YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Catholic bishops in Chad have called for dialogue and reconciliation following the death of Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno.
In a statement at the end of their ordinary plenary on April 22, the clerics said they were saddened at the sudden death of the Chadian leader.
Deby was shot April 19 as he led his country’s troops in battle against fighters of the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), a rebel group.
The rebels had crossed into Chad from Libya on April 11, hoping to overthrow the 68-year-old leader.
He died the same day the country’s Independent Electoral Commission announced that Deby had won re-election with nearly 80 percent of the vote.
His 37-year-old son, General Mahamat Idriss Deby, was swiftly named to head a Military Transitional Council, setting off what Chadian political scientist, Dr. Evariste Ngarlema Toldé told Crux was a “potentially explosive constitutional crisis,” given that the Chadian constitution requires the speaker of the National Assembly to take power in the case of a presidential vacancy.
The military also dissolved parliament, the government and suspended the constitution, but pledged to hold “free and democratic elections” after 18 months.
FACT rebels say they can’t accept the new regime, because “Chad is not a monarchy.”
“There can be no dynastic devolution of power in our country,” the rebels said in a statement, pledging to depose the new leader and dismantle the “military junta.”
In the face of the unfolding drama, Catholic bishops in Chad have called for “a profound conversion and a true change of heart on the part of all Chadians in order to achieve reconciliation and lasting peace.”
“We join our voice to those of all Chadians who call for an inclusive national dialogue; we want it above all as a dialogue of reconciliation,” the bishops said in a statement signed by the president of bishops’ conference, Archbishop Djitangar Goetbé Edmond of N’djamena.
“This inclusive national dialogue for reconciliation is today a necessity for lasting peace in our country,” they said.
“This dialogue, conducted by a politically independent, credible and neutral body, will enable all the sons and daughters of our country to lay the foundations of a new consensual political order based on respect for people, concern for the common good and the promotion of social justice,” the statement said.
The bishops said such a dialogue can only be successful if the belligerents “unilaterally” declare a ceasefire and drop their arms and if the transition is done in “strict compliance with the constitutional order.”
The prelates cited Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti to support their position.
“Indeed, as the pontiff wrote, ‘those who seek to pacify society must not forget that inequity and the lack of integral human development do not promote peace. Indeed, without equal opportunities, the various forms of aggression and war will find fertile ground that will sooner or later cause an explosion. When society – local, national, international – abandons a part of itself to the periphery, there are no political programs, no forces of order or intelligence that can ensure endless tranquility’,” the statement said.
Chad is a religiously diverse country, with just a little over half of the population professing to be Muslim, about a quarter being Protestant, and about 20 percent Catholic.
Toldé told Crux that various entities, including political parties and civil society organizations were also calling for dialogue.
“Against the backdrop of fighting and a population living in fear, voices are rising –from political parties, the civil society, human rights activists, trade unionists, all calling for dialogue between the government and the opposition generally to resolve what can now be described as the Chadian crisis,” he said.
A Christian organization called Servants of God for Justice and Law in Chad has accused France of legitimizing the military takeover.
Citing a communiqué in which the Elysée Palace tacitly recognized the Military Council, the spokesman of the Protestant group, Pastor Keleyepette Dono, said it was critical that there be a return to Chad’s constitutional order.
“We urge the return to constitutional order, the only guarantee of an opening towards a true democratic transition. In case of resistance, the servants of God will take all their responsibilities before the Chadian nation. And we warn France for its multiple interferences in Chadian affairs,” he said.
Opposition political parties also say it’s necessary to transfer power to civilians.
“We consider the Military Transitional Council, the MTC, to be a military junta and we demand that it be dissolved, and that power be transferred to civilians,” they said in a communiqué April 22.
They said the transitional period should be used to draw up a new constitution that should limit presidential terms.
Meanwhile, public sector workers in Chad have gone on strike to force the military to return to the barracks. They say the military takeover is only designed to perpetuate the reign of the Deby family.
And while the tension keeps rising, the Catholic bishops insist only frank, sincere and inclusive dialogue can restore peace to the troubled nation.
“Our Church of God will not fail to bring its contribution to this inclusive national dialogue,” the statement said.