Chad's opposition fears more business as usual for France after coming elections

By Zeenat Hansrod - RFI
MAR 18, 2024 LISTEN

As elections approach in Chad, the country's civil society fears that nothing will change. The vote should mark the country's transition back to democracy after three years of military government, but the opposition says France, which has a military presence there, has an interest in maintaining the status quo.

Mahamat Idriss Deby, who took power at the head of a military junta in April 2021 after the death of his father, long-time president Idriss Deby Itno, is running in the election scheduled for 6 May, with a second round on 22 June. Prime Minister Succes Masra is standing against him. 

A major issue for Chad is the presence of French troops in the country. Earlier this month France's special envoy to Africa, Jean-Marie Bockel, met both candidates in the capital, Ndjamena, and said the roughly 1,000 troops stationed would stay.

“We need to stay and, of course, we will stay,” he said.

“When Bockel says that the French army must stay in Chad, this is a declaration of war for the people of Chad,” Soumaine Adoum, a spokesperson for Wakit Tama, a coalition of local opposition and civil society groups, told RFI.

“Bockel may declare that the French army needs to stay here, but this is not what the Chadians want. This is something only the interim president and him agreed upon.”

Free and fair elections?

“The French troops have been in Chad long enough,” said Adoum.

French troops have been in Chad since 1983, when 3,500 soldiers intervened following an appeal by then president Hissene Habre for military intervention to fight Libyan forces.

Juntas in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso have all recently ordered France to withdraw its troops from their respective territories, leaving Paris with military bases in Gabon, Senegal, Cote d'Ivoire, Djibouti and Chad.

Adoum fears that France and other Western partners will not push for a change in political rule in case it jeopardises their military presence in strategically-located Chad.

“Bockel said that he is satisfied with the transition process. Does he know what has been going on during this transition?” Adoum questioned.

“The conditions for free and fair elections are not there,” he said.

Both the agency organising the elections and the constitutional council that referees electoral disputes are headed by members of the ruling Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS).

    Opposition candidate killed

    Adoum also told RFI he was at a loss to understand how Bockel's approving comments about the transition when a leading opposition figure had been killed just a few days earlier.

    Yaya Dillo, an opposition candidate for president and a cousin of Deby's, was killed on 28 February during a military assault on his party's headquarters in Ndjamena.

    The authorities blamed Dillo's Socialist Party Without Borders (PSF) for an attack on the security agency following the death one of their leaders.

    The official version is that Dillo resisted arrest and his partisans opened fire on the armed forces.

    But the few members of his party who dare speak say that he was killed at point-blank range. They claim that photographs of the bullet wounds on his corpse show he was executed.

    “The death of Yaya Dillo came as a shock to us,” said Adoum.

    Status quo

    “France and other Western countries have been quite lenient towards the transitional military council after the 2021 coup,” according to Adoum, who believes that Western powers do not put the beneficial status quo at risk.

    “We met European governments who told us they fear that if they demand more accountability from the regime in power, it will open the door to China, Russia or other Brics countries,” he said.

    “But what is it that they have to offer that could stop people from joining Russia?”

    Adoum continued: “The people of Chad want to get rid of poverty, they want democracy and freedom, an army that is not attacking them.

    “It's not a long list, but the people in power do not listen to us because they know that Western powers have their back.”