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Chad government destabilization

02 May 2019

An opposition party coalition on 27 April accused the Chadian government of "completely blocking" political freedoms. The warning from the Coordination of Political Parties for the Defense of the Constitution (Coordination des partis politiques pour la défense de la constitution: CPDC) coalition that Chad is on the "edge of the abyss" comes as thousands of protesters in neighboring Sudan demand the return of civilian rule following the 11 April military coup that ousted President Omar al-Bashir.

Civil society and opposition parties lack the power and numbers to mobilize a popular revolt. The CPDC warning follows a planned nationwide demonstration that was scheduled for 25 April against butane gas shortages, which have prevented households from cooking their food. The demonstration was organized by the civil society group Chadian Collective against the High Cost of Living (Collectif tchadien contre la vie chère: CTVC), which vowed to defy a government ban on the demonstration, but was forced to cancel it after the arrest of its leader, Djingamnayal Nelly Versinis. This recurring pattern of avowed defiance, and subsequent arrest of key activists leading to demonstrations being aborted, hampers the ability of civil society groups and opposition parties to mobilize large sections of society who are fearful of security forces' repression.

Access to internet services such as Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp in Chad has been blocked for over a year, preventing mobilization via social media. Additionally, civil society organizations lack coherence, promoting confusion over what they represent. The Coalition of Civil Society Associations for Citizens' Action (Coalition des associations de la société civile pour l'action citoyenne: CASAC), for example, is pro-government and called on people to ignore the CTVC's call for a demonstration, warning it was a destabilization attempt aimed at "transposing outside events" to Chad.

For their part, political opposition parties are too divided to form a united front and will likely have been further split by the Supreme Court's designation of a new opposition leader on 28 April to replace the long-standing Saleh Kebzabo. This potentially increases President Idriss Déby's chances of returning a majority for the ruling Patriotic Salvation Movement (Mouvement Patriotique du Salut: MPS) in long-delayed legislative elections, currently due in May. In 2018, Déby consolidated power by introducing a presidential system of governance following constitutional changes, approved by parliament, which dispensed with the post of prime minister and gave him the authority to nominate Supreme Court judges.

Islamist militants or Chadian insurgents pose a greater threat than a popular uprising. Ever since an insurgent alliance almost succeeded in ousting him in 2008, Déby has ensured that loyalists and family members occupy key posts, particularly in the defense sector, which reduces the risk of a military overthrow. For example, Taher Erda, the army chief of staff, fought alongside Déby in the 1990 coup that brought him to power. Déby's nephew Tahor Youssouf Boye is the head of military intelligence, while his son Mahamat leads the elite presidential guard, the Directorate-General of the Security Services of the State's Institutions (Direction générale des services de sécurité des institutions de l'Etat: DGSSIE) and is currently spearheading a government offensive against Libya-based insurgents in the northwest Tibesti region.

Tibesti - where the situation is further destabilized by fighting among artisanal miners created by a gold rush - is just one of three regions where insurgencies are under way. In the Lake Chad region, Nigeria-based jihadists of militant group Jamaat Ahl al-Sunnah li-Dawa wal-Jihad (widely known as Boko Haram) frequently attack Chadian soldiers, whose capacity has been weakened by the transfer of the bulk of the Chadian army to Tibesti and to Ennedi-Est in the northeast. In February 2019, Libya-based insurgents of the Union des forces de la résistance (UFR), led by Déby's nephew Timan Erdémi, managed to penetrate 400 kilometres into Chad before they were repulsed by Chadian troops, backed by French fighter aircraft.

Since the Sudan-Chad peace agreement of 2010, insurgents from both countries have been unable to establish a presence on either side of the border. However, if, following the ousting of Bashir as Sudanese president, the security situation deteriorates in Sudan and insurgents in the country's Darfur region - particularly the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which is drawn from Déby's Zaghawa ethnic group - try to reignite their struggle for greater autonomy, there is a likelihood that the resulting security void will create conditions for Chadian insurgent groups such as the UFR to re-establish bases in Darfur. In such a scenario, Déby would again extend support to the JEM as a means of self-protection. Sudan's precautionary closure of its borders on 25 April is likely aimed at pre-empting such a scenario, but cross-border incursions along its 1,360-km frontier with Chad would be difficult to monitor in the event of a security breakdown.

France is likely to intervene if there is a real threat to Déby. Chad is the regional lynchpin in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel, and Déby's removal would likely create a serious security vacuum in the region. It would also further reduce France's regional influence, already threatened by Russia's increasing intervention in neighboring Central African Republic. France, whose Barkhane counter-terrorism operation is headquartered in the Chadian capital, N'Djamena, has already shown it will come to Déby's aid upon request if his presidency is threatened, as in February this year. French support for Chad was further emphasized by President Emmanuel Macron during a visit to the country in December 2018.

Indicators of a changing risk environment

Increasing risk

  • Civil society organizations manage to mobilize hundreds of people on to the streets and security forces refuse to disperse them.
  • Intensification of Boko Haram attacks in the Lake Chad region and of the Libya-based insurgencies in northern Chad, as well as new Darfur-based insurgencies threatening eastern Chad, seriously stretching the capability of the armed forces.
  • France pulls out of Chad.

Decreasing risk

  • Déby proceeds with legislative elections in May, indicating he feels more secure.
  • The Chadian army successfully controls the various insurgencies, likely with French assistance.
  • Déby co-operates with the new authorities in Sudan and continues the joint border patrols, which will deter insurgency from Darfur.

Corinne Archer is an analyst on the country risk team at IHS Markit


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