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Presidential elections in Chad: a template for future “transitions” in the Sahel.


In 2012, Mali experienced its first successful coup dètât post—Cold War. Led by a senior military officer, Amadou Sanogo, it was an interruption to the democratic dispensation since the early 1990s.

Unsurprisingly, the coup was met with widespread international and regional condemnation. Sanctions were imposed and within a short time, the junta made significant compromises. The human rights abuses and other excesses of the coup before and during a tumultuous unity government were massive.

Later, Amadou Sanogo was incarcerated for some of his actions despite some immunity he was supposed to have got. His associates were also dealt with in different ways by the succeeding civilian governments.

And so what?

Since the chain of coups started in the Sahel in 2020, I have maintained that the juntas have no intentions of handing over power to the civilians. My position was reinforced when the “half-coup” occurred in Mali in 2021. Asimi Goita had Sanogo in mind when he ousted the transitional government he was part of.

I have also forecasted that any transition that will occur in these countries would at “best” be in the form of the military metamorphosing into civilian suits to legitimise their rule. Examples are all over 20th-century Africa.

As Chadians go to the polls today, the junta is setting the pace for impending “transitions” in the Sahel. Let’s call it chameleon transitions: changing to sooth the moment.

After Idris Deby, long-time Chadian ruler and father of the current leader and presidential candidate, was killed in a battle, the constitution was suspended to allow his son to take control. Being a military commander, Mahamat’s ascendancy technically turned Chad into a military regime. Criticism from the opposition and protests did not change anything—he had the support of much of the military.

His decision to run for president and the heavy-handedness towards the opposition has not been surprising. Like his father, he seeks to shore up his legitimacy by becoming a civilian ruler. Weeks ago, a major opposition leader was killed in a gun battle in N’Djamena. The fairness of the polls is, therefore, in the hands of the incumbent.

Most importantly, expect similar processes to occur in the other junta-led Sahel states in West Africa. Their opposition to ECOWAS is not necessarily because of sanctions. Much has to do with a major condition set by the bloc that does not allow coup makers to run for office in the transitions they supervise.

By being on a collision course with the bloc and breaking away from it, they seek to hand over power to themselves.

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