Chad: The scramble for power in the post-Déby era

By Mathieu Olivier

Posted on Monday, 10 May 2021 10:58
Mahamat Idriss Déby, Idriss Déby Itno’s son, on 20 April 2021 on Chadian national television. Chad TV/Reuters TV

The 'Mouvement Patriotique du Salut' (MPS) has very little representation in Chad’s transitional government, created following former president Idriss Déby Itno’s death. But behind the scenes, the MPS’ historical leaders are concerned that it has lost some of its power and is now being viewed as an opposition party.

On 4 May, Mahamat Zene Bada officially went on the offensive. The secretary-general of the Mouvement Patriotique du Salut (MPS, in power before former president Idriss Déby Itno’s death) sent a memo to Mahamat Idriss Déby, head of the National Transitional Council (NTC) and son of the deceased head of state. In it, he “demanded” – in the name of his party – that the members of the current transitional government not be allowed to run in the next elections.

These elections, which are due to take place in 18 months, are meant to mark the end of the transition period. However, according to our information, no such provision was made during the composition of the government team or in the transitional charter that was drawn up. “There is no issue: the charter is very clear: it does not prevent ministers from running,” said a member of the government.

Therefore, Prime Minister Albert Pahimi Padacké and his ministers are theoretically free to run for office in the presidential and legislative elections, which are due to take place at the end of 2022.

“Mahamat Zene Bada wants to restore the old order. He did not understand that the NTC should be politically neutral and that the time for openness had come,” Padacké told us.

Pahimi Padacké facing the MPS

Padacké served as Itno’s last prime minister. He is not part of the MPS, but rather the leader of his own political party, the Rassemblement National pour la Démocratie au Tchad, which came in second in the April presidential election. Above all, Padacké has been banking for several years on the post-Déby era, as he took advantage of his position as prime minister in 2016-2018 to place his men in key government positions.

Bada therefore hopes to thwart Padacke’s plans.

“He wanted the government to be full of MPS members and probably wanted an important post for himself. Since he did not get it, he is now trying another approach,” says a minister. According to our sources, Bada was in favour of appointing Saleh Kebzabo to the presidency. Kebzabo was a member of the opposition in the past, whom Bada knows well and whom he considers less of a political threat than Padacké.

The MPS had also wanted to appoint Houdeingar David Ngarimaden, the former minister of higher education, to an important government position. This technocrat with no political ambitions was later named secretary-general of the presidency. Even though MPS had been the country’s former ruling party, they are now much less represented than before and didn’t have a lot of say in the composition of the government. As a result, Ngarimaden must now deal with the discontent of several of his fellow party members.

“Mahamat Zene Bada has lost some of his influence”

Several political heavyweights believe that they should have been rewarded for the financial contributions they made to Itno’s campaign, which resulted in him winning a sixth presidential term.

These malcontents are frustrated that important posts have been entrusted to members of the opposition such as Mahamat Ahmat Alhabo, who was appointed minister of justice. “We have sent technocrats while the opposition has sent ambitious people,” says a senior member of the MPS national office.

“We thought that this government would be a team of technocrats. In the end, we find ourselves having to play the first round of the next presidential election,” said another party leader, who fears that the government will become a “launching pad” for the opposition.

Two people close to the opposition leader Kebzabo have joined Padacké’s government, which is due to hold its first council meeting next week. These are Abderahim Awat Atteib, who is in charge of livestock, and Rachelle Oualmi Bairra, who is the next deputy secretary-general.

The infrastructure portfolio (strategic in terms of finance and media exposure) has been entrusted to Patalet Geo, who is a close associate of the new prime minister.

“The MPS may have saved some face, but the episode proves that Mahamat Zene Bada, who used to have Idriss Déby Itno’s ear, has lost some of his influence,” says a person close to the ruling party.

Abdoulaye Sabre Fadoul and Chérif Mahamat Zène have retained their positions in health and foreign affairs, as has Christian Routouang Mohamed Ndonga in youth and sports and Tahir Hamid Nguilin in finance.

But “the party is very upset with the new authorities,” says one of its leaders. “Mahamat Idriss Déby and his half-brother Abdelkerim Idriss Déby [deputy chief of staff of the presidency, who has kept his role in the palace] have played on the younger generation’s openness and wish for a fresh start.

They are also under some diplomatic pressure. Inevitably, this worries some of MPS’ older members,” says our source. “The party won the presidential election and now finds itself having to take part in a government led by a leader of the opposition and composed of technocrats and members of the opposition,” concludes a diplomat in N’Djamena. “This inevitably puts Zene Bada in a bad position.”

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