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Chad’s Mahamat Deby doubles down on authoritarian rule in wake of election victory

todayJune 4, 2024 8

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By Helga Dickow, University of Freiburg




The official results of Chad’s presidential elections in May 2024 confirmed the long-term consolidation of power by Mahamat Déby.

He came to power after the sudden death of his father, then president Idriss Déby Itno, in April 2021.

Chadians are bracing themselves for another round of authoritarian rule. The west, for its part – especially France and the US – is afraid to lose its last ally in the region.

The elections of 6 May 2024 marked the end of a three-year transition period after the takeover of power by Mahamat Déby.

The Constitutional Council had allowed ten candidates to stand for election. The main contenders were the transitional president, Mahamat Déby, and his self-appointed prime minister, Succès Masra.

Masra had a reputation as a fierce opponent, first of the elder Déby and then of the son. He returned to Chad in October 2023 after one year in exile. Déby appointed him prime minister in January 2024.

On 9 May, the electoral authorities published the preliminary election results. Déby scored 61.5% of the votes. Masra had 18.53% and former prime minister Albert Pahimi Padacké scored 16.91%. The other seven candidates scored below 1% each.

The constitutional council confirmed the preliminary results on 16 May.

On 23 May, Mahamat Déby was sworn in as president for five years. Masra resigned as prime minister and did not attend the ceremony. On the same day, Mahamat Déby nominated the Chadian ambassador in China and former longstanding director general of state protocol at the presidency, Allamaye Halina, as the new prime minister.

As part of my research on democratisation in sub-Saharan Africa, I have followed Chadian politics closely for many years.

I have observed that Mahamat Déby has ruthlessly done everything in his power to legitimise himself as the elected president. Therefore, I would argue that the autocratic system that Chad knew for 30 years under the late Idriss Déby will continue under his son.

He used violent oppression and intimidation during the transition, ensured that elections were not transparent, and nominated a loyal prime minister and cabinet.

Violent oppression and intimidation

Chadians were used to military presence and repression under Idriss Déby. Weapons regularly suppressed any resistance and intimidated the population.

Mahamat Déby used the transition period to expand the security sector and create loyal security forces.

Several incidents showed that the son’s use of force exceeded that of the father.
On 20 October 2022 several hundred people were shot dead during protests against Mahamat Déby standing for elections.

The pressure on the opposition was intensified by the execution of opposition leader Yaya Dillo on 28 February 2024.

Dillo was a cousin of Mahamat Déby and a serious candidate for the presidential elections. After his killing, almost all opposition was silenced.

Even during the declaration of the preliminary election results on 9 May, the inhabitants of the capital N’Djamena were surrounded by tanks and highly armed military.

On the evening of Mahamat Déby’s victory, observers spoke of more than 200 dead. Most victims were killed in the opposition strongholds.

Problematic election

Before polling even began, many observers and analysts of the political situation in Chad, including myself, predicted a victory for the transitional president and thus the continuity of authoritarian rule from father to son.

A number of steps set the scene for this:

  • Mahamat Deby’s appointment of the electoral authorities and the constitutional council
  • new electoral law that eliminated the obligation to display the results at every polling station
  • the banning of photos of the count at polling stations and regional offices
  • denying opposition party agents access to the vote counting centres. Members of Masra’s party Les Transformateurs were arrested while trying to do so.
  • the failure to accredit almost 3,000 civil society members, financed by the European Union to observe the elections
  • eyewitness accounts of infractions on the election day.

Observers from regional organisations – the Economic Community of West African States and the Community of Sahel-Saharan States – declared the elections free and fair. But they made their announcements even before the end of vote counting. I can only assume that there are political reasons for not holding another president responsible for electoral fraud.

Consolidating power

Mahamat Déby’s cabinet shows great continuity, with hardly any new faces.

The new foreign minister, Abderaman Koulamallah, and the minister for territorial administration, Limane Mahamat, supported Déby during the transition.

Since 2016, Halina has served first Idriss Déby and then his son in the presidency. In his memoirs, Mahamat Déby describes Halina as the most loyal of the loyal.

Mahamat Déby also dealt a blow to opposition voices in government. After his victory he declared that the time of a government of national unity was over. The former prime minister has thus lost all political influence.

The role of the west

The west has supported Mahamat Déby since he came to power in 2021.

Time and again, international support has been justified by the stability of the country. The same justification was given for supporting the late Idriss Déby.

France and the US have military bases in Chad that they are eager to keep, especially since they have had to leave Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. This is about zones of influence in the Sahel region that the west does not want to lose to Russia or China.

Mahamat Dèby knows how to fuel western concerns. His trip to Moscow in January 2024 illustrates the point – he knew his audience with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin would be a warning that he was open to seeking help where he could get it.The Conversation

Helga Dickow, Senior Researcher at the Arnold Bergstraesser Institut, Freiburg Germany, University of Freiburg

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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