Although he stood next to the leader of the new junta in a show of support, French President Emmanuel Macron is now calling for civilian rule in Chad.
It didn’t last long. Just days after publicly supporting the military council that came to power through a coup in Chad, French President Macron called for a civilian national unity government to be put in place.
Following the sudden death of longtime authoritarian ruler Idriss Deby, a military council headed by his son, General Mahamat Idriss Deby, seized power. Swiftly after this, the constitution was suspended and both government and parliament were dissolved, with the military vowing to hold a “free and democratic” election at the end of an 18-month transition.
Opposition politicians called this a coup and unconstitutional, arguing that the parliament speaker should have been given power as stated in the constitution. Rebel groups, rejecting the military council, vowed to continue launching attacks.
However, last Friday, French President Macron sat next to the 37-year old four-star General Mahamat at the funeral of President Deby in the capital city of N’Djamena.
"France will not let anybody put into question or threaten today or tomorrow Chad's stability and integrity," Macron said during a speech at the funeral, prompting criticism that he has given explicit and public legitimacy to the military regime.
In fact, the French approach of prioritising security over a democratic transition has not taken anyone by surprise. Deby’s Chad was a vital element in France’s geopolitical strategy in the Sahel and central Africa.
By sending troops into various conflicts to fight in the region along with French forces, all the while gaining admiration from Western policymakers, Deby legitimised his repressive rule at home and built an image that meant the West would see him as a dependable strongman in the region.
But on Monday, in contrast to his previous remarks that suggested a continuity of the Deby regime, Macron claimed that France opposed attempts to designate Deby's successor. In a statement, the French presidency called for ‘’an inclusive transition process open to all Chadian political forces, led by a civilian national unity government that should lead to elections within an 18-month delay."
Nonetheless, Nathaniel Powell, an associate researcher at Lancaster University and author of ‘France’s Wars in Chad’, is sceptical about whether there is indeed a shift in French policy towards Chad.
‘’Macron didn't say anything about the military regime continuing to oversee the transitional process, which remains the case even after the military council announced a national dialogue,’’ Powell told TRT World.
The military council recently appointed a civilian politician, Albert Pahimi Padacke, as prime minister of a transitional government. General Mahamat promised an "inclusive national dialogue" in his first national address on Tuesday.
Padacke served as prime minister from 2016 to 2018 and was seen as an ally of Deby, who ruled Chad for 30 years.
Analysts say that the appointment seems to follow a trend in the region in which junta leaders seek to remain in power through civilian-led transitional governments.
‘’There's a long history in Francophone Africa, including with Deby, of militaries or other sitting regimes using so-called national conferences and ostensible political liberalisation to actually stay in power, divide the opposition, and consolidate their authority’’ Powell said.
Alessio Iocchi, a senior research fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs says Macron’s contradictory remarks shows his ‘’lack of vision towards Chad and Africa in general, which forces him to shift positions.’’
“On the one hand France is charmed by the idea of having a new strongman as head of state, on the other hand, Paris can’t help but endorse the public desire for a transitional government that will allow for a democratically-elected government,’’ Iocchi told TRT World.
He continued: “The latter case, nonetheless, creates much discontent within the French establishment, as many fear that without a strongman Chad could plunge into chaos.”
Protests against military rule
Although the chaos seems to be a worst-case scenario, the streets remain tense.
At least five people were killed on Tuesday during banned protests that demanded a transition to civilian rule. The new military junta faces resistance from mainly young Chadians who crave change after 30 years of autocratic rule.
Remadji Hoinathy, a Chad-based senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, says young people cannot see a way out of the desperate situation in which they find themselves.
“Young people are frustrated with how they have been living since they were born. They were born under highly militarised authoritarian Deby rule and nothing has been done to improve development, infrastructure, education, quality of life and healthcare,” Hoinathy told TRT World.
Hoinathy adds, "So when Chadians see the son of Deby taking power and implementing the very same agenda his father ran, they rise against.”
Speaking to Reuters, a 34-year-old protester, Mbaidiguim Marabel, confirmed Hoinathy’s hypothesis. "We do not want our country to become a monarchy," Marabel said. "The military must return to the barracks to make way for a civilian transition."
Anti-French sentiment is visible and rife among protestors, who blame Paris for backing the military council against the will of the people.
“Anti-French sentiment is a natural consequence of Macron's endorsement of Deby’s son General Mahamat and the military council,” Iocchi said.
Aujourd’hui, la complicité de la France avec la junte militaire au Tchad a arraché brutalement au moins 2 martyrs à l’affection de leurs proches.— Moudwe Daga (@Moudwe) April 27, 2021
Ce sang n’aura pas coulé en vain.
Plus que jamais nous sommes un peuple debout contre le tyran que le colon français veut imposer. pic.twitter.com/My5caqAetU
Posts on social media depicted those attending the rally actively burning French flags and carrying banners critical of France and Macron, too. Businesses with French connections, such as a Total SE, the giant French oil multinational, are being targeted with the same ire.
“Since Deby came to power, it has always been about France. The Chadians see France has paternalistic relations with their country,” Hoinathy said.
“So they see the military council is in power with France's blessing.”