Déby After Déby: Violent Protests in Chad Expose Corruption in Military-Led Government


Citizens of Chad awoke, on the morning of October 21, 2022, to carnage in the streets. The stains of a bleeding democracy could not be washed out overnight.

Only hours earlier, 50 protesters were shot and killed across several cities in Chad – the capital N’Djamena included – by security forces composed of police, gendarmes, and army officers. Hundreds more were wounded. Protesters took to the streets in defense of Chad’s democracy which, in recent weeks, has been under threat. Chad’s military junta, officially referred to as the “Transitional Military Council” (CMT for the French “Conseil militaire de transition”), has abandoned plans to transition to democracy and has instead extended its rule by at least two more years. Elections are now set to take place in October 2024. Such a decision reads as a symptom of the mounting corruption, violence, and authoritarianism that has plagued Chad’s history and that has, to a great extent, failed to capture the attention of many Western administrations.

The CMT was formed following the death of authoritarian president Idriss Déby at the hands of rebel forces in April 2021. In the name of political stability, Déby enjoyed support from the United States and France throughout his 31-year stint as president, despite maintaining an impressive reputation as a corrupt authoritarian leader with a whole host of accusations of human rights violations against him.[1] The United States Department of State released a statement following Déby’s death offering condolences to the people of Chad and their support of a “peaceful transition of power in accordance with the Chadian constitution.”[2] French president Emmanuel Macron attended Déby’s funeral where he spoke to attendees on behalf of his nation, saying that France “will not let anybody put into question or threaten today or tomorrow Chad’s stability and territorial integrity.”[3] While Chad has historically been integral to France’s fight against terrorism in the region, the status of their continued support remains unresolved.[4] 

Without either experience to his name or adherence to the nation’s constitution at play, his son, Mahamat Idriss Déby, immediately assumed power following the elder Déby’s death. Opposition leaders were quick to condemn the coup and call for intervention.[5] Mahamat now leads the military junta, which was set to take power for 18 months, after which elections would be held. On October 1st, the regime announced their decision to postpone elections for another two years.[6]

The peaceful protests, which the junta tagged as part of an “attempted armed insurrection,” come amid a period of instability in the region. Chad is already one of the poorest countries in Africa. According to the World Bank, 42% of the country lives below the national poverty line.[7] The United Nations Development Programme released a report on October 17, 2022 giving Chad the fourth lowest ranking in terms of multidimensional poverty, which it describes as, “an index that captures the percentage of households in a country deprived along three dimensions of well-being – monetary poverty, education, and basic infrastructure services – to provide a more complete picture of poverty.”[8] Only Niger, South Sudan, and Burkina Faso ranked lower. International backlash in response to the extended stay of Mahamat’s military junta in Chad runs the risk of further isolating the already impoverished country and, in doing so, hindering economic development.

A number of human rights organizations also released statements following the October 20th violence, calling for peace and stability in the area. The Central Africa Director of Human Rights Watch, Lewis Mudge, addressed the situation in Chad saying, “The transitional government should ensure that its security forces refrain from unjustified and disproportionate use of force during demonstrations and respect the fundamental rights to life, bodily integrity, and liberty, as well as those of assembly and peaceful protest.”[9] The United Nations and the African Union also condemned the use of violence against peaceful protestors and issued a firm warning to Chadian authorities against any interference with the international human right of all citizens to peacefully assemble and express.[10]

Samantha Power, the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development came out with a similar statement on the escalating violence. “The United States condemns this violence, and urges authorities and law enforcement to respect the right of Chadians to assemble peacefully and pursue their aspirations for a transition period to a peaceful, inclusive, civilian-led government.”[11] The United States has yet to suspend aid to Chad and has instead engaged in dialogue voicing continuous support for the eventual transition to democracy.

Ned Price, spokesperson for the US Department of State, said in a press statement released October 20, 2022, that “the United States believes that a government selected by the people of Chad in a free and fair election, overseen by independent institutions, will offer the best hope for Chad to emerge from decades of conflict. We will continue to support the people of Chad in pursuing their aspirations for a credible and timely transition to democracy.” The United States has maintained a position of docile neutrality since the death of Déby in April 2021. Dialogue with and recognition of the CMT’s rule only serves to further legitimize the party.

The prospect of national elections – first in 2022, now in 2024 – have been a glimmer of hope for pro-democracy groups in Chad. But the “Chadian election”, which existed in some insular and corrupt form during the elder Déby’s reign, shows little sign of allowing for rule “of the people by the people.”[12] The last elections in Chad were held on April 11, 2021, nine days before Déby’s death. But turnout was low – just over 27% of the population voted, and Déby won the reelection with 79% of the vote.[13] As Déby himself said, he “knew in advance that he would win.”[14] A new constitution rigged in 2018 in combination with one of the most powerful armies in the region gave Déby the security to make such a claim.[15]

Corruption in the public sector is no new phenomenon in Chad.During the height of Idriss Déby’s presidency in 2005, Chad was tied with Bangladesh as the most corrupt country in the world.[16] French colonial rule began in Chad in 1900 and persisted through to their eventual independence in 1960.[17] The period that followed brought political instability and a Chadian government characterized by a number of “isms” – nepotism, tribalism, and cronyism among them. The current situation simply marks the newest development in the history of a nation haunted by a string of authoritarian rulers who have worked to promote this general distrust of democracy.

As long as a Déby is in power, the potential of any form of election to produce reflective change remains fairly low. There exists no political infrastructure in place to support the development of a representative democracy in Chad. In a region that has seen some democratic progress in the past few decades, the success of the CMT and other military-led states indicates the installation of a wave of authoritarian control. The United States and France, both important political and economic allies to Chad, have done little in the way of inhibiting the CMT’s advances. Mahamat Déby and his military junta pose a dangerous threat to the perpetuation of democracy and human rights in Chad and its surrounding region – one Western administration has entirely neglected. Foreign policy decisions made following the protests in Chad will serve as an indication of the stance the United States, France, and their peers are ready to take in response to the future of democratic rule in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Works Cited

[1] “Chad: Déby Leaves Legacy of Abuse.” Human Rights Watch, April 20, 2021. https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/04/20/chad-deby-leaves-legacy-abuse.

[2] On the Death of President Idriss Deby Itno, April 20, 2021. United States Department of State. https://www.state.gov/on-the-death-of-president-idriss-deby-itno/.

[3] “Idriss Déby: Thousands Attend Funeral of Chad President.” BBC News. BBC, April 23, 2021. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-56857563.

[4] “Chad — Political Relations .” Ministère de l’Europe et des Affaires Étrangères. Accessed November 3, 2022. https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/country-files/chad/.

[5] Bensimon, Cyril. “Opposition Protests in Chad Met with Violent Regime Repression.” Le Monde.fr. Le Monde, October 21, 2022. https://www.lemonde.fr/en/international/article/2022/10/21/opposition-protests-in-chad-met-with-violent-regime-repression_6001202_4.html.

[6] Person, and Mahamat Ramadane. “Junta Set to Stay in Power after Chad Delays Elections by Two Years.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, October 3, 2022. https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/junta-set-stay-power-after-chad-delays-elections-by-two-years-2022-10-02/.

[7] “Overview.” World Bank. Accessed November 3, 2022. https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/chad/overview#:~:text=Although%20Chad%20had%20made%20progress,below%20the%20national%20poverty%20line.

[8] Rep. 2022 Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), n.d.

[9] “Chad: Scores of Protesters Shot Dead, Wounded.” Human Rights Watch, October 26, 2022. https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/10/26/chad-scores-protesters-shot-dead-wounded.

[10] “Chad: Experts Alarmed by Lethal Use of Force against Protesters and Call for De-Escalation.” OHCHR, October 26, 2022. https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2022/10/chad-experts-alarmed-lethal-use-force-against-protesters-and-call-de.

[11] “Statement by Administrator Samantha Power on Escalating Violence Against Protestors in Chad,” October 24, 2022. United States Agency for International Development. https://www.usaid.gov/news-information/press-releases/oct-24-2022-statement-administrator-samantha-power-escalating-violence-chad#:~:text=The%20United%20States%20condemns%20this,inclusive%2C%20civilian%2Dled%20government.

[12] “World Report 2022: Rights Trends in Chad.” Human Rights Watch, January 13, 2022. https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2022/country-chapters/chad.

[13] “IFES Election Guide: Country Profile: Chad.” IFES Election Guide | Country Profile: Chad. Accessed November 7, 2022. https://www.electionguide.org/countries/id/43/.

[14] Ramadane, Mahamat, and Joel Kouam. “’I Know in Advance That I Will Win’: Chad’s Deby Eyes Sixth Presidential Term.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, April 8, 2021. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-chad-election/i-know-in-advance-that-i-will-win-chads-deby-eyes-sixth-presidential-term-idUSKBN2BV0UC.

[15] Chad’s Constitution of 2018 § (2022). https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Chad_2018.pdf?lang=en.

[16] “Chad.” Transparency.org. Accessed November 12, 2022. https://www.transparency.org/en/countries/chad.

[17] “History of Chad.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Accessed November 12, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/place/Chad/History.