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By Francis Tazoacha (Download pdf version)

A Return to Constitutional Order and Democratic Governance in Chad: Is the African Union Not Crawling?


The world-wide drive towards democracy, incited in part by the ending of the cold war, created opportunities for democratization not only in Europe and the former Soviet Union, but also across Africa. Hopes were high that Africans would begin to enjoy the freedoms afforded to citizens living in the former colonial powers. Despite the euphoria that followed this wind of change, some countries are embracing it while others are clinging to autocratic rule. The fossilisation of the autocratic rule has left many heads of state clinging to power while others are exercising pseudo-monarchic transitions through the abrogation of their respective constitutions and abuse of human rights. This perturbation has been the stumbling block to the democratic processes, good governance and sustainable development. Despite these inconsistencies, some African regional bodies have upheld their responsibilities while others such as the African Union (AU), the umbrella continental organisation, has played the role of “the good, the bad and the ugly”.

Contextual Background

Chad is a desert nation named after lake Chad and surrounded by many countries facing severe security challenges. These include Libya to the north, Sudan to the east, the Central African Republic to the south, Cameroon and Nigeria to the southwest (at Lake Chad), and Niger to the west. Idriss Déby Itno took over power from President Hissène Habré in December 1990 by leading a rebellion against the latter’s government. Déby survived numerous coup attempts and rebellions against his rule before winning elections in 1996 and 2001 [1]. He revised the constitution, and after eliminating term limits, he won elections in 2006, 2011, 2016, and 2021 before meeting his untimely death on the frontline when battling against rebels in 2021[2]. For Déby’s 30 years in power, Chad has played the role of a military fulcrum in the escalating fight against armed groups in the Sahel and Central and West Africa. Déby’s military forces have been vital in the Sahel crisis, the fight against Boko Haram and its splinter groups in the Lake Chad region and beyond. Déby intervened- from Darfur to Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and the Central African Republic. In fact, Chad’s military champions the G5 Sahel alliance (comprising Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) that was created to combat armed militias operating in the region. Déby’s troops are considered as one of the most battle-hardened in the world [3]. Irrespective of accusations for his dictatorship system of governance and allegations of grave human rights violations by his military, Chad has been very active in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iran and Syria (ISIS) in the western portion of the Sahel and against Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin [4]. The death of Idriss Déby and the naming of his son – Mahamat Idriss Déby as interim president has been applauded by many and heavily criticized by others as they describe this as an unconstitutional change of government.

It is hence undeniable that eyebrows are being raised with regards to the African Union’s relative silence to the situation in Chad as compared to its activeness in the Malian crisis in August 2020. The AU’s Peace and Security Council went on a fact-finding mission on 14th May 2021 to N’Djamena. A clear violation of article 81 of the Chad constitution was seen, which provides for the head of the National assembly to act as interim president within 45 to 90 days in the event of president’s death or incapacitation [5]. The army also dissolved the National assembly and government and suspended the constitution, despite the protest from the civil society organization and political opposition. These constitutional violations were serious enough to warrant the African Union suspend and sanction the military junta, yet they remained indifferent and condoned with moves to harness power at the expense of the budding and staggering democracy.

It is against this backdrop that the Peace and Security Division of the Nkafu Policy Institute seeks to better understand the modalities or measures that the African Union can take to ensure a return to constitutional order in Chad while concurrently preserving the State’s security and territorial integrity.

Policy recommendations

At the end of the event, the panellists proposed the following recommendations to the African Union and ECCAS:

  • The African Union should sanction the military junta in Chad for violating the constitution as spelt out in the African Union’s Peace and Security Council that whenever there is an unconstitutional change of government sanctions, should be meted on the perpetrators so as to set precedence;
  • The African Union’s Peace and Security Council should be more proactive on issues that aim to guarantee peace and security in Africa;
  • The military junta in Chad should respect the will of the Chadians and their constitutional rights;
  • The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) should equally sanction the Chadian military for disrespecting democratic norms in the subregion; and
  • There is need for France not to meddle in the African internal affairs especially in her former colonies.


The Public Policy Dialogue was one of a series of events organised by the Peace and Security Divisions of the Nkafu Policy Institute to harness its own contribution in the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the Goal 16 of United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal (UNSDG) Agenda 2030 which spells out that we cannot hope for sustainable development without peace, stability, human rights and effective governance, based on the rule of law. There is the need for the Regional Economic Communities and the African Union to check the authoritarian and semi-authoritarian rulers, who mindful of foreign opinion, have dressed their regimes with the forms of democracy, such as regular (if rigged) elections and de jure (not de facto) separation of powers. Presidential term limits, where in place, have been frequently circumvented through so-called constitutional coups. Heads of state have deftly manipulated social cleavages and played up fears of malevolent foreign interference to deflect popular pressure away from their illiberal rule.

Francis Tazoacha is the Director of Peace and Security at the Nkafu Policy Institute. He has a Master’s Degree in Natural Resources and Peace from the United Nations University for Peace in San Jose, Costa Rica.