Dozens of protesters killed in Chad. What happened?

Demonstrations against the extension of a transitional period before elections turned violent.

Police officials patrol as people protest in Moundou, Chad, October 20, 2022 in this picture obtained from social media. Hyacinthe Ndolenodji/via REUTERS
Police officials patrol as people protest in Moundou, Chad [Hyacinthe Ndolenodji/via Reuters]

Dozens of people were killed in Chad as security forces cracked down on anti-government protests denouncing a decision to further delay the country’s transition towards civilian rule.

Here, Al Jazeera takes a look at Thursday’s violence, what happened before it and what might happen next.

How did we get here?

Chad was thrown into political turmoil in April 2021 when then-President Idriss Deby was killed while visiting front-line troops fighting rebel forces threatening his 30-year rule. To fill the power vacuum, the military placed his son, General Mahamat Deby, at the helm of a transitional military council (TMC) with the promise to guide the country towards elections after 18 months, in which he would not run. October 20 marked the end of that transition.

As part of the transition period, Deby, 38, announced an inclusive national dialogue with opposition parties and civil society groups to set the constitutional frame for a new government. The dialogue finally began on August 20 after long delays and the withdrawal of key actors such as the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) rebel group – which led an April insurrection – and Wakit Tama, a civil society movement, who accused the TMC of failing to provide enough guarantees over the non-eligibility of its members and the length of the transition.

As the dialogue concluded, the forum announced the dissolution of the TMC but said elections would be held in two years, with Deby installed as president and allowed to run for office at the end of the transitional period. Former opposition member Saleh Kebzado was named prime minister.

The moves ignited the anger of members of opposition parties and civil society groups who on Thursday took to the streets of various cities to protest, defying a government ban. “This march is set to create a popular insurrection and it is armed with the support of external forces to destabilize our country,” read a government decree published on Wednesday.

People walk as they protest in Moundou, Chad, October 20, 2022 in this picture obtained from social media. Hyacinthe Ndolenodji/
Opposition parties and civil society groups have demanded since the beginning of the transition for TMC’s members to not be included in any future government [Hyacinthe Ndolenodji/via Reuters]

What happened on Thursday?

Protesters built up road barricades and set rubber tyres on fire while security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition, according to rights groups.

Kebzado said about 50 people were killed and 300 wounded nationwide, adding that security forces responded “only in self-defence” as demonstrators were armed and they were seeking “to seize power by force”.

The government declared a state of emergency in the capital, N’Djamena, and in two southern cities – Moundou and Koumra – allowing the respective regional governors to “take all necessary measures in compliance with the law” to quell the protests, read a decree published on Thursday. The Ministry of Territorial Administration, Decentralization and Good Governance also banned civil society coalition Wakit Tama and announced a three-month suspension of the activities of seven parties, including the Transformers Party and the Socialist Party without Borders.

Succes Masra, leader of the Transformers Party, said on his Facebook page that more than 70 peaceful demonstrators were killed and 1,000 arrested across the country, adding that the “macabre tally is not yet exhaustive”.

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), along with Chadian partners, said protests took place in N’Djamena, Sarh, Doba, Koumra, Abeche and Moundou, adding that security forces used live ammunition to target protesters and ambulances transporting wounded people. FIDH also alleged torture and the arbitrary detentions of protesters.

Among those killed in N’Djamena was journalist Oredje Narcisse who was shot dead outside his home, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported, following an interview with Leubnoudji Tah Nathan, the president of the Network of Chadian Journalists and Reporters.

What was the reaction?

The African Union’s chief Moussa Faki Mahamat “strongly” condemned the repression of demonstrations that led to deaths in Chad.

“I call on the parties to respect human lives and property and to favor peaceful ways to overcome the crisis,” Mahamat said on Twitter.

Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, called on security forces and protesters to de-escalate the situation. “Any use of excessive force against demonstrators exposes their perpetrators to prosecution in accordance with international standards,” he said.

Former colonial power France condemned “the use of lethal weapons against demonstrators”.

“France plays no role in these events, which are strictly a matter of Chad’s internal policy. The false information about an alleged involvement of France has no basis,” the French foreign ministry said in a statement.

The United States said it was “deeply concerned” by reports of casualties.

“We also condemn the attack that occurred outside the main gate of the US Embassy in which assailants in civilian clothes and private vehicles cleared police checkpoints and killed four individuals,” the US State Department said in a statement.

Smoke erupts from a vehicle set on fire during protests in N'Djamena, Chad, October 20, 2022 in this picture obtained from social media. Juda Allahondoum - Le Visionnaire
Smoke erupts from a vehicle set on fire during protests in N’Djamena, Chad [Juda Allahondoum – Le Visionnaire/via Reuters]

Was this expected and what’s next?

Enrica Picco, Central Africa project director at the International Crisis Group, said the protests did not come as a surprise.

“The frustration and discontent among the opposition was growing since the start of the national dialogue as there were no signs from the junta to guarantee that they will leave power at the end of the transition,” Picco said.

“Deby was confirmed as president of a unity government put together in not even one week and which reproduced the same lack of representation that many civil society groups have been denouncing since last summer,” she said.

“This is the early sign that the transitional government is not ready to give power away,” she added.

“People do want elections,” said political analyst Ovigwe Eguegu, underlying concerns that the extension of the transitional period “might not necessarily lead to the military leaving office”.

“If that promise was broken before, what’s stopping them from breaking it again?”

Following Thursday’s events, Eguegu said people feared “these continuing grotesque and totally reprehensible acts by the military”.

“There is a real concern about the military extending its rule and continuing this violation of human rights.”

Source: Al Jazeera