Chad’s military transition bottleneck and deadlocks in the constitution-making process
In Chad, the Transitional Military Council will hold an "Inclusive National Dialogue" leading to a new constitution. Unlike previous forums, this national dialogue will likely include voices from the opposition and representatives of armed groups. But for critics, the Council’s actions (including appointing by decree an interim parliament before the national dialogue), and refusal to countenance opposition to the process, raise serious concerns about the transparency, legitimacy, and inclusivity of the constitution-building process. Further, competing interests and deep-rooted disagreements on topics such as the form of the state may lead to political deadlocks during the dialogue and beyond – writes Dr. Sioudina Mandibaye Dominique
In April 2021, it was announced that the Chadian president Marshal Idriss Déby Itno had been killed in clashes with the rebel group Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT). A Transitional Military Council seized power and Déby's son Mahamat Idriss Déby, a 37-year-old general in the Chadian army, was granted the functions of president under a new charter in place of the Constitution. This declaration was contrary to Chad’s Constitution, which provides that in the event of a president’s death, the president of the National Assembly should provisionally lead the country for 45 to 90 days before new elections take place. Nevertheless, the junta announced that parliament was dissolved, and that it would rule the country for an eighteen-month period (renewable once), during which time it would organize an inclusive national dialogue.
During their first meeting with diplomats and NGO representatives, the Vice-President of the Transitional Military Council (CMT), General Djimadoum Tiraina, tried to reassure the national and international community by stating that “the ambition of the military council is not to hold the power but to hand it over to civilians through a free and fair election after this period of transition”. The international community, mainly Chad’s partners, stepped lightly in reaction to the junta’s assumption of power. France and the African Union (AU) were particularly reluctant to antagonise N’Djamena, an important ally in the anti-jihadist fight in the Lake Chad basin and the Sahel. Paris invoked the “exceptional security reasons” and the necessity of ensuring the country’s stability to justify its support for the junta. Though the AU had temporarily suspended Mali’s membership in response to a coup in August, it kept Chad in good standing because of the country’s military contributions to counter-terrorism operations, and in consideration of the country’s fragility post-Déby. The African Union agreed to support the transition on condition that the authorities hold presidential elections within eighteen months, barring the military council’s members from running in those polls, and demanded that the junta amend the transitional charter to include clauses to this effect. But this request was not approved by the transitional authorities.
The CMT is making moves toward the promised national dialogue that will lead to a new constitution, but the sequencing of its actions (appointing by decree an interim parliament before the national dialogue) raises questions about the transparency, legitimacy, and inclusivity of the constitution-building process. According to Maxvelt Loalngar, spokesman of opposition alliance Wakit Tama and head of the Chadian League of Human Rights, ‘‘The Chadian people as a whole have pinned their hopes on the holding of a sovereign, inclusive and comprehensive national conference, which would make it possible to rebuild the nation on the basis of a new social contract that brings peace and hope. However, it is clear that the CMT and its government have opted for […] forced passage in order to preserve partisan interests.”
A new government, opposition divided
Soon after Marshal Idriss Déby Itno’s death, the CMT appointed Albert Pahimi Padacké as prime minister of a transitional government. Albert Pahimi, who placed second during the April 2021 presidential election, served as prime minister for the former president from 2016 to 2018 (before the 2018 Constitution established a fully presidential system).
Chadian opposition was sharply divided on whether to join the new transitional government.
Chadian opposition was sharply divided on whether to join the new transitional government. Some opposition leaders opted to join the government – notably former opposition leaders Saleh Kebzabo and Mahamat Ahmat Alhabo. Saleh Kebzabo, an old opponent of Marshal Déby and current vice president of the Organizing Committee for an Inclusive National Dialogue, recognised the new government. As a result, two members of his party, the National Union for Democracy and Renewal (UNDR), were appointed to ministerial posts. To explain his actions Kebzabo stated, “we have decided to support not an institution nor an individual, but to join the transition and its body in order to bring a positive and dynamic change.” Another figure of the opposition, Mahamat Ahmat Alhabo of the Party for Liberties and Development (PLD), was appointed Minister of Justice.
Even though some members of the opposition have joined the government, most ministries remain in the hands of the Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS), the party of the late president, and several former ministers of the previous government were reappointed to their former portfolio or appointed to another ministry. By decree, CMT President Mahamat Idriss Déby also created a new Ministry of Reconciliation and Dialogue, as part of his promise to organise an "inclusive national dialogue". He appointed Acheikh Ibn-Oumar as its head, a former rebel leader who had become diplomatic adviser to President Déby in 2019.
But some political parties and civil society groups – like the opposition alliance Wakit Tama – have rejected the transitional government as illegitimate and called for a civilian-military council to replace the junta.
A controversial interim parliament
After appointing the transitional government, on 24 September 2021 Mahamat Idriss Déby appointed by decree a 93-member interim parliament, the Conseil National de Transition (CNT), with the necessary standing to pass forthcoming laws. Some members of the CNT are relatively unknown in Chadian politics, but among the familiar figures are the former president of the National Assembly and current speaker, Haroun Kabadi, and former Prime Minister Delwa Kassiré Coumakoye. Figures known to have opposed Idriss Déby but were appointed to the CNT include Ngarledji Yorongar and Felix Romadoumngar. The interim parliament has a 30% quota for each of three categories: members of the previous National Assembly, women, and young people. According to the government, this quota reflects the recommendations of the 2018 ‘Inclusive National Forum,’ to promote the equality of women and of youth in Chad.
While the inclusion of opposition and representation of women and youth may seem promising, critics are sceptical about the possibility of real change.
While the inclusion of opposition and representation of women and youth may seem promising, critics are sceptical about the possibility of real change: according to Wakit Tama's spokesman Maxvelt Loalngar, "It will be no different from the old National Assembly, and that skews the much-expected dialogue." For him, as for other critics, the members of this interim parliament do not have legitimacy since they were appointed by the junta rather than elected by the people.
Previous National Forums
After the Fourth Republic dissolved with the death of President Déby, the time was ripe for Chad to embark on a new constitution-building process to redefine access to public power and resources, to address demands for autonomy and recognition, and to provide a long-term blueprint for societal change. Some observers suggest instead of making a new constitution, a simple return to the 1996 Constitution would guarantee the balance of power and limit the presidential mandate. For others, it would be preferable to discuss implementing the 28 resolutions adopted by the 2018 Inclusive National Forum, and update unproductive provisions rather than write an entirely new Constitution.
During the Inclusive National Forum in 2018, a core debate, on the suitable form of the state, was reopened, and the Assembly voted for a highly decentralized but unitary state. As a consequence, the revised Constitution of 2018 decentralized power to regional, departmental, communal and rural levels, but this has not been properly implemented. While the 2018 reforms include some innovations – including presidential term limits, the appointment of a vice-president, the reduction of the minimum age to run for president from 45 to 40, and the establishment of a Senate – opposition groups and civil society groups dismissed the process as an opportunistic strategy to allow the president to continue clinging onto power.
From 29 October to 1 November 2020, the government organized the second ‘Inclusive National Forum’ aimed at evaluating the implementation of the resolutions of the first forum. But, as previously analysed on ConstitutionNet, this constitutional reform widened rifts among key political stakeholders on issues like the form of state. During the two previous forums, despite the government’s declaration of inclusivity, some opposition groups and civil society organizations hostile to the ruling party were not invited, or simply boycotted the forums.
In the current case, however, the CMT seems committed to include diverse and oppositional voices in the dialogue, but questions remain regarding the legitimacy of the process. In particular, criticism against the National Dialogue centres on sequencing: many believe that the formation of an interim parliament should be proposed through the National Dialogue, which would have given it legitimacy and the necessary mandate to vote on a new constitution.
Consultations for the third National Dialogue: inclusion of opposition and armed groups
On 14 August, the junta named a 70-member Organizing Committee for an Inclusive National Dialogue consisting of MPS members, former opposition leaders and civil society representatives, charged with laying the groundwork for the National Dialogue. Over two weeks in November, delegations from the Organizing Committee travelled across Chad and to France, Nigeria, Senegal and Benin to consult with representatives of political parties, civil society, unions, and professional bodies, including from the diaspora. The Committee is now compiling the results of its consultations, after which it will set the date for the National Dialogue.
The Transitional Military Council agreed to grant a general amnesty to enable armed groups’ participation in the National Dialogue.
The CMT also named a 28-member committee mandated to organise talks with rebels, led by Goukouni Oueddeï, a widely respected former rebel leader-turned-president (1979-1982). Meetings were organized in France, Qatar, and Egypt, after which approximately twenty groups including FACT agreed in principle to participate in the National Dialogue under certain conditions, including an amnesty and a preliminary round of government-rebel negotiations. On 29 November, the CMT agreed to grant a general amnesty to enable armed groups’ participation in the National Dialogue, and also agreed, as requested, to a “pre-dialogue” with the groups.
Most other Chadian stakeholders have agreed to join the National Dialogue, but their expectations vary. Compared to the two previous forums boycotted by the opposition, the majority of opposition political parties and civil society organizations (including some members of opposition coalition Wakit Tama) have decided this time to participate in the National Dialogue and expect to have their voices heard. But UST, the main Chadian trade union belonging to the same coalition, decided to boycott the dialogue.
For Dr. Succès Masra, the 38-year old charismatic leader of Les Transformateurs, it is out of the question to participate in the National Dialogue unless military leaders formally declare their commitment not to run in the upcoming election. While Masra was excluded from the presidential elections in April 2021 because of his young age, those who called him too young and ‘immature’ have accepted Mahamat Idriss Déby, who is younger than him, as head of the transition. Masra calls for an “inclusive and sovereign national conference”, stating that this dialogue is the country’s last chance to avoid lapsing into complete disorder. However, with the past ruling party and its allies forcing their own solution by dictating the rules and refusing to bargain on the process with the opposition, there is a danger that the current consultations may result in a prolonged deadlock that can significantly delay or even trigger the collapse of the country, with the risk of continuous authoritarian military rule.
This National Dialogue, which was initially scheduled to take place in November-December 2021 followed by elections between June and September 2022, will focus on five main topics: the form of the state; the adjustment of the main institutions of the republic; the legislative process; the consolidation of peace, national identity, good governance; and judicial reform.
Federalism back on the agenda
During the consultations, there was no consensus on the form of the state. The regions of the south, with a Christian majority, have a preference for federalism, while the regions in the north, predominantly Muslim, want a centralized state.
In November, Chad hosted a three-day international conference with more than 300 scholars to discuss the form of the state. According to professor Baniara Yoyana, based on the critical challenge for successive Chadian governments because of the largely peaceful but delicate co-existence between the two dominant religious communities (Muslims and minority Christians), the country should embrace federalism. He believes federalism as the form of state would address the issue of ineffective decentralization, which does not give much power to the provinces, and the problem of resource allocation (including the concentration of oil revenue in the hands of a few).
Considerable regional disparities in public services and the distribution of oil revenues between the Muslim north and the Christian south remain, provoking serious concerns.
While the Chadian Constitution establishes a secular republic, peaceful co-existence between the two dominant religious communities, Muslims and Christians, is fragile. Considerable regional disparities in public services and the distribution of oil revenues between the Muslim north and the Christian south remain, provoking serious concerns. A growing number of autonomy movements, mainly from the southern Christian regions, wish to have control over their own affairs, including the management of oil revenue from sources located in the southern region.
The second Inclusive National Forum held from 19 to 27 March 2018, and previously analysed on ConstitutionNet, adopted decentralization of powers, rather than a federal system, despite demands for a federal system from the southern, predominantly Christian regions. For the supporters of a unitary state structure in general, considering the long history of serious internal conflicts and fragile coexistence, a federal state structure in Chad could lead to the partition of the country.
Much is resting on Chad’s transition. Making a new constitution is not an easy task if there is no trust among the main stakeholders. In less than five years, the Chadian constitution has been revised two times. Thus, more than a mere technical exercise, the challenge today for Chadian people is reconciling the wide range of stakeholders with divergent views and conflicting interests. As a bottleneck, many Chadians fear that the Transitional Military Council will not honour its pledges to limit the transition to eighteen months and exclude its own members from running in the presidential election. Should it renege on those promises, protests and further instability will likely ensue.
The issues of justice and the form of state, for instance, remain divisive topics that will inevitably cause heated discussions during constitutional negotiations. The new opposition coalition sees the National Dialogue as an opportunity to make up for years of exclusion from governance and will probably seek to redress the balance of power in state institutions, reduce the military’s political role, and introduce checks and balances in government. It remains to be seen whether competing interests will lead to political deadlocks, or whether this, more inclusive dialogue, will enable a productive conversation on the future of Chad.
Dr. Sioudina Mandibaye Dominique is a lecturer at the University of N’Djamena, Chad.