Chad is 'not a slave who wants to change masters', says president

Chad Chad is 'not a slave who wants to change masters', says president

Chad goes to the polls next month for a presidential election hoped to mark a return to democratic rule three years after military leaders seized power. Growing Russian influence in Africa, meanwhile, is shaking up historical ties to France. Transitional ruler Mahamat Idriss Deby, who is running to stay in power, spoke to RFI and sister station France 24 about the vote, Russia and the future of Chad's relations with France.

RFI/France 24: Chad's presidential election is scheduled for 6 May and some observers say the outcome is already a foregone conclusion. Members of the opposition are calling it a sham, claiming that you control all the electoral institutions.

Will Chad hold a real election?
Mahamat Idriss Deby: We've come a long way with the whole political class and also a large part of the ex-politico-military [former rebels]. And all the institutions created by the new constitution are independent.

The most important is the Agence nationale de gestion des élections, ANGE... Today, ANGE is independent.

So I think that those who say that this is a sham or that the election has already been decided, well, I understand: that's what politics is all about, it's fair game.

But I have confidence in the [election] agency, which will play its role fully and independently.

You will see that, on 6 May, the people of Chad will choose. They will elect a president who will lead this country for the next five years and the people's choice will be respected.

RFI/F24: On 28 February 2024, opposition politician Yaya Dillo was killed in an assault by the Chadian army on his party's headquarters. His party has called it an execution and Human Rights Watch says his body had a single shot to the head.

How do you respond to claims that you had your fiercest opponent taken out?

MID: Yaya Dillo and his militants attacked the headquarters of the intelligence services with weapons of war. Does a political party have the right to bear arms? Do the militants of a political party have the right to have weapons? That's the question.

During this macabre attack, there were deaths: deaths on the side of the defence and security forces, and also among the militants of [Dillo's party] the PSF.

So it was perfectly normal for the state to expect that the person who carried out this attack should be arrested to answer for his actions.

The police intervened to arrest him. He refused to comply. On the contrary, he fired at the police and the police fired back. There were deaths on both sides.

The case is now in the hands of the courts. We are going to wait for the court's decision.

And we have made it very clear that we are also open to an independent investigation, which means that we have nothing to hide.

RFI/F24: You are open to an investigation?
MID: An international investigation.
RFI/F24: How soon?
From the outset, we issued a press release to explain to those at home and abroad what happened. And we also called for an independent inquiry.

RFI/F24: You paid a high-profile visit to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the end of January 2024, calling Russia a "brother country". Do you envisage military cooperation with Moscow of the kind that that Niger recently agreed? 

MID: We held very fruitful discussions with President Putin, based on mutual respect and on issues on which we agree. On issues that concern us, between two sovereign states.

RFI/F24: Does that include security cooperation?

MID: It's not just military cooperation. There are other areas of cooperation. Why do we always talk about military cooperation when it comes to African countries?

There are other forms of cooperation: economic cooperation, which is very important today for our countries.

We talked about lots of things: military cooperation, economic cooperation, diplomatic cooperation... I can tell you that I am satisfied with the visit.

RFI/F24: Are you considering a change of military alliance? Are you considering dropping your alliance with France and forging an alliance with Russia?

MID: Chad is an independent, free and sovereign country. We are not like a slave who wants to change master. We intend to work with all the nations of the world, all the nations that respect us and want to work with us with mutual respect.

RFI/F24: In practical terms, does this mean that the French contingent of over 1,000 troops and the three French military bases currently in Chad will remain?

MID: [France's special envoy for Africa] Jean-Marie Bockel recently visited Chad. We discussed the future of our cooperation.

We had discussions, we are going to continue our discussions and together, with sovereignty, we are going to decide on our future cooperation.

And this cooperation must not be limited to defence. There are other areas of cooperation too, notably economic. Economic cooperation is more important to us today than defence cooperation.

RFI/F24: This election raises a question. Are you committed to standing for only one or two terms or – as some people fear – is a "Deby dynasty" taking hold?

First of all, you have to realise that I am a candidate and I have an ambitious programme that I am going to present to the Chadian people.

Then it's up to the Chadian people to decide, even if I'm confident. I am confident in my programme in terms of all the things I have done, in terms of respecting the commitments I made for the transition: in particular organising an inclusive national dialogue and constitutional referendum.

The people of Chad know that I am a man of action and a man of my word. If I am elected, I will serve my five-year term and at the end of my term, it will be up to the people to judge me...

As for a dynasty, our constitution is very clear – a candidate cannot serve more than two successive terms.

I would like to reassure the people of Chad that I and everyone will respect the constitution that was adopted and voted for by the Chadian people.

This interview has been edited from the original French for length and clarity.