Chad is a country that relatively obscure to those who seldom follow African politics. A google search of Chad will produce the TV series ‘’Chad’’. However, Chad is in a very strategic location in Africa, and as a result, their elections have continental and regional ramifications. Furthermore, Chad is a landlocked country in Central Africa with a population of 16 million inhabitants. The poverty rate is listed at 66%, owning vast wealth in oil and minerals, destitution is rampant. Development has also remained stagnant in contemporary Chad; most of the populations primarily depend on livestock and subsistence farming.
After Achieving Independence from France in 1960, the rudimentary political space was shunned in favor of a one-party system. President Tombalbaye’s failure to cultivate an inclusive political atmosphere precipitated a deadly civil war characterized by sectarian divides along Religious-Ethnic lines. Chad’s first president in Tombalbaye was assassinated in 1975. Power was subsequently turned over to Hisséne Habré, who ruled with similar autocratic tendencies complemented by a gruesome penchant for violence, disappearances, and torture. Moreover, Habré would suffer the fate of a coup trap, this time conducted by his former ally in Idriss Déby in 1990.
Idriss Déby has ruled Chad since 1990, coming into power after the fall of the Soviet Union. Democratization and more freedoms were championed around the world, and Africa was no exception to this political undertaking. Numerous presidents in the former French Colonies, including Chad, held National Conferences to strengthen their democratic credentials and grant more rights and freedoms to the citizenry and opposition parties. This newfound enthusiasm for political plurality in a country marred by authoritarianism was a welcomed sight to many observers in the west. However, it was a transient moment in Chadian politics. Although elections have been held regularly since 1990, Déby has consolidated his grip on power significantly. He’s employed a vertical network of acolytes to personalize institutions while simultaneously cultivating an extensive client network at the exclusion of a substantial amount of the population. It has become challenging for the opposition to make any inroads. Levitsky and Way (2010) describe this advantage as an ‘’uneven playing field’’ that Déby has at his disposal. After serving two terms as president, Déby, in 2005, would employ the veneer of constitutional legality by announcing a constitutional referendum that would pass overwhelmingly. Déby has faced numerous rebel movements with support from neighboring Sudan. However, he has proven defiant against threats, both internal and external, consequently increasing the costs of repression for perceived enemies.
Déby has also presented himself as a stalwart against terrorism, particularly Boko Haram, which has devasted the Lake Chad region. Chad’s military has bucked the trend in fighting terrorism in Sub-Saharan Africa, gaining international praise and recognition in their efforts to repel terrorism. Chadian troops are active in a host of African countries and have gained prestige for their steadfast action against the war on global terrorism. The United States and France have provided millions of dollars in equipment, training, and technical assistance. President Déby, long retired from the military, even participated in a military expedition against Boko Haram, further cementing his status as the man best equipped to confront terrorism in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Due to Déby’s posture as a strong ally against global terrorism, he has continued to govern with relative impunity. In 2018, the Chadian parliament approved a new constitution and scrapped the prime ministerial post. The new constitution can potentially allow Déby to rule until 2033. The constitution was boycotted and cited by the opposition as another attempt to for Déby to continue dominating all facets of political life in Chad. Protesters of this amendment were met with brutal repression, while Western Allies remained silent. The political machinations of Déby allowed him to contest in national elections held on April 11, 2021. The election is a foregone conclusion. Déby even proclaimed victory in advance, stating he would win ‘’as I have done in the last thirty years.’’ The opposition played a minimal role in the elections. The main opposition party chose to withdraw from participation after accusing Déby of employing violence and coercion to silence the opposition parties. Deby’s democratic violations are glaring. However, the African Union praised the elections as peaceful, despite overt violations and low turn-out. As Varol (2015) posits, these elections are designed to satisfy the international community and the procedural aspects of democracy.
The constitutional court is expected to certify the elections and extend Déby’s rule in Chad. This serves as another detriment to democracy, particularly in a continent where most heads of states view elections as the benchmark for satisfying the ethos of democracy. In addition, this dangerous gambit is exacerbated by the Western allies of Déby. President Déby’s war against terrorism should not come at the expense of democracy and granting freedoms to a population that is desperate for plurality, new voices, and the pursuit of a united country. Chad gained Independence 61 years ago, and the political conditions remain the same while the former colonial power exerts influence abroad.
**President Déby’s death was reported on 4/20/21 following reports of his involvement in repelling a rebel movement stemming from Northern Chad.