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    HomePoliticsAfter a new constitution, what's next for Chad? – DW – 12/29/2023

    After a new constitution, what’s next for Chad? – DW – 12/29/2023

    Chad’s new constitution has entered into force after being approved by the country’s Supreme Court, paving the way for civilian rule.

    The court on Thursday confirmed the results of the December 17 referendum, which saw the new constitution pass with 85.9% approval and 14.1% against. Voter turnout was 62.86%, with about 8 million people eligible to vote.

    Petitions by opponents seeking to overturn the referendum were rejected by the court. It ruled that although there were some irregularities, they weren’t enough to affect the outcome.

    Fidel Amakye Owusu, an international relations expert with the Conflict Research Consortium for Africa, told DW that Chad’s latest move toward civilian rule appears to set it apart from its politically unstable neighbors in the Sahel region. Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger are all under military rule.

    “The [Chadian] leaders want the world to see Chad to be a little different or to have a situation that is more unique from what is happening in the Sahel,” he said.

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    Chad’s transitional president, General Mahamat Idriss Deby, seized power in 2021 after his father and long-term ruler Idriss Deby was killed while fighting insurgents. Deby signed the new constitution into force on Friday.

    ‘No’ campaigners favored transition to federal state

    The new Chadian constitution, however, will maintain a centrally-governed state, despite some opponents pushing for a federal state to help speed up development.

    In fact, the referendum didn’t even make room for people to decide on the issue as it wasn’t on the ballot paper. Chad has had a centralized government since gaining independence from France in 1960.

    “No” campaigners for the referendum had favored a transition to a federal state, arguing that a central government has failed to develop Chad, among the world’s poorest nations. A survey published in early 2023 by the Network of Chadian Journalists and Reporters showed that more than two out of three Chadians, or 71%, were in favor of moving to a federal system.

    Chadian analyst and professor Gilbert Maoundonodji, of the University of N’Djamena, said concerns about the failure of the centrally-governed state were legitimate.

    “After 60 years of unitary state, the weaknesses are obvious. The unitary state has not contributed to achieving national unity, to creating the conditions for sustainable development and prosperity of the unity of the country,” Maoundonodji told DW.

    “And when we see the crises, the different conflicts that the country has experienced, the fears are well-founded.”

    Central authority expected to retain power

    Proponents of the new constitution have instead created local level governments and representatives, aiming to allow citizens to vote for their representatives in next year’s elections.

    But Owusu said that arrangement won’t be enough to address the political and developmental needs of Chad’s 18.5 million citizens.

    “Many Chadians wanted a federal system, but it did not happen. When the system is centralized it gives the central authority more power than otherwise. So, we don’t see anything changing,” he said.

    “We are still going to see a unitary system that has not been very effective in place and so much power in N’Djamena [the capital], rather than decentralizing the system for regional government to have that kind of autonomy to take decisions,” he added.

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    Remadji Hoinathy, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Chad, told DW that despite the opposition to the centrally-governed system, it still has some advantages.

    “In a highly decentralized unitary state, part of the skills [get] passed to other types of entities outside the central power outside of these entities. Even if they remain dependent on the central entity, they are autonomous entities and therefore a certain amount of power [is] passed to these entities to act at the local level,” he said.

    Referendum as a way to legitimize Deby?

    Presidential, legislative, senatorial and municipal elections are scheduled for 2024, and transitional leader Deby will also be allowed to run for president under the new constitution.

    Owusu said it was obvious that the referendum was intended to legitimize Deby.

    “This referendum was a way to legitimize the kind of transition that the military in Chad wants for the country, and not necessarily a reflection of the will of the people,” he said.

    Chad’s military leaders believe the new constitution is a vital step toward next year’s elections, and a return to a civilian regime. Owusu expects Deby to become president when the elections are held, to continue the Deby dynasty started when his father took power in a coup 33 years ago.

    “Just like his father did, we would see what is like a pseudo civilian leadership going forward,” he said.

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    Many opposition groups had called for a boycott of the referendum, fearing the junta had too much control over the process. That has left many people in Chad, Africa’s fifth biggest nation by area and home to some 200 ethnic groups, unsatisfied with the transition process.

    “The most important element required for democracy to deepen in Chad is when the people are allowed to own the democracy,” said Owusu. “If you deny the people the constitution they want for themselves, then the people cannot own the democracy.”

    Owusu warned that allowing the military to dominate the government after the general election could spell doom for the country.

    “In the Sahel, what is becoming common and also erroneous is the thinking that the military can do better that the civilian government when it comes to fighting extremism or ensuring stability,” he said. “That has proven to be wrong.”

    Blaise Daristone contributed to this article from N’Djamena.

    Edited by: Martin Kuebler

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