Chad recently ordered the German ambassador to the country, Dr Gordon Kricke, to leave within 48 hours, accusing him of disrespectful behaviour and disregard for diplomatic protocol. In retaliation, Berlin expelled the Chadian ambassador to Germany. Helga Dickow, a political scientist and expert on Chad, explains the link between the diplomatic tit-for-tat and the now delayed Chadian transition to constitutional rule.
What are the holdups in Chad’s transition to constitutional rule?
Chad has been in transition since the death of long-time ruler Idriss Déby Itno in April 2021 and the seizure of power by a military council led by Déby’s son, Mahamat Déby Itno.
In May 2021, Mahamat Déby promised a transition to constitutional rule and free elections within 18 months. The African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU), notably France and other partners, had sanctioned the change of power in view of this promise.
They insisted that the 18-month transition period be respected and that Mahamat Déby not be allowed to stand in the elections.
The African Union’s decision was informed by section 25 of its Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance to which Chad is a signatory. It prohibits anyone involved in a coup d’état from standing for election. It has taken the same approach in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso.
However, since the so-called National Dialogue in September 2022 it has become clear that Mahamat Déby is planning to foist a political dynasty, something predicted by the opposition.
The dialogue forum was largely made up of regime supporters. Important actors from the opposition stayed away. Despite criticisms, the National Dialogue extended the transition period by 24 months and allowed Mahamat Déby to contest in the poll.
Which countries are Chad’s closest allies?
Despite its oil wealth, Chad is one of the poorest countries in the world. Nevertheless it remains an important partner in a region that is crisis ridden and unstable.
Chad lacks the financial resources to conduct elections and is dependent on foreign donors – most notably the United Nations and the European Union. The European Union promised the transitional government support for the country’s return to constitutional order, including the necessary financial resources.
But, by extending the transition period and allowing Mahamat Deby to contest, the Chadian transitional authorities have not lived up to the agreement.
The US, France and Germany have signalled their displeasure over the transition being prolonged, the renewed postponement of the electoral process and severe human rights violations. This position is also shared by the European Parliament.
So, why target Germany?
It was obvious that Chad’s transitional authorities had had enough of criticism from their partners. The expulsion of the German ambassador could be a warning to other embassies, especially France, to be more restrained in their criticism of Chadian politics and not to support the opposition.
It can also be argued that Germany was an easy target.
Expelling the ambassador of France would be near impossible. This is because France, Chad’s former colonial power, has several military bases in Chad. It has also been seen as a supporter of Idriss, and now, Mahamat Déby.
France’s support became more than visible during the funeral of Déby’s father in 2021. French President Emmanuel Macron was the only European head of state at the funeral, accompanied by EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borell.
Mahamat Déby was in Paris a few weeks ago and had dinner with President Macron. Little has been leaked about this meeting.
There aren’t many other targets for possible expulsion. The US is also Chad’s military partner. And other European countries only deployed chargés d’affaires or have no representation at all.
What role is the opposition playing in Chad?
In October 2022 there were mass protests in N’Djamena and the major cities of the south against the extension of the transition.
The opposition party Les Transformateurs and the alliance Wakit Tama, a coalition of trade unions, civil society groups and opposition parties, had called for the protests. But the authorities had not granted permission for the demonstrations.
The government brought in tanks to the capital during the night and security forces trained in anti-terrorism fired into the crowd.
Even though some demonstrators were equipped with knives and stones, they could not carry out a rebellion with these weapons, as some Chadian politicians later claimed.
Hundreds of people were arrested at their homes during curfews imposed in the following days. They were taken to the Koro Toro high security prison in the inhospitable north of the country.
Human Rights Watch has also reported that detainees were tortured, and some died.
The leaders of the opposition movements Wakit Tama and Les Transformateurs fled abroad after 20 October and have since been campaigning for an independent investigation into what has become known as Black Thursday.
What does this all mean for the transition plan and Chad’s future?
It is quite possible that the Chadian transitional president and his confidants miscalculated when they expelled the German ambassador.
European ambassadors have already shown solidarity with the ambassador’s forced departure. As a clear signal of solidarity and unity, they accompanied him to the airport in N’Djamena. This sent a signal that they are united in their support for a foreign policy based on values. This was also confirmed by the EU spokesperson in Brussels.
Two years after the death of Idriss Déby and the takeover by the transitional authorities, not many Chadians believe that the country is on a path towards democracy.
They may be right. The absence of external donor funding for the election process is likely to give those in power a good pretext for further delaying the transition process.
For the government and its president Mahamat Déby, the delay would provide even more time and opportunity to expand their power. Frustrations about this could again lead to attacks by politico-military groups and further destabilisation of the country.