presidential visits – Déby’s to Khartoum in February and May and al-Bashir’s to N’Djamena in July – give reason to hope that relations are returning to normal. However, obstacles remain which, if ignored, could jeopardise the gains made since the beginning of the year. Both presidents aim to use the reconciliation to strengthen their power: Déby vis-à-vis the internal opposition, al-Bashir with respect to the International Criminal Court. But ambiguities surrounding the resumption of talks between N’Djamena and the Chadian rebel groups and between Khartoum and the Darfur rebel group Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) raise questions about the sustainability of the peace process.

On the domestic front, the Chad government is trying to reassert state authority after five years of internal disputes, change the way it runs the country and gain public support for a new national pact based on the rejection of armed struggle. Electoral calculations, however, make this process appear more like a consolidation of Déby’s power. Political manoeuvring in the run-up to voting underscores the high level of patronage within the ruling elites, the regime’s autocratic and clan characteristics and the opposition’s limited political space.

The elections could be an important step in reviving democracy but only if the political situation improves beforehand. Déby’s tight control, disagreements between the government and armed opposition, recurring tensions among ruling elites and more stumbles in the electoral preparations could derail the fragile process. Several windows of opportunity exist for the government to move towards sustainable normalisation, both internally and externally. Above all, it should demonstrate political will by adopting and implementing the measures in the 13 August 2007 agreement reached by the presidential camp and opposition parties which aim to promote an appropriate environment for participatory politics and credible elections. But amid so much uncertainty, the planned withdrawal of the UN peacekeeping mission in Chad and the Central African Republic (MINURCAT) is premature.

Nairobi/Brussels, 17 August 2010

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