Like the proverbial cat with nine lives, Chad’s former president, Idriss Déby, survived many coup attempts, including one that reached his doorstep before his blushes were spared by French troops.
But the strongman, who ruled Chad for over 30 years and was known as the “Great Survivor,” was not lucky this time. He died from injuries sustained in fighting with rebel groups Tuesday, a day after he won sixth term reelection, an army spokesperson said.
Yet the rebels are not backing down. They have threatened to press their offensive into the capital N’Djamena, leaving neighbouring countries like Nigeria reeling in uncertainty over the security of the Sahel region.
This has startled world leaders who have been careful not to call the military takeover of government a coup even though the Chadian military announced immediately that it had formed a transition government headed by Mr Deby’s 37-year-old son, Mahamat, an army general popularly called Kaka.
Like his father, Kaka is highly ranked in the military. He is a decorated general and would serve as the interim head of state for the next 18 months.
“There’s not much constitutional democracy in Chad,” said Femi Mimiko, a professor of political science. “They just paid lip service to democracy but what they had effectively in place was a military regime.”
He said that is why it was not difficult for the country to transit to a full-fledged military government after Mr Deby’s demise.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how the military’s decision conflicts with the Chadian Constitution, which provides that, on the death of a president, an election should be held within 90 days.
Based on the Chadian constitution, the speaker of the parliament should assume power for an interim period of 40 days following the death of a sitting president.
Chad’s transition process is an “unfortunate coup d’etat,” as it violates the African Union’s Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance and the Constitution of Chad, the Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, told this newspaper.
She said the situation had further exposed the deterioration of governance on the continent.
Fragile African Democracies
For years, there has been mounting concern in Africa about the increasing trend of hard-won democratic rights being reversed.
One way this is being done is through presidential term limits being abandoned or extended, and disregard for transitional governments. This in turn is leading to a reemergence of authoritarian politics, and political violence.
Burundi is a case in point on this. A bill was approved to amend the constitution and extend presidential term limits from five to seven years. Incumbency would be restricted to two consecutive terms.
But since the amendment doesn’t apply retroactively, it means that President Pierre Nkurunziza could possibly remain in office until 2034.
Burundi is far from alone in this course. Rwanda, Togo, Gabon, Uganda, Chad, Cameroon, Djibouti, Republic of Congo, Sudan, Eritrea, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have all fiddled with term limits. They’ve done this by abolishing, amending or ignoring them, or by simply not holding elections.
Many African countries made little progress towards democracy. In some cases, countries became more repressive.
Citizens showing their disapproval of authoritarianism have been met with repression and violence in countries like Uganda and Sudan.
In many such cases, the African Union and sub-regional bodies have not been able to put their feet down firmly in support of democracy and human rights.
Ms Hassan said the assumption of power by Kaka has placed a difficult burden on Africa especially on the African Union (AU) and Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), which Chad is a member of.
“We do not expect anything from ECCAS, because the regional economic commission in Central Africa has never been effective but we do expect a lot from the African Union,” she said.
Nigeria, Chad’s large and influential neighbour, has also refused to describe the latest actions of the military in Chad as a coup and has failed to condemn it.
Solomon Usman, a foreign policy expert, kicked against the military’s action in Chad, saying “it is not too good for ECOWAS protocol on good governance and democratic principles.”
Because of the historical links and cultural affinities that Nigeria shares with Chad, whatever happens there should be of interest to Nigeria, he said.
“This is a litmus test for Nigeria to defend democracy and constitutionalism in Africa as it did in other African countries such as Gambia, Niger and Guinea in the past,” he said.
War on Terror
Analysts believe that the death of Mr Déby could open a large vacuum in the fight against terror and could potentially open the lid for a bloody battle for political control of the oil-producing country that borders Nigeria’s volatile North-east region.
“The bad guys everywhere on the continent are going to be emboldened thereby and seek maximum damage,” Mr Mimiko noted. “Hardly the best of times for the Sahel in particular, and the African continent in general.”
“A complete takeover of Chad, Nigeria’s north-eastern neighbour, by insurgents, is scary to contemplate. Yet, something tells me this is not a scenario that should be completely ruled out,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
Chad’s military has arguably had some of the best successes against Boko Haram and that was largely due to Mr Déby’s battle-ready leadership.
Now under the control of his son, an experienced military officer but a leadership rookie, experts fear he may not be able to achieve as much success militarily as his father against the insurgents.
“I doubt if the son will have the dexterity of his father to be able to hold that permanently fractious country together,” Mr Mimiko added.
Western countries, especially France, had counted on Mr Deby as an ally in the fight against militants, including Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin and other terrorist groups in the Sahel. France, on Thursday, based its support for the army’s coup on security concerns.
The country has a volatile neighbourhood, and incursions into the country from beyond its borders are frequent.
Some analysts believe the Chadian military is overstretched with both its regional role and facing down frequent revolts at home.
The rebel forces threatening to take over the country predated Mr Déby’s emergence as the leader of Chad. The build up to last week’s election, and the subsequent uptick in rebel activities, only put things more on the edge.
But the country has suffered even more economic downturn with attendant disruption by the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
SBM, a research firm, in its report published Tuesday, referenced a March 2020 incident when jihadist fighters succeeded in launching their deadliest ever attack on Chadian troops in the Lake Chad region.
This led to an offensive that had a negative effect on the country’s treasury amidst a drop in oil revenue and a global recession brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report noted that popular discontent has been growing in Chad as the cost of living has been on the rise, and per capita income has fallen steadily since 2014.
“After a small economic improvement in 2019, per capita income currently stands at $710, higher than only the Niger Republic in the Sahel region,” the SBM report noted.
Where’s Nigeria in all this?
Mr Déby was a key ally for Nigeria in its decade-old fight against Boko Haram.
Chad is Nigeria’s neighbour to the North-east where the decade-long war against Boko Haram has not abated and Mr Déby’s passing could derail the limited successes achieved against the terror group.
This fact is not lost on President Buhari who said Mr Déby’s death would create a “big vacuum” in efforts to fight Boko Haram terrorists in the region.
His death could mean that the insurgents will have no worries about their flanks and can attack the Nigerian army at will, SBM noted
“This will likely mean the consolidation of the Lake Chad Basin as a staging area for the insurgents from where to launch attacks on towns and military bases.”
The report added that his passing has left a big gap in a neighbouring country that is likely to have a profound impact on Nigeria’s security.
“Nigeria is still reeling from the southward flow of jihadists and ammunition in the wake of Muammar Gaddafi’s death in 2011. The upheaval in Chad is much closer to home and thus potentially much more significant,” SBM wrote.
With Chad on the edge and Niger Republic, the country’s neighbour to the northeast, only recently surviving a coup attempt, Nigeria is flanked by countries with fragile peace.
Likewise, Benin Republic to Nigeria’s west, following President Patrice Talon’s re-election, has been experiencing clampdown on the civic space.
Protesters who blocked major roads, cutting off traffic from the south to the north, were dislodged by the security forces using tear gas and then live ammunition.
If anything, Nigeria needs to watch it. The limited gains against Boko haram are just about to be tested.
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