NDJAMENA – The approaching elections could be important steps toward reviving democracy in Chad, but only if President Idriss Déby opens political space for the opposition beforehand.
Chad: Beyond Superficial Stability,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, highlights the country’s chance to escape the political and military crisis of the last five years. That seemed a distant hope in May 2009, when a coalition of insurgents, the Union of Resistance Forces (Union des forces de la résistance, UFR), launched a major attack on government troops, but its defeat put an end to the idea of overthrowing the regime militarily.
“A lull in fighting between government forces and rebel groups and the easing of tensions with Sudan since the start of 2010 may be a sign of a gradual return to normality”, says Saad Adoum, Crisis Group’s Central Africa Senior Analyst.
After the failed UFR offensive, some influential circles in Khartoum began to doubt the utility of an alliance with the Chadian armed opposition and consider a rapprochement with N’Djamena. Fearing his military success might only be temporary, Déby wants to ensure the rebels do not find sanctuary in Sudan to regroup. The easing of tensions also allows him to reallocate funds from the defence budget to preparations for elections. Postponed several times because of the war, these are now scheduled for November 2010 (legislative and local) and April 2011 (presidential).
The Chad government should take advantage of this moment to bolster relations with Sudan, revive the internal reforms it has committed itself to and offer lasting peace to the armed opposition. The 15 January 2010 agreement with Sudan and a series of reciprocal presidential visits give reason to hope that bilateral relations are returning to normal. However, obstacles remain which, if ignored, could jeopardise this year’s gains.
Both presidents aim to use the reconciliation to strengthen their hold on power: Déby with respect to the internal opposition, al-Bashir, to the International Criminal Court, which has indicted him for war crimes in Darfur. But ambiguities surrounding the resumption of talks between N’Djamena and the Chadian rebel groups and between Khartoum and the Darfur rebel group Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) raise questions about the sustainability of the peace process.
Domestically, the Chad government is trying to gain support for a new national pact based on rejection of armed struggle. A window of opportunity exists, but Déby needs above all to demonstrate political will by at last implementing his 13 August 2007 agreement with opposition parties to promote an appropriate environment for participatory politics and credible elections.
“The Chad government is trying to reassert state authority after five years of internal disputes”, says Thierry Vircoulon, Crisis Group’s Central Africa Project Director, “but while the easing of tensions with Khartoum is a positive development, Déby’s power-consolidation process should be carefully monitored. Ceasefires and elections do not equal sustainable peace and democracy. Genuine governance reforms are much needed to change the way the country is run”.