Tuesday 23 February the Chadian National Human Rights Commission of Chad (CNDH) published its long awaited report on the violently crushed protests of the 20th of October last year. Having been eyewitnesses of the violence, the publication of the report triggered us to publish the following article.
Experiencing first-hand the heated violence between the military forces and protesting youth on Thursday 20th of October in N’Djamena, the capital city of Chad, has shown us that the political situation in this central African Country might be at a turning point. The anger of the youth in the streets of several cities of Chad, was directed towards the interim military council (Comité Militaire de Transition, CMT) and the (second) interim civil government installed by the military. The CMT, consisting of 15 army generals, was formed and took over power immediately after the death of President Idriss Itno Déby, who was killed on 21 April 2021. Despite its richness in resources, especially oil, Chad is ranked last third on the world poverty index. The flooding of the city from August till November 2022, caused by the rising water levels of the rivers Chari and Logone that unite at the height of N’Djamena, had already turned large parts of the city into a crisis area. To say that crises are not new to Chad is an understatement: its political post-colonial history is one of conflict, civil war and dictatorship. Could we have foreseen the recent violence by the Chadian military? Why would this interim government headed by the son of the late President Déby, the young Mahamat Déby, turn out to be any different from its predecessors?
We arrived in N’Djaména on the 19th of October, and the following day we witnessed Black Thursday. That evening of the 19th we shared drinks with some friends in Chagoua/Abena, the quarter that has always been at the centre of protests against the authoritarian regimes in Chad. Now the quarter was also threatened by the flooding of the rivers Chari and Logone. The terrace along the street where we had our drinks was already inundated. Water had flown the inverse direction back into the street through the sewage system. We were literally sitting on the water.
The next day, early in the morning, we were woken up by tear gas and a lot of noise in the street in front of our hotel in the centre of the quarter Chagoua/Abena. Protesters were yelling, blowing whistles and throwing stones towards the military further down the road. Suddenly the anger of the protestors turned against the hotel. All windows were smashed, some men managed to get in to pillage the ground floor. The 20th was not haphazardly chosen by the protesters, it was supposed to be the end date of the 18th month long transition closed off by an inclusive National Dialogue. Thereafter elections had to be held.
We learned that the hotel we stayed in was owned by the brother of the former prime minister, Pahimi from Mayo-Kebi, who was part of the transition government until the end of the National Dialogue. The protesters considered him a collaborator with a regime that they considered as a continuation of the kleptocracy that had developed under the rule of the defunct President Itno Déby.
After more than an hour or so the military and police took the offence and reconquered the streets with excessive force. We heard and saw them shooting with both tear gas and live ammunition. The attack on the hotel was the climax of the violence and killing that would follow that day and the days after. Later, the government recognized that 50 people were killed. The recent report published by the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) mentions 128 people killed, 12 disappeared, 518 wounded, 943 arrested of whom 265 are condemned. They indicate that these are only the confirmed. In reality the figure might be much higher. Earlier reports already denied the low figures that were officially confirmed. The government is held responsible for the killings. The opposition parties, mainly ‘Les Transformateurs’ and ‘Wakit Tama’, are allured to have lost control.
The direct cause: 21 April 2021
21 April 2021 is a date that Chadians will not forget. It was then officially announced that President Déby was killed at the front. The ‘rebels’ were advancing towards the capital city. He was at the front to encourage his soldiers. The speculations abound as who killed him. One of his sons, General Mahamat, was there with him, as the head of the security of the president. He was immediately nominated as the interim president to guide the country towards a new phase in its political history.
Mahamat Idriss Déby, called ‘Kaka’ by the public, was portrayed in social media exchanges as someone who was not really capable of guiding the country. Was he educated well enough? What would be his statue, being a bastard child of now defunct President Idriss Déby Itno. The doubts were there, and the 14 generals from the entourage of Déby Itno did not promise political change. Nevertheless, the young Mahamat Idriss Déby did take some measures that may be interpreted as his intention to change Chad: He allowed manifestations – a thing his father refused – and the internet was unrestricted, providing space for the youth to express themselves. Furthermore, he invited the activist/diaspora Chadians to join him in his attempts to organise an open and inclusive National Dialogue. He said he wanted to listen to the Chadian population and thus create the basis for a Tchad nouveau. The government itself became increasingly involved in social media exchanges and made it even appear as a space for political reform.
However, the opposition parties, such as ‘Les Transformateurs’ and the platform ‘Wakit Tama’, were not convinced of these changes and were very much on their qui vive. Theirs was a position of distrust. Indeed, probably the use of social media by the government was as well a new way to control the Chadians.
Le Tchad nouveau?
Mahamat Idriss Déby’s rise to power was seen by the opposition as a ‘coup d’Etat’. He established the Comité Militaire de Transition (CMT) which would lead the country to new elections. As the African Union agreed upon, the interim regime was given a period of 18 months to lead to elections. In between an inclusive National Dialogue had to be organised. This was planned for May 2022, but the National Dialogue only started on 20 August 2022, without the main opposition parties and rebel groups.
The PMCT (President of the Transitional Military Council, Mahamat Idriss Déby) did not stop to try to convince these parties to join the dialogue. They, however, kept to their strong demand that the PMCT would not propose himself as a presidential candidate at the next elections. This promise was never given. They were also convinced that the National Dialogue was not inclusive and that the outcome was already determined. The main opposition party ‘Les Transformateurs’, recognized as an official political party by the CMT in 2021, made these negotiations part of their presentation to the public, announcing time again that it is time for Chad to change into a real democracy where justice will rule.
Reigning by acts of violence
The opposition was also sceptical about the willingness and capacity of the CMT to allow for a regime change if the opposition would win after elections. After all, the CMT consisted of the same Zaghawa clique that had ruled the country for decades. Also, even if they would like to change, this might be difficult as the structure of the old regime is still present. A regime that had its rhizomes on any level of society. The secret service was active as ever. The opposition’s mistrust was also based on facts. The interim regime was oppressive and violent from day one onwards. The facts of oppression soon became clear after the death of President Idriss Déby Itno in April 2021. Protests in April and May 2021, organised by opposition organisations united in ‘Wakit Tama’, were violently repressed by the military. 700 people were reported to be arrested (and several tortured). On October 2, 2021, another by the CMT allowed protest was violently turned down. Meanwhile civilians were arrested. These anti-government protests also got an anti-French character that culminated in large anti French protests on 14 May 2022, also severely repressed. Opposition leaders were arrested. The opposition parties continuously asked for attention by the international community for the atrocities of this interim military regime. The international community tried to stick to the idea that Chad was opening up to a new order with the hope for more democracy, to be realised with the inclusive National Dialogue. As Chad is also an ally in the war against terrorism, France, the USA and the EU have a lot to lose when they would create a rupture with the Chadian government/junte.
Violent acts continued during the National Dialogue. ‘Les Transformateurs’ would organise a meeting for their supporters on 3 September 2022. On 1 September, according to official numbers, 80 members of the party were arrested while inviting people to join this meeting (they were asking people to join the meeting and give out flyers). The unofficial number attained 280 people arrested. On September 2, the main office of ‘Les Transformateurs’ was besieged by the Chadian security forces. Nobody could go in or out of the main office. The occupation of the main office of ‘Les Transformateurs’ ended on 6 September 2022.
After this, the leader of ‘Les Transformateurs’, Masra Succès, was summoned to the court of justice (from the prosecutor of N’Djamena’s Court of First Instance), where he went early in the morning of the 9th of September accompanied by hundreds of his supporters. This manifestation of solidarity with their leader ended in an assault by the Chadian security forces, using teargas and arresting many Transformateurs.This show of force by the Chadian interim government while the National Dialogue was on-going, appeared to be a turning point concerning the inclusivity of the Dialogue. The organisation of lawyers, religious leaders and more opposition parties retreated from the National Dialogue, no longer expecting the inclusivity that was promised. The international community released a communiqué in which they condemned this use of violence and asked for a return to an inclusive National Dialogue.
Attempts to convince the leader of ‘Les Transformateurs’, Masra Succès, to join the Dialogue continued but failed. Tensions in N’Djamena and other Chadian cities were rising. The siege of the headquarters of ‘Les Transformateurs‘ was a real set-back for the Chadian population.
The National Dialogue ended in a nightmare for the political opposition as well as for the majority of the Chadian citizens. The outcome confirmed the reluctant attitude to join the National Dialogue by many parties. The CMT and the interim government extended the transition period for another two years, which means that elections will not be organised before October 2024. Members of what came to be named the junta can present themselves as candidates for the presidential elections, including the interim president Mahamat Idriss Déby. The last point is strongly rejected by the opposition. It denies democratic principles.
The opposition and especially the youth were called to take to the streets to reject the outcome of the National Dialogue on the day that would have closed the 18 months transition period by announcing free and fair elections. The call for these manifestations came from different parties, and this time no permission from the CMT was demanded. The 20th october 2022, will be remembered by many Chadians as a day they were returning to the dark age as it was under former dictator Hisène Habré. The day itself was uncompromising, it came with repression, violence, death. And the days after came with fear, further oppression and the arrest of so many people. After the 20th, a week of terror followed, people were taken out of their homes, and deported to a prison in the north of the country. People from the opposition – political parties, journalists, in fact, anybody who has one way or the other opposed the regime – were at home in fear.
In this period in the popular quarter Walia, people had no homes, only houses in water. They lived their fear in self-fabricated tents. The violence of July the 20th and after, adds up to the violence of the water, that had not been tamed by their government while the measures were easy to implement.
In this period in the popular quarter Walia, people had no homes, only houses in water. They lived their fear in self-fabricated tents. The violence of July the 20th and after, adds up to the violence of the water, that had not been tamed by their government while the measures were easy to implement. This neglect is discussed as violence against Chadian citizens. The result after 18 months of military rule during the transition period shows that violence is their main language. What was presented as hope: allowing manifestations, opening of the internet, invitation of opposition to participate in the National Dialogue, may with hindsight just be interpreted as window-dressing. The anger that we have seen in the eyes of the youth on the 20th of October, the fanatic attacks they are prepared to engage in, despite the violence the junta is prepared to inflict upon them, are signs that should be taken very seriously.
 On the 14th of October 2022 a second interim government was formed where Pahimi stepped down and Saleh Kebzabo took over the post of prime minister. Kebzabo was a former opposition leader ever since the former President Idriss Déby Itno took over power in Chad in 1990.
 Report of Commission nationale des droits de l’homme (CNDH), ‘rapport de l’enquête sur les manifestations le 20 octobre au Tchad’, février 2023. https://lendjampost.com/manifestations-du-20-octobre-le-rapport-de-la-cndh-accable-les-forces-de-lordre/ This research was agreed upon byu the CMT (Chad Agrees To Probe Into Protest Deaths | Barron’s (barrons.com)). The reaction to the report so far seems one of reticence. The accusations of the transition government might turn out badly for them.
 ‘Cette répression, a dit l’expert, s’est conjuguée avec de nombreuses exactions contre des civils entraînant la mort de nombreuses personnes et des actes de torture sur des hommes, des femmes et également des enfants. Entre 50 et 150 personnes auraient été tuées, de 150 à 184 personnes auraient disparu, environ 1369 auraient été arrêtées et de 600 à 1100 personnes auraient été déportées dans la prison de haute sécurité de Koro Toro, a relevé l’expert.’ https://www.ohchr.org/fr/press-releases/2022/11/dialogue-chad-experts-committee-against-torture-praise-chads-contribution
 International Crisis Group, BRIEFING 183 / AFRICA 13 DECEMBER 2022, Chad’s Transition: Easing Tensions Online; https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/central-africa/chad/b183-chads-transition-easing-tensions-online
 The watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) also said during protests in late April and May 2021, at least seven people were killed and dozens were wounded – with security forces arresting more than 700 people, several of whom reported ill-treatment, including torture, while in detention. see https://allafrica.com/view/group/main/main/id/00078502.html
 https://www.africanews.com/2022/05/15/chad-hundreds-stage-anti-french-protest-in-n-djamena//; https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/05/30/chad-release-opposition-members-and-supporters
 See report of HRW 29 october 2021: https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/10/29/chad-violent-repression-opposition-protest
 On international support: https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2022/10/chad-experts-alarmed-lethal-use-force-against-protesters-and-call-de;https://www.euractiv.com/section/global-europe/news/eu-slams-chads-excessive-force-against-protesters/