After the killing of the President Idriss Dèby, who gained power in the aftermath of the coup in 1990, Chad’s future has been determined by complex military plots contrived by clans interlinked to the Zaghawa ethnicity, who have been exercising dominion over the country with the use of violence throughout the last three decades. In proximity of the border with Sudan, the Zaghawa ethnicity clans fight against one another in order to gain control over the country, its lands and resources. These harsh clashes also occur amongst the member of the Transition Military Council (TMC), a governmental body led by Déby’s son Mahamat Idriss, and founded by fifteen Zaghawa generals who disrespected the Constitution. All this happened in suspicious circumstances, just a few hours after the death of the President occurred between the 19th and the 20th of April.
The harsh tensions, rooted even into each Zaghawa household, were part of the so-called “Déby’s system”, in which the different clans were not treated equally but subject to patterns of discrimination. This was exacerbated in March, when the presidential guards broke into the house of Yaya Dillo, a President’s cousin who was running for the April elections. The ambush led to the killing of Dillo’s mother and one of his children, leaving a deep wound in Déby’s family. This event marked a militarization of the electoral campaign, and some opponents were forced into boycott.
Ever since, something has changed in the clans controlling the country. However, discontent and division characterise also the deepest section of the Chadian army, within which President Dèby used to repress all those soldiers claiming their own rights. Deployed in difficult mission in Sahel or in conflicts against the rebels plaguing the northern Chad, soldiers have the right to be paid. Nevertheless, Déby used to keep two thirds of the wage for himself, either sending those who complained into the Koro Toro prison, in the middle of the desert in the north of the country, or just firing them. Therefore, Déby did not use to oppress only civilians, but also members of the army and of the security forces who opposed his management of the soldiers and of the country. All these contradictions and divisions do not seem to be settling, and are likely going to nurture the dissatisfaction of the population.
What is being fought for
Chad has been plagued for years by fratricidal and intra-community conflicts amongst the over 200 ethnicities of the country, from North to South. The war for the control of the pastures and the invasion of the livestock of the cultivated lands cause every year harsh tensions between breeders and farmers, culminating in gory fighting.
In addition, the armed groups that aim to control the country scramble for resources, mainly for the gold and uranium in the North. Some of these armed groups threaten the central power, which often carries out military interventions meant to pull a plug on these ambitions of expansion. The main example is represented by the Front pour l’Alternance et la Concorde au Tchad (FACT), which descended on the capital and brought about violent clashes with the governmental army in the western region of Kanem, causing hundreds of deaths and war prisoners, as well as the killing of President Idriss Déby.
Furthermore, there are numerous clashes amongst clans of the Zaghawa ethnicities, whose heirs are driven by greed. Against this backdrop, the new President Mahamat Idriss and his brother Zacaria are not in good terms, since the latter deems himself to be the legitimate heir as son of Hinda Déby, the late President’s first wife.
Moreover, Chad is massively committed to the fight against jihad terrorism with the G5 Sahel group, which is the institutional framework of coordination and monitoring of the regional cooperation in matters of development policies and security.
The end of the Libyan conflict, sealed by the Geneva peace treaty signed in October 2020, caused the movement of mercenaries and armed groups southwards, leading to instability in Chad. During the violent clash between the Front pour l’Alternance et la Concorde au Tchad (FACT) and the governmental army, President Idriss Déby lost his life, leaving the country amid havoc.
Once a French colony, Chad became independent in 1960: this appeared to be the beginning of a transition that would have led to the coveted stability in the country. On the 20th of September of that same year, Chad became an official UN member too.
The first Chadian President, elected on the 11th of August 1960, was Francois Tombalbaye, who had founded the Progressive Party of Tchad (PPT) after the end of the conflict. The expectations of the population were soon disappointed, as Tombalbaye’s regime turned into a dictatorship.
Only two years after his appointment, the President banned all the other parties, repressing all political opponents. The discontent soared and, in a couple of circumstances, the Government had to pull a plug on internal riots. Tensions manifested both in the north, inhabited by Islamic populations, and in the South, inhabited by Christian and animist folks.
In 1966, in contiguous Sudan, the National Front for the Liberation of Chad (FROLINAT) was born: the group of rebels took weapons against the Government, starting a gory civil conflict that continued even after the insurrection of the 13th of April 1975, when Tombalbaye was killed and the General Felix Malloum, leader of the military junta, became the new head of the Government.
Given the impossibility of ending the FROLINAT’s guerrilla, Malloum decided in 1978 to appoint the leader of the rebels Hissene Habre as Prime Minister. However, the coexistence between the two heads did not last much. The following year, the Frolinat forces and Malloum’s army fought each other in the capital N’Djamena. The coup leader Malloum was forced to flee, but the country fell into an even more appalling crisis.
The civil war involved, alongside the FROLINAT, numerous rebel factions and soon the situation was out of control. The intervention of the United Nations pushed Chad to the signature, in August 1979, of a peace treaty (the Lagos Agreement) which allowed for the formation of a transition Government which should have led the country to the political elections. While the head of this government was Goukouni Oueddei, Habre was appointed minister of Defence. However, 18 months later, the situation was not different, and the hostilities kept bursting across the country. Oueddei managed to gain control over the capital thanks to the military intervention of Libyan troops. The Libyan contribution was pivotal once again in 1983, when the governmental army directed another attack against Habre’s forces which, in turn, received help from the French troops settled in the country. In 1984, France and Libya agreed to withdraw their presence from Chad. However, this decision was not respected by Libya, which decided to not remove its soldiers from the Aouzou Strip. Only in 1987 did Chad and Libya sign a cease-fire deal, which remained in force until 1988.
Throughout the eighties, the stability in Chad was undermined by several uprisings. In 1990, a deserter of Habre’s army, Idriss Déby, organized a coup d’Etat and managed to form a new Government, of which he was President for more than thirty years. The situation in the country has worsened since 2003, when thousands of refugees fleeing from the civil conflict-torn Darfur started reaching Chad to escape from atrocities. On the 23rd December 2005, the Chadian Government officially declared war against Sudan. The decision followed several clashes between the two countries in the proximity of the borders, endangering the people living thereabout. In 2010, the two countries signed a peace treaty.
During Idriss Déby’s regime, groups of rebels tried several times to topple the Government and gain power. Therefore, the country is still characterised by violent clashes, and the instability steadily soars, especially since April, when the President himself was murdered.
Key figure or organization: Gali Gatta Ngotho
Gali Gatta Ngotho is the deputy and spokesperson of the Coordination of the political parties for the Defence of the Constitution (CPDC), the main coalition of the Chadian opposition – nowadays directly involved in the coordination of the population’s movements organizing the protests. As an opponent of Idriss Déby, Gali was arrested several times, persecuted for his ideas and cause, but he has always resisted the Government’s attempts to bribe him. After the military coup, he declared: “The plug has been removed from the pressure cooker. From Hissene Habro (Chadian dictator from 1982 to 1990) to Dèby, it has been 40 years, during which the Chadian population has been subject to authoritarian power, enduring poverty and being deprived of the right to freely express itself. The riots have now burst out and I believe it is difficult to find the way back”.
FOCUS 1 – Bishops against the CMT
On the 22nd of April 2021 the catholic bishops, gathered in a special session in N’Djamena, released a statement entitled: “Peace be with you”, thereby they condole with the population for President Déby’s death. In addition, they declared to be ready to contribute to a national inclusive debate, as strongly requested by the Chadian population and the social movements.
This debate must be led by someone politically independent, reliable and neutral: someone who will be able to create the premises upon which it will be possible to found a consensual political order. There are two conditions to achieve the goal: reaching a cease-fire agreement and carrying out the transition in full accordance with the Constitution.
The eight Chadian bishops emphasized that the military junta’s actions do not represent the solution to the problem and that it is paramount to abide by the wording of the Constitution. This powerful, brave and prophetic statement underscores the need to focus on the needs of the people, who have been victims of fratricidal conflicts and looting of their resources for decades.
FOCUS 2 – action from the civil society
Organizations of the civil society and protection of human rights, opposition political parties, trade unions and youth movements have founded a new platform called “Wakit tam”, meaning “the moment is here”.
The idea behind the initiative consists of uniting the efforts and perspectives in order to bring about a structural change of the country, after the exclusion of these subjects from the National Forum organized by the Government to discuss the alterations of the Constitution occurred in May 2018. Wakit tam organizes peaceful initiatives, such as sit-in, manifestations and non-violent marches, in order to call for the end of the so-called “Déby’s system” and determine a shift in the country.