/ 10 April 2024

Chad at a crossroads: turmoil and transition in the heart of the Sahel

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Succes Masra gestures during a meeting of the Chadian political party Les Transformateurs. (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)

West Africa and the Sahel are facing a troubling surge in political upheaval, coups and the emergence of violent extremist factions. Amid the region’s challenges like governance fragility, economic downturns and escalating insecurity, the Sahel’s growing threat looms ominously. This belt has become a crucible of instability.

The surge in malevolent actors in the Sahel risks amplifying the crisis, potentially unleashing chaos across the continent. Such developments raise doubts about West Africa’s commitment to democratic norms and stability, suggesting a perilous slide towards recurrent failures and inaction, entrenching insecurity in the Sahel. The deteriorating situation in Chad is a lucid example of this trend in the Sahel. 

Eastern Chad’s overcrowded refugee camps face a looming financial crisis, intensifying the already dire humanitarian situation resulting from the spillage of conflict from neighbouring Sudan. According to the UN, over a million individuals in Chad, including refugees, confront the prospect of losing vital assistance unless additional funding is secured. 

The UN World Food Programme sounded the alarm this month, highlighting the urgent need for resources to avert a catastrophe. The ongoing conflict among generals has exacted a heavy toll, claiming more than 5 000 lives and displacing around five million people. 

Meanwhile, Chad grapples with a refugee influx at a level not seen in two decades. The unfolding humanitarian emergency underscores the pressing need for international solidarity and concerted efforts to address the root causes of conflict and displacement in the region, promoting stability and resilience for vulnerable populations. 

Chad’s tumultuous landscape reflects a multifaceted crisis rooted in socio-political upheaval, economic strife and the pervasive influence of military coups across the Sahel region. With President Idriss Deby Itno’s death in April 2021, authority transitioned to his son, Mahamat Deby, who assumed control of an interim Transitional Military Council (TMC).

Unlike his father’s firm governance, Mahamat Deby faces challenges in solidifying his leadership amid growing dissent from military factions and civilians alike. The intricate interplay of historical legacies, economic disparities and power struggles underscores the complexity of Chad’s predicament, demanding nuanced solutions to address its deep-seated issues and pave the way for stability and progress.

The decision to extend the Transitional Military Council’s (TMC) tenure in October 2022, despite promises of swift civilian governance, triggered violent protests, laying bare Chad’s deep-seated societal grievances. Deby’s pursuit of centralised power, reminiscent of neighbouring junta regimes, exacerbated ethnic tensions and exacerbated existing divisions, heightening instability. 

This move dashed hopes for a seamless transition, rekindling unrest and highlighting Chad’s fragile political climate. Amid escalating dissent and widening rifts, the country faces imminent upheaval, grappling with the fallout of leadership choices that have exacerbated rather than alleviated societal discord.  

Chad’s political crisis has deepened with recent events, as defections from Deby’s family to the opposition reveal fractures within the ruling Zaghawa ethnic group. The detention of Deby’s uncle and the targeted killings of opposition figures underscore the regime’s brutal crackdown on dissent, creating a climate of fear ahead of the upcoming presidential elections slated for May and June. 

These developments highlight the growing instability and repression within Chad, raising concerns about the prospects for a free and fair electoral process. Amid escalating tensions, the looming threat of armed conflict casts a dark shadow, especially in the Zaghawa ethnic enclave, where government troops and opposition forces stand on edge, anticipating potential clashes. Complicating matters is the purported engagement of external players, notably the controversial Wagner Group, whose participation heightens concerns of prolonged unrest and regional upheaval. 

The convergence of internal divisions, external interventions and unresolved grievances have created a volatile mix, posing a significant risk of plunging Chad into further chaos, with implications reaching well beyond its borders. 

For decades, Chad has been lauded as a symbol of stability in the volatile expanse of the Sahel. Yet, today, the country finds itself at a crossroads, contending with the aftershocks of political violence that rattled its capital, N’Djamena. This recent surge serves as a stark reminder of the delicate balance between internal strife and broader regional currents, casting a pall of uncertainty over Chad’s trajectory. 

As the country grapples with these unsettling developments, the spectre of insecurity looms large, underscoring the fragility of its hard-won peace in the face of mounting challenges. Amid the labyrinthine complexities of Chad’s internal strife lies a nexus of external pressures, compounding its delicate stability. The withdrawal of French troops, coupled with a nationwide strike fueled by surging fuel prices, threatens to plunge the nation into a vortex of turmoil, accentuating simmering discontent across the Sahel. 

Yet, within this gloom, a glimmer of optimism flickers — an acknowledgement that true stability transcends mere force, necessitating holistic reforms, economic empowerment and regional cooperation. Chad’s turmoil serves as a stark reminder of the perils of prioritising short-term security over enduring stability.

It implores a shift towards a comprehensive strategy, addressing root causes and embracing inclusive governance as the linchpin of sustainable peace and prosperity in the region. Amid the tempest, Chad stands at a crossroads, beckoning policymakers to chart a course that navigates the treacherous waters of instability towards enduring peace and prosperity.

The imperative for international stakeholders, especially Western powers, is to reassess their role in the region, pivoting away from supporting autocratic regimes towards embracing a more equitable approach rooted in human rights and democratic values. By strategically investing in governance reforms, economic development and effective conflict resolution mechanisms, the global community can become instrumental in establishing a foundation for lasting peace and prosperity throughout the Sahel.

This strategic realignment requires a dedication to nurturing inclusive governance models and confronting the socio-economic inequalities that serve as breeding grounds for instability. Amid the tumult in Chad lies an opportunity to forge a path towards stability and security in Africa’s heartland. 

Chad can draw on past trials to embrace inclusive governance and regional collaboration, paving the way for renewed vigour and resilience. Though challenges loom large, the destination — a Sahel marked by peace, prosperity and advancement — beckons as a collective endeavour. Through resilience, solidarity and unwavering dedication to peace, Chad can navigate its crucible and emerge fortified, offering a ray of hope for Africa. With resolve and unity, Chad can transcend its current turmoil.