Looming uncertainty in Chad and Sahel

On April 11, 2021, armed rebels from the group Fighters of the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) invaded the northern border of Chad from Libya, with the goal of toppling the government. By April 19, the advance was stopped 300 km north of Ndjamena, the capital, by the Chadian army. On the same day, the long-time President Idriss Déby visited the front and under still unclear circumstances, was killed. Instead of the Parliament assuming control of the government as the constitution dictates, the army suspended the constitution, dissolved the Parliament, and formed a new military council led by one of Déby’s sons, a general. Accordingly, the military council is leading the country for an 18-month transitional period before having free elections. Still, protests broke out in the capital for the lack of civilian representation in the transitional process. France, a long-time ally of the former president, whose army helped him out to defeat rebellions several times, has offered its support to the Transitional Military Council (TMC). While other Western countries and the African Union weakly protested against the military coup and urged to implement a civilian-led transition, France seems to prioritize stability and security.


Chad has been a key player within the G5 Sahel, an initiative to foster cooperation between countries in the Sahel along with the French army against jihadist rebels in the region. The Chadian army is one of the most experienced and the most effective against these extremist rebel groups. The fact that the Chadian forces need to reallocate their resources and manpower from counter terrorism operations to domestic threats might bring uncertainty and insecurity in the region.


As Chad has been so critical with driving back jihadist rebels in the past years, many Western and regional countries were allied with Chad and might well support the TMC, which offers a continuity of the Déby’s regime. Nonetheless, it has to be mentioned that Déby was seen as a corrupt leader and a dictator during his 30-year regime. Nowadays, an important share of the population sees the TMC as another corrupt government. Without the support of a significant proportion of the population, the TMC will unlikely be able to defeat the FACT, namely the armed rebels. Some analysts worry that if the rebels keep advancing toward the capital, the Chadian army could splinter, leading to a civil war. Although the invasion was stopped, the leader of the FACT stated, upon the announcement of Déby’s death, that the offensive toward N'djamena will resume.


While some see the TMC as a guarantee of stability and security, giving more room for manoeuvre to deal with the rebel uprising, this military coup has also given incentives to other rebel groups in the country to take up arms and join the FACT, especially if the Chadian army seems weakened. In addition, the sustained waves of refugees from unstable neighbours such as the Central African Republic and Sudan could exacerbate already existing ethnic violence in Southern Chad, requiring even more resources from Chadian security forces.


Although Déby was a corrupt dictator, the former president was still a pillar of stability and security in the region. His death brings uncertainty, which various factions of the Islamic State-West African Province (ISWAP) could take as an opportunity. Having used Chad as its base of operations for counterterrorism in the Sahel, the French army might have to step up to protect Paris’ interests in the country. If so, fewer soldiers and resources would be assigned to fight jihadist insurgents in other countries such as Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroun. Moreover, it complicates the plans of France to gradually leave the Sahel, especially since other European countries are not so eager to get involved, due to humanitarian reasons. The TMC has stated that democracy would be brought back in 18 months, but it is likely that Déby’s son will try to cling to power. If that was the case, Chad could get embroiled in a disastrous civil war with important consequences for the stability of the region.