Tag Archives: Chad

Central Africa region 2018 – Autocratic entrenchment and increasing instability

The Central Africa region remains a haven for autocratic and semi-autocratic regimes, in sharp contrast to West Africa, and the situation did not improve in 2018. The sub-region is home to the world’s three longest serving presidents: Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea (39 years in power), Cameroon’s Paul Biya (36 years), and Congo’s Denis Sassou Nguesso (34 years). Moreover, Idriss Déby (27 years) of Chad is not far behind, and the Bongo family has ruled Gabon for over 50 years. Faustin-Archange Touadéra of the Central African Republic (CAR) is the only president elected in legitimately competitive polls, in 2016, although his government now has limited control over national territory beyond the capital Bangui.

All six countries, member states of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC by its French acronym), are ranked “not free” by Freedom House, and score below continental averages on the Mo Ibrahim governance index. The six countries share a common currency – the Central African CFA franc – which was first introduced during colonial times in the five francophone territories making up the Federation of Equatorial French Africa (AEF). Equatorial Guinea, the only former Spanish colony member of CEMAC, adopted the CFA in 1984. Only Congo and CAR have experienced brief periods of electoral democracy in the 1990s, before autocrats returned to power in 1997 and 2003, respectively.

The sub-region experienced further autocratic entrenchment and growing instability in 2018. Biya of Cameroon won a seventh term in elections that lacked credibility. Cameroon also continues its descent towards civil war, as the crisis in the Anglophone regions of the country deepens. Anglophone separatists recently created their own crypto-currency, known as AmbaCoin. In Equatorial Guinea, Vice-president Teodorín Obiang who is the son of the current president was promoted major-general as the family closed ranks after an alleged coup attempt in 2017. Teodorín recently presided over a cabinet meeting, confirming fears he is positioned to replace his father soon. In Congo, Sassou Nguesso’s son Denis Christel, one of 10 family members elected to the National Assembly in 2017, was rumored to be preparing to run against his father in 2021. In Gabon, Ali Bongo has been ill for months and the constitutional court took it upon itself to amend the constitution to delineate responsibilities between the prime minister and the vice-president in the event of a “temporary” absence of the president. Déby pushed through a new constitution for Chad that enhanced presidential powers and eliminated the post of prime minister (see previous blog post here). The CAR is increasingly ungovernable, and various armed groups have spread violence to new regions of the country.

Prospects for replacing one-man or dynastic rule in the sub-region through democratic elections are bleak and stand in sharp contrast to democratic progress in neighboring West Africa, where only Togo is left with a president serving more than two terms. Unlike the successful alternation of power that has taken place in 14 of 15 West African countries member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in the last decade, the Central Africa sub-region is a sobering example of strong-man rule in fragile states that could implode into violence.

The situation is not much better when expanding the analysis to the larger Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), which in addition to the CEMAC countries includes Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, and São Tomé and Príncipe. São Tomé and Príncipe is the only country in the larger Central Africa region that regularly holds credible elections and is rated as “free” by Freedom House. The region overall has had limited democratic experiences and ECCAS lacks the equivalent of the 2001 ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance. In contrast to the evolving democratic norms and regional institutions with increasing clout seen in West Africa, Central Africa remains at the mercy of personal networks among autocratic heads of state focused on mutual elite support.

The road to inclusive and credible elections in Central Africa remains long and tortuous, and 2018 has thus far not been a good year for the region. It remains to be seen whether the presidential elections in the DRC on December 23 will break the pattern and result in a peaceful transfer of executive power and more accountable governance [see previous blog post on the DRC here]. The outlook is far from promising, with a worsening political situation and increasing violence as election day approaches.

Chad changes constitution – from semi-presidentialism to a presidential system

Today Chad’s National Assembly is scheduled to vote on a new constitution that will change the country’s political system from semi-presidential to presidential. The text adopted in a cabinet meeting on April 10 is based on recommendations from participants in an eight-day forum held in March, boycotted by the opposition.

The outcome of the vote is fairly certain, given that President Idriss Déby’s party, the Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS), controls a solid majority of seats – 117 out of 188 seats or 62 percent – in a legislature that has not been renewed since 2011. Two allied parties of the MPS hold an additional 14 seats (7.5 percent), totaling more than the two thirds required to adopt constitutional changes by legislative vote, without going through a referendum. The move to bypass a referendum is criticized by opposition political parties as well as civil society groups as “illegitimate,” notably given that the National Assembly’s mandate is itself questionable. Chadian Catholic Bishops have also called for a referendum, noting that “a large part of the Chadian population is unaware of what is happening.”

The new supreme law of the country will inaugurate the IVth Republic, replacing the previous constitution governing the IIIrd Republic in place since 1996. The 1996 text was a result of the 1993 national conference organized by Déby in an effort to legitimize his rule after ousting former President Hissène Habré in 1990. As was the case in other former French colonies in Africa that undertook political openings in the early 1990s, Chad adopted a semi-presidential constitution closely modeled on that of the Vth French Republic [May and Massey 2001, p.15]. It was amended in 2005 to remove presidential term limits, and again in 2013 to allow the president to belong to a political party and making it possible for the executive to remove judges.

So what prompted this change of constitution? Why abandon semi-presidentialism and return to a presidential system, given that the existence of a dual executive does not appear to have cramped Déby’s style thus far? Déby – in power since 1990 – has had an impressive list of prime ministers – incumbent Prime Minister Albert Pahimi Padacké is number 16. One of his predecessors – Delwa Kassiré Koumakoye – even served twice in the role, with 12 years of interval. On average, prime ministers of Chad have stayed less than two years (no one has reached three years). This frequent circulation has prevented prime ministers from establishing their own power base and ignite presidential ambitions. By completely eliminating the prime minister function, Déby does away with a position that could be used by a potential competitor to launch a bid for the presidency in the next election.

Déby promised during his campaign for reelection in 2016 to reintroduce presidential term limits [see previous blog post here]. The new constitution does in fact limit presidential terms to two, while lengthening their duration from 5 to 6 years. However, term limits are not retroactive, meaning that when Déby ends his current term in 2021, he can run for another cumulative 12 years.  This kicks the issue of succession a long way down the road. Déby – 65 years old today – would by 2033 be 81.

Changes, in addition to the removal of the prime minister post and the reintroduction of term limits, include:

  • Raising the age limit for presidential candidates from 35 to 45 years, leading to accusations of “gerontocracy” in a country where life expectancy for men is 49 years and for women 52. The move is intended to “avoid us having our Macron,” quipped one observer on social media.
  • Making it easier for the president to dissolve the National Assembly: before, under the semi-presidential constitution, the president’s ability to dissolve the legislature required that the National Assembly dismiss the government twice in one year; now, the constitution only makes vague reference to “persistent crises between the executive power and the legislative power.”
  • Limiting the number of independent oversight institutions by reducing the Constitutional Council, the Court of Accounts and the High Court of Justice to chambers under the Supreme Court. The High Court of Justice in particular used to be an independent institution with responsibility for voting on the impeachment of the president.

So to conclude, Déby appears to have bought himself some peace of mind with the new constitution. He will be the sole leader of the executive, no longer having to change prime ministers every two years or so to keep the ambitions of potential challengers in check. The issue of succession is shelved for the next 15 years with the introduction of non-retroactive term limits, and the pool of potential contestants has been reduced significantly by the 10-year increase in the minimum age for presidential candidates. Finally, the ability of other institutions to check his powers while he prolongs his stay in the presidential palace has been reduced. The question remains whether popular dissatisfaction and the power of the street could succeed in bringing about Déby’s downfall, as happened in Burkina Faso when Blaise Compaoré sought to further extend his presidency. Déby has strong support among European powers and the US given Chad’s role as a lynchpin in the fight against terrorism. The US took Chad off its travel ban list earlier this month. The position taken by the Chadian security forces would be crucial for the outcome of any attempted uprising.

Ketil Fred Hansen – Chad’s President Déby was perfectly safe a year ago: Not so today

This is a guest post by Ketil Fred Hansen, IGIS, University of Stavanger (ketil.f.hansen@uis.no)

Chad’s President, Idriss Déby Itno, is perfectly safe and no-one can challenge his position, I would have argued a year ago. Déby won his fifth presidential election on 10 April 2016 with 60% of the votes, five times more than his closest competitor Saleh Kebzabo (12,8 %). To strengthen the political opposition, the leaders of 31 political parties founded a new coalition “Front de l’Opposition Nouvelle pour l’Alternance et le Changement” (FONAC), on 26 July 2016, selecting Kebzabo as front-runner. However, many Chadians questioned FONAC’s real commitment to alternation. The opposition party leaders were accused of taking personal advantage of their position rather than being actually interested in political change. In fact, very few opposition parties had ever altered their own leader. Thus, both President Déby and the leaders of the opposition shared the same longevity in their functions to the frustration of younger generations.

These frustrated younger generations organized regular rallies in Ndjamena during 2016. Protests against the regime started when “untouchables”, sons of high-ranking civil servants and ministers, gang-raped a 17 year-old schoolgirl in February 2016. The protests gained force as Déby prepared for his fifth presidential re-election in April 2016, and continued when President Déby introduced his “austerity measures” on 31 August. In fact, 2016 was the year of social protest in Chad.

Still, I would have argued that president Déby was perfectly safe and at the height of his power at the end of 2016. Why?

Both the US and France saw President Déby as one of their closest collaborators in the fight against Boko Haram and other terror threats in the Sahel. N’Djamena was the home of France’s Operation Barkham, containing some 3500 troops, at least 3 drones, 20 helicopters and more than 200 armored vehicles. Chad was also the home of the American Special Forces anti-terror training Operation Flintstone in February 2017, as it had been in 2015. Since the close-to-successful coup d’état in February 2008, Déby had re-equipped and re-organized his army, significantly increasing military expenditure from an already high level. In 2013, the Chadian army gained international acclaim after its rapid deployment and brave operational courage against the Islamist insurgents in Mali. Indeed, by 2016 Chad held one of the best-equipped and best-trained armies in Africa. One of Déby’s sons, Mahamat Idriss Déby, headed the presidential guard that contained at least as many well-equipped and well-trained soldiers as the regular army. A year ago, then, neither civilian protests nor any military threat from inside (mutiny) or outside (insurgents), seemed possible.

In addition, President Déby enjoyed a high standing among his peers in Africa. He chaired the the regional G5 Sahel group and was elected Chairman of the African Union for 2016. As a sign of respect and importance, 14 African heads of state were present in N’Djamena when Déby was sworn in as president on 8 August 2016. However, his African peers were not the only ones to count on him. Germany ‘s Chancellor Angela Merkel invited President Déby to Berlin in October last year, promising Chad close to 9 million Euro in humanitarian aid. President Hollande received Déby numerous times in Paris to discuss both military collaboration and humanitarian aid.

No wonder, then, that I would have said that president Déby was perfectly safe a year ago. Not so today.

Several signs can be interpreted as a weakening of Déby’s power grip during 2017.

In January, France granted Hinda Déby, Déby’s favorite wife and Chad’s first lady, and their 5 children French nationality. Why, this sudden demand for French nationality? Rumors about President Déby’s untreatable cancer flourishes in the Chadian capital. Speculations about who would take power in the case of Déby’s death rocketed in N’Djamena, without anyone being able to give a clear answer. Together with Chad’s post-independence history of continuous power struggles, the uncertainty surrounding a presidential power transfer leads to thoughts of a new civil war.

Increasing activities of Chadian rebel movements in Southern Libya/Northern Chad also indicate that Déby’s position is fading. The Front pour l’Alternance et la Concorde au Tchad (FACT) headed by the 53 year-old-always-rebel Mahamat Mahdi Ali, contains some 1500 armed civilians under training. Other Chadian military movements, one headed by former minister now rebel-leader General Mahamat Nouri and another headed by one of President Déby’s nephews, Qatar-based Timan Erdimi, are also training in the same region. The formal closing of the frontier between Chad and Libya, undertaken sometimes by Libya, sometimes by Chad, has not stopped the rebels’ movements. Islamic State, apparently, backs Chadian rebel movements with money and weapons. Believing that Qatar also funds the rebels, on 23 August 2017 President Déby ordered the Qatari embassy in N’Djamena to close down and staff to leave Chad within ten days. A few weeks later, on 24 September, US President Trump included Chad on the list of terror states, banning the arrival of all Chadians on US soil from 1 October. While Chad is, officially, still a US partner in the fight against terror in the Sahel, Washington no longer has confidence in Chadian intelligence. Neither the quality of the information from Chad nor the sincerity of the collaboration are judged satisfactory by the US. Incomprehensible to most Chadians, both among the opposition and Déby’s entourage, the US travel ban has caused rage in N’Djamena; how come Chad, an acclaimed terror fighter, can be punished so severely by its prime benefactor? Both France and the G5 Sahel were puzzled with the US decision. Officially, no one understands the US travel ban. However, one may speculate that the US intelligence has reason to believe the rumors circulating in N’Djamena: President Déby secretly supports Boko Haram because when Boko Haram is still strong and frightening, Déby can act as an acclaimed fighter of terror and only then does the international community need him and will support him diplomatically, militarily and monetarily. No Boko Haram would mean no president Déby, according to these rumors.

Yet, Boko Haram is still active and the rebels in the north not strong enough to pose a serious threat to Déby alone. For the US and the EU, Chad and president Déby represent a stable spot in the midst of a troubled region. Déby has skilfully managed to stay in power for 27 years already. As long as his personal health is good enough and as long as the West needs him in the fight against terror, Déby will stay president in Chad. However, the day when either of these is no longer the case, Chad will turn into a nightmare of violent power struggles.

Chad – Idriss Déby, enough is enough?

President Idriss Déby, in power for 24 years this December, is watching as a coalition of civil society groups, “Trop c’est trop” (enough is enough), is coming together and feeling its way. Formed on 18 November 2014, the coalition is composed of about 15 groups focusing on human rights, corruption, women’s and youth rights, and includes labor unions. The coalition champions citizens’ welfare issues, such as the rising cost of living, lack of access to electricity, and widespread corruption.

The creation of the “Trop c’est trop” coalition follows on the heels of a spontaneous demonstration on November 11 that spread from the southern city of Sarh to the capital N’Djamena and Moundou – affecting the three largest cities in the country.  Hundreds of people rallied to protest against gas shortages and skyrocketing prices for fuel (in a country that produces 130,000 barrels of oil a day), as well as teacher salary payment arrears. The fuel shortages are widely perceived to be artificially created to benefit a small number of traders, some of whom may be closely associated with the president.

“Trop c’est trop” was the refrain chanted by protesters in late October against Blaise Compaoré’s attempt at perpetuating his rule through a constitutional change eliminating presidential term limits.  The Chadian activists claim, however, theirs is not a copy-cat coalition but the result of a long period of reflection, and that their aim is not to “seize power or overturn any regime.” The government is not convinced. Prime Minister Pahimi Kalzeubet Deubet issued a strong warning within days of the coalition coming together. In a public statement he accused civil society of coalescing with opposition political parties against the government, with the risk of inciting disorder and violence.

Prime Minister Deubet stated the government would react firmly to actions perceived as threatening social cohesion and national stability. Putting words into action, police hindered “Trop c’est trop” from doing a press conference on Saturday, 13 December. The coalition wanted to draw public attention to a potential financial scandal involving SOGECT-TCHAD (Societé de Commerce Général de Construction et de Transport), a construction and import-export company headed by a nephew of Idriss Déby. SOGECT has diversified into a number of sectors with lucrative contract possibilities, including biometrics, and had until recently benefitted from an agreement with the Chadian government for the production of official documents such as passports, identity cards and driver’s licenses. Three months before its expiration, the government broke the contract with SOGECT, which promptly sued the state for 34 billion FCFA (64.5 million USD). According to his critics, this outcome was intended all along by President Déby as a way of getting access to quick cash through the pay-out to SOGECT of its claims.

Déby is likely to stand for reelection in 2016. He is a survivor of rebellions and has gradually emerged as a regional powerbroker and purveyor of battle hardened soldiers to UN peace missions in the Africa region. Most recently, Chad has backed negotiations between the government of neighboring Nigeria and Boko Haram. Chad is an important military ally of France whose counter terrorism “Opération Barkhane” is headquartered in N’Djamena.

While Déby will not have to tinker with the constitution, as presidential term limits were already eliminated in 2005, the upcoming poll could still be a unifying opportunity for his opponents, inspired by the Burkina Faso example – reportedly students demonstrating on November 11 chanted “Burkina Faso, Burkina Faso.” It remains to be seen whether other aspects of the Burkina Faso example would translate to the Chadian context, such as the close collaboration between opposition parties and civil society, and the role of the military that ultimately chose to refrain from causing a bloodbath.