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Chadian Crises: Doorway for Disaster if Left Unchecked

The Nigeria Government has warned that giving room for the instability in Chad has grave implications for the peace and security of the countries in the Sahel and Chad Basin regions.

President Muhammadu Buhari sounded the alarm on 25 May 2021 while speaking at the opening of the Extraordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) in Abuja.

A statement issued by Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, harped on the need to support the country in concluding transition processes from military to democratic rule within 18 months, as promised by General Mahamat Idris Deby, the Chairman of the Transition Military Council.

While insisting on the necessity of the transition process and the fact that it is guided by the constitution, President Buhari pointed out that the death of President Idriss Deby had direct implications for the continued peace and stability of Chad as a nation, the Lake Chad region and the wider Sahel Region:

‘‘Our region is faced with difficult and several challenges that need the support and engagement of all to overcome. While transnational crimes and rebellion cutting across our region continue to evolve in scope, the attendant conflicts also continue to retain their distinct form of inflicting untold hardship and difficulty on the lives of our citizens.

‘‘The threats by the Chadian rebel groups, who are clamouring to overthrow the government, must be viewed with all the seriousness they deserve because the consequences of a destabilised Chad to the sub-region cannot be imagined.

‘‘The flow of refugees and displaced persons from the country, unrestrained flow of arms, drugs and other harmful substances into Lake Chad and Sahel regions, which are already challenged by terrorists seeking to establish parallel systems, would further compound the security and stability of our areas and neighbouring countries.

President Muhammadu Buhari further stated that in honour of the memory of the men and women that have died in search of peace in the region, it is our collective duty “to rise in unison as leaders of the region to ensure that peace, stability and security are not disrupted in Chad and in the entire region.”

While stating that it “categorically rejects any form of extension of the transition period”, the African Union had also on 20 May 2021 emphasised “the absolute need for a transition towards a democratic regime to be achieved within 18 months.”

It is almost a month since the death of the Chadian President, Idriss Deby. The vacuum his demise has created in the fight against insecurity in the region is still being felt. The late president, indubitably, was instrumental in the fight against insurgency that has plagued the region for ages. As Wall Street Journal pointed out, “Chad is an essential component of Western countries’ strategy in the Sahel and in the fight against terrorism.” Hence, whatever happens in Chad is likely to affect countries in the Sahel and Chad Basin regions.

Idriss Deby managed to build one of the most effective armies in sub-Saharan Africa which has, over the last 20 years, appeared on all fronts of the war against jihadist groups in the Sahel. The Chadian army is also said to have been involved in civil wars in neighbouring countries like Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR), and more indirectly in Libya.

Just after his death, a Transitional Military Council was established, with 15 generals all very close to Déby. The TMC is chaired by Deby’s 37-year-old son. The council suspended the constitution and declared an 18-month transition period. The political opposition and civil society immediately labelled the move a military coup and called for protests.

The African Union also called for peaceful demonstrations with threats of regional sanctions on the Chadian military. But while the United States and France were silent on the developments, they were quick to condemn the killings that accompanied demonstrations by raging protesters and warring factions.

Although there is a level of relative tranquillity in Chad, tensions with the political opposition are rapidly increasing. Rebels who killed the Chadian president who ruled for thirty years are not relenting in their fight. They have continued to engage troops in the Northern Kanem region, around 330km from Nigeria’s border communities.

Despite the fact that the Chadian Military claimed victory in its week-long battle with rebels that saw the death of Idriss Deby, tensions are not likely to wane. Major stakeholders are thus concerned about the growing political instability in Chad disrupting the Sahel security apparatus, with Nigeria among the hardest hit.

Political segregation, internal wrangling, corruption and repression of dissent are said to be factors that have continued to heighten tensions in Chad, which ranks 187th out of 189 countries on UNDP’s Human Development Index.

Security experts have said that unless these fundamental factors are addressed, instability in the Sahel country is likely to deepen even after return to democratic governance. This has regional repercussions owing to Chad’s strategic location connecting Central and Western Africa with Sudan and the Maghreb.

The international community should put strong pressure on the Transitional Military Council so that the hope of returning the country to democratic governance is not scuttled away. The same pressure that saw the council nominate a civilian prime minister should be emboldened.

Analysts have also said that to cool off tensions, especially the brawl with rebel groups, the Transitional Military Council should nominate a government representative of the country’s different ethnic groups, mainly those from the south that have decried marginalisation over time.