YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Bishops in Chad have participated in a walkout of the African country’s National Inclusive Dialogue, claiming the government hasn’t been willing to listen to opposing voices.
The dialogue began in August, after the government signed an Aug. 20 deal between Chad’s military government and more than 40 rebel groups and opposition figures to have a ceasefire ahead of the talks in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena.
However, the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), the main rebel group in the country, did not sign the pledge. The rebel group is responsible for the battlefield death of former President Idriss Deby on April 19, 2021, after the rebels had crossed into Chad from Libya, 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 son, General Mahamat Idriss Deby, was swiftly named to head a Military Transitional Council, despite the fact 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.
The dialogue was supposed to help the country transition into democracy, but in a Sept. 3 letter, the bishops said the talks had turned into a “monologue” meant to keep the current rulers in power.
“This is why we are forced to suspend our participation in the sessions so as not to endorse the control of one group over the dialogue process,” the bishops explained.
The prelates said dialogue has to do with listening to each other, “and the word to dialogue can be summed up as follows: To come closer, to express oneself, to listen to each other, to look at each other, to get to know each other, to try to understand each other, to look for points of contact.”
“We have the impression we are witnessing an election campaign in which, on the one hand, there are those who advocate change and renewal of the political class, and on the other hand, those who want to continue to manage a skillfully orchestrated machine” the statement continued.
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.
Several opposition political leaders and civil society organizations have also walked out of the dialogue.
“We wanted this dialogue to be sincere. That is why we came here. But we have realized that the same system that has ruled for 30 years, that has brought the country to its knees, wants to stay in power and this is against the interests of the people. Either we have a sincere dialogue, or we will take to the streets,” former Minister Siddick Abdelkerim Haggar, who heads a coalition of some 100 political parties, told Crux.
“Apart from the president, the other members of the presidium [leading the dialogue] are rather on the same political side, which is why we have decided to leave the dialogue,” said Djerandi Laguerre Dionro, spokesman for 11 professional federations. “We have to let them continue their monologue.”
At least 500 out of the 1400 delegates to the dialogue have already withdrawn.
Chad’s Communication Minister, Abdraman Khoulamallah, has accused them of turning their backs on the people.
“It’s not just another forum that has been put in place, it’s a real dialogue. So, those who are not there, I’d say they have missed the train of history. And it’s unfortunate, because to be here is to be by your people, to be for the future of your people. To be out is to turn your back on your people,” he told a press conference in the capital.
The national dialogue, initially scheduled to run for three weeks, has now been extended by an additional 10 days.
The dialogue is also meant to draw up a new Constitution for Chad that should be eventually submitted to a referendum.
But experts are warning that Chad’s history of broken promises means the current dialogue could still just be a waste of time. The country has endured repeated uprisings and unrest since independence in 1960.
Chadian political analyst Ngarle Evariste told Crux that he expects very little from the current dialogue.
“We saw what happened after the 1993 Sovereign National Conference. Chadians are worried that once again, the resolutions will end in the drawers, the same as the recommendations of the Sovereign National Conference, because there is no political will to help the country see the light. That is the problem,” he said.