France backs Chad military rulers, AU urges swift transition

Chad army officers carry the coffin of late Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno during the state funeral in N'Djamena on April 23, 2021. (ISSOUF SANOGO / AFP)

France backed a military council that intends to rule Chad for a transition period following the president’s death, while the African Union said it was deeply concerned by the military takeover.

The situation threatens “peace, security and stability” not only in Chad, but also the region, as well as the continent, the African Union said in a statement on its website.

The situation threatens “peace, security and stability” not only in Chad, but also the region, as well as the continent, the African Union said in a statement on its website

On Saturday, the Front for Change and Concord in Tchad, the rebel group that claimed responsibility for the squirmish that killed Deby, said they were ready to accept a cease-fire and find a political solution to the crisis.

“Chad needs new leaders,” FACT leader Mahamat Mahdi Ali told Radio France Internationale. “But to overthrow the regime to take power was never our goal.”

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President Idriss Deby died on April 20 of wounds sustained on a battlefront in northern Chad as rebels advanced on the capital, N’Djamena, according to the army. A transitional military council headed by his son, 37 year-old General Mahamat Idriss Deby, said it will run the country for 18 months before restoring civilian rule. The nation’s constitution states that a successor should be elected within 90 days.

“France will never let anyone, neither today nor tomorrow, threaten the stability and integrity of Chad,” French President Emmanuel Macron said while attending Deby’s funeral in N’Djamena, on Friday. The military council has a role to play to promote “stability, inclusion, dialog and a democratic transition.”

France is a key player in the battle against Islamist insurgencies in West Africa.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also defended the military takeover in an interview Thursday with Paris-based broadcaster France 2, saying it was necessary to maintain stability in Chad and the region, while calling for a quick transition.

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The former colonial power has contributed about 5,100 troops to a counter-terrorism force that’s battling Islamic State and Al Qaeda-linked militants in West Africa’s Sahel region. France’s Barkhane mission, which backs up a regional force known as the G5 Sahel – made up of troops from Chad, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso – are headquartered in N’Djamena.

Deby positioned himself and his battle-hardened army as key players in the maintenance of peace and security in the area. That role helped shield him from international criticism even as his regime became increasingly authoritarian. It even earned him protection from France.

Respect Constitution

The European ally, which, as of two years ago, spent at least an estimated €1 million (US$1.1 million) a day on Barkhane, would eventually like to turn over more responsibility to the G5 Sahel force. That seems impossible without military cooperation from Chad, which the junta has said it will maintain.

“Today, we’re very upset with France,” Delphine Djiraibe, a prominent human rights lawyer, said by phone from N’Djamena. “Whether the president died on the battlefield or not, you need to respect the constitution. France is a democracy, they should know,” she said.

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The Economic Community of Central African States, which counts Chad among its members, also expressed its “solidarity” with the new leadership, Cameroonian President Paul Biya, who currently heads the six-nation bloc, said in a statement. The G5 Sahel also gave its “full support to the transition in progress,” its Nouakchott-based secretariat said in a statement issued within hours of the military takeover.

The junta should “expeditiously embark on a process of restoration of constitutional order and handing over of political power to the civilian authorities,” the African Union said.