Chad: How N’Djamena managed to escape AU sanctions

By Mathieu Olivier

Posted on Wednesday, 19 May 2021 03:55
Mahamat Idriss Déby (centre) and Muhammadu Buhari (right), on 14 May 2021 in N'Djamena © Sunday Aghaeze/AP/SIPA

It took longer than expected to examine Chad’s situation. However, on 14 May, the African Union's Peace and Security Council (PSC) finally decided not to impose sanctions against N'Djamena and the transitional authorities led by General Mahamat Idriss Déby.

In fact, Chad has been threatened with sanctions ever since its military transition government was established following the death of President Idriss Déby Itno.

Debate raged within the PSC between Anglophones and Francophones. The former, notably Southern African countries (Lesotho, Malawi), were in favour of AU sanctions and initially had the tacit support of Algeria, which represented North Africa along with Egypt. However, the French-speaking West African (Senegal, Benin) and Central African blocs (notably Burundi) argued for leniency.

Valuable Nigerian support

The decision also played out the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), which tipped the balance in favour of N’Djamena. Ghana, which chairs the regional organisation, initially argued for strict AU sanctions. However, it later changed its mind and adopted Nigeria’s more flexible position. Abuja is supporting N’Djamena in its war against Boko Haram in the Lake Chad basin.

Cameroon is also one of Chad’s allies in the fight against terrorism within the Multinational Joint Task Force. It is reputedly ‘non-interventionist’ and has adopted Abuja’s stance in the name of regional security. Algiers, which earlier sided with Southern African countries and is currently chairing the PSC, finally agreed not to impose sanctions.

On 14 May, while the PSC was considering this issue, Déby visited Abuja, where he met with Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari. Just like he had done in Niamey a few days earlier, Déby reassured his counterpart that he will hold free elections within 18 months. He also pledged to fulfil Chad’s commitments in terms of regional security policy.

Abdelkerim Idriss Déby, the transitional president’s deputy chief of staff and half-brother, personally delivered this message to Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame; Congo-Brazzaville’s President Denis Sassou Nguesso, who chairs the Communauté Economique des États d’Afrique Centrale; and Cameroon’s President Paul Biya, who has good relations with the Déby family. Cherif Mahamat Zene – the transitional government’s foreign minister and former ambassador to Addis Ababa – had also used his influence within the AU to sway the PSC’s decision.

Chadian contacts in Addis Ababa

Zene delivered Mahamat and Abdelkerim Idriss Déby’s message at the opening of the PSC council session. Mahamat Ali Hassan, Chad’s AU representative, also used his Addis Ababa-based contacts to convince the AU that the new transitional authorities should be trusted.

This former minister of planning, economy and international cooperation is close to AU Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, who exchanged views with Sassou Nguesso on 2 May in Oyo, Congo-Brazzaville. In 2018, Mahamat had presided over Chad’s Forum National Inclusif, which had led, among other things, to abolishing the position of prime minister.

The AU sent Bankole Adeoye – its commissioner for peace and security – and Idriss Farah – Djibouti’s ambassador to the AU – on a fact-finding mission to Chad at the end of April. The two men, who also had the support of ‘their’ presidents, Muhammadu Buhari and Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, advocated for not introducing sanctions and for ‘supporting’ Chad’s transitional government. After reading their report, the PSC voted to not introduce sanctions in Chad.

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