Ibrahim Zain is a foremost political activist in Chad. In this interview with CHIBUZO UKAIBE, he speaks on the evolving political dynamics in that country following the demise of former President Idriss Deby.
Give us some insight into the dynamics of what is unfolding in Chad following the demise of Deby?
First, I need to put some issues in context. I have been involved in political activism from a young age in my country. I took part in the first election in 1996, even though it turned out to be a fake election. But thanks to the media we were educated on the person who was on the throne, Idriss Deby, and what he was doing.
In 1990 he came into power as a military ruler and later organised an election in 1996. In 2001 another election was held and I voted against him. We realised that there was nothing like a free, fair and credible election in Chad. So I boycotted all elections after that. He started reappointing himself into office in 2006, 2011, 2016. And the last one was on April 10, 2021. There was never democratic or intellectual freedom even the basic fundamental rights have been absent for the last three decades in Chad.
What’s the impact of his death across to the country?
For most Chadians his end was unexpected because he has been participating on the war front for the past 31 years. It was not new to him. The former dictator Hissène Habré, who ruled the nation from 1982 to 1990 also participated at the war front especially in the war against late Col. Ghaddafi of Libya and the rebellion that brought Idriss Deby into power. So rebellion has been there because that is the system of changing power in Chad. It is not a form of criminality or terrorism, it has sadly assumed some form of legitimacy in Chad. The first armed group rebellion was formed on June 22, 1966, and since then it became the pattern. So none of the Chadian presidents were voted in or out of office. It has always been by armed rebellion. So what we see is that some military men would defect, take refuge in neighboring countries, get their support and return to seize power. So what happened on April 19, this year is similar to that. We saw a rebel group who got support from other foreign powers and launched an attack from Southern Libya into Chadian soil. They came to a place called Kanem State, at the North West province about 300km North of Djamena. Deby led his reinforcement troops against them and met his end.
The takeover of power by Deby’s Son, Mahamat Idriss Déby, has led to protests. What makes the protests significant?
First, Derby was an illegitimate ruler going by the way he assumed power. For 31 years he was a vicious dictator. There is a constitution which was cut to the size of Deby. After his death, the military junta came and violated that constitution, seized power and appointed Mahamat, even though Chad is not a monarchy. The constitution says upon the death of the president, the president of the National Assembly should take over as a transitional president between 45 to 90 days to prepare for a free and fair election. But the military junta, in violation of the constitution, brought Deby’s child of 37 years to power. He was made major general at 21 years old. So Chadians are saying no to the violation of our constitution, no to monarchy, Chadian is a republic. Let’s act based on our constitution, if the president of the National Assembly is not capable of taking over, we have six deputy president’s anyone of them can take over for the transitional government as stated by the constitution. We need a free and fair election. Chadians should vote who will represent them. We are not in a military state. We suspected this years back when we started shouting against having a monarchical system in Chad. We saw preparation for the monarchy system. So they brought this child who is not capable. There is no legitimate point for the child to assume power. He is now saying his transition will be for 18 months and can be extended for 18 more months. So what we are seeing is a hijack of power. Thanks to all Chadians who have been protesting in Djamena and all over the world agianst the conspiracy of the military junta.
If France backs Deby’s son, what hope is there that things can change considering the enormous influence France has over francophone Africa? What will make your case different this time around?
We believe Chad is a sovereign country. We regard France as a friend. We regard the ties as bilateral relations not as superior and inferior or colonial status, the era of colonization is over. Chadians for the first time protested by matching on French flags in most of the Chadian cities. There were also protests in London, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and other major cities. So the French government realised that the steps it took were wrong. For that reason, President Emmanuel Macron came out and said they are not in support of monarchy and that they want transition to civil rule and true democracy. He invited Chadians in diaspora to a meeting in Paris. Six of my colleagues were there. They gave six demands and the French government promised to meet them. Yes the so called transitional military council or the coup d’État was backed by France but our hope as chadians is that we will have the right to preserve our democracy. And we hope the international community, our regional powers, AU and Nigeria (being the greatest nation within our continent as a neighbor and elder sister), Cameroon, and others will stand with us. The US has represented a very sound position on the issue. It has shown it’s pro-Chadian tendency. The US ambassador in Djamena met our colleagues who organised the protests and the US has shown that it is in support of justice and democracy. The AU peace and security Counsel was in Djamena demanding that the military junta stand aside and allow for a constitutional transition process to take place so that we have a democratic system.
You said the french government is beginning to bend backwards on the matter, how confident are you that the commitment it gave to the Chadian activists will be met?
We are concerned about Chad’s betterment, not that of France. If France is willing to be with the Chadian people then it is fine. But if they take decisions against the will of chadians, chadians are free to determine for the betterment of Chad to ensure that they will establish a country of democracy and the rule of law.
You are in Nigeria now, what kind of assurance have you gotten from the Nigerian government and how confident are you that the AU will give you all the support you need?
We have massive hope. The major problem is that for three horrible decades Deby projected himself to the region and beyond as a hero while he is not. He is a dictator and totalitarian ruler who destroyed the nation and ceased all the civil rights.
Deby’s contribution to the fight against terrorism in the region is a social responsibility not a political thing. All African nations in the Sahel region are united in the fight against terrorism which is challenging our existence. So whoever is there is bound to contribute to the fight. People think that the military as an institution is behind the successes. No it is not. Armed militia are being used in the fight. People are taken from the streets and given guns. The secret behind it is that the Chadian nation is a warlike nation. They are gallant and brave, they can do whatever is possible on the battle ground and they are usually victorious. We have fought many wars in the past. We fought against Ghaddafi in the 70s and 80s. Some foreign nations believed that when they supported Chadians they would discipline Ghaddafi and that was what happened. Since then Ghaddafi stopped sponsoring attacks against any neighboring country.
Deby didn’t train any army. He didn’t build any military institution. These are regular chadians whom he picked the from the streets. But because of their war-like capacity they excelled in war fronts.
So to the regional powers, we appreciate what they are doing. The Ghanaian government, the home of democracy in the region asked the military junta to stand aside or the African Union should suspend the membership of the military junta in African Union. The position of Nigeria is unclear so far. Chadians hold Nigeria in high esteem which is the right place for them to be. We look up to Nigeria as a great nation. Nigeria has contributed to the peace and stability of Chad in the past. In 1979 there was a tussle for power among rival groups. There was a nine-month continuous fighting in the capital among eight different factions. While it seemed like the world turned their back on us, Nigeria stood with us and intervened. The leaders of the groups were invited to Lagos in March which was the first meeting. It brought harmony. The second meeting was in Kano, held between August 13 to 18 same year, by then deputy head of State Late Shehu Yar’Adua. The meeting resulted in a transitional government that brought peace to Chad. So I can say what we are enjoying as peace and territorial integrity today is a result of Nigeria’s intervention. So we call on Nigerian government today to stand on the side of the Chadian people and nation, not with the illegitimate military junta. What we need is stability, peace and democracy. Nigeria is an example of democracy and peace in the region. We don’t want Chad to be another Libya, Somalia, Sierra Leone and Liberia or Rwanda of 1994. The people of Chad have shown responsible determination to defend their unity, nation and democracy. We need our friend nations within the region and international community and powers to stand with Chadian people.
How prepared is the civil movement to ensure stability if they take over in chad? This question comes against the backdrop of the impression in some quarters that only the military can ensure stability in the country?
Actually we have never had real peace and stability in the country. From Feburary 1962 till date, Chad has been under monstrous dictatorships. Throughout that period justice and rule of law have never been there. So it is not new to us. We don’t want to be a failed state.
Military will not take us to a better place than where we are. Majority of the civil society were chased out of the country because they spoke up against the illegality that was happening in the country. Many are in diaspora and very few brave ones are in Chad. We are ready to come together; actually the Chadian community is united today on how to safeguard Chad from further crisis. We have seen primary school children matching and facing bullets. We had seven deaths and later 11 deaths from the bullets of the military junta.
We welcome the military as an institution, it is much welcome but they should take up their responsibility of protecting the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of Chad, they should let the political parties and political experts to handle the political affairs of the country. We have ex-presidents and other notable figures still alive. Yes Chad is small and we don’t have enough experience of free and fair elections but today Chadians are united to protect Chad from failure and balkanization. We need the regional and international powers to stand with Chad and Chadians before getting to the slippery slope. And becoming a breeding ground for violent crimes: civil wars, terrorism, assassination and armed robbery and kidnapping.