The Fall of Bamako? Some Scenarios

The jihadist coalition Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wa-l-Muslimin (the Group for Supporting Islam and Muslims, JNIM), a subsidiary of al-Qaida, is now openly menacing (French) Mali’s capital Bamako. The threats are more than rhetorical – the July 22 attack on the country’s core military base at Kati, just outside Bamako, showed JNIM’s reach and daring. Jihadist incursions into southern Mali and even into Bamako are not at all new; Bamako suffered a major terrorist attack as far back as 2015. Yet the overall trend line in Mali is more and more violence, and the south (French) is under greater threat than ever before, meaning that jihadist threats to encircle and blockade Bamako are at least partly credible.

What scenarios, then, are possible? Olivier Walther of the University of Florida, a leading expert on patterns of violence in the region (I have contributed to some of his multi-authored reports for the OECD), outlined one grim scenario in a short, provocative thread the other day:

Here are a few other scenarios:

  • Hard jihadist blockade: This would put Bamako in the position of Djibo, a major town in northern Burkina Faso. On and off for the past few years, jihadists have cut off Djibo from surrounding areas, accelerating displacement, further ruining the local economy, and compelling desperate negotiations that often advantage the jihadists. This would be much harder for jihadists to achieve with Bamako, however – it would entail controlling or at least terrorizing six major routes (versus just three in Djibo), and targeting a national capital instead of a provincial town.
  • Soft jihadist encirclement: This would put Bamako in the position of Niger’s capital Niamey, which is surrounded by regions and departments under a state of emergency. Niamey is not cut off from surrounding areas per se, and a degree of normalcy continues there, but traveling even nearby the city can bring unexpected risks, as occurred with the August 2020 killing of some French humanitarians and their Nigerien driver not far from the capital.
  • Increased terrorism in the city: This would make Bamako into an analogue of Maiduguri, Nigeria in the years after Boko Haram’s resurgence starting in 2010 – something far short of jihadist control, but still suffering a frequent clip of terrorist attacks (and I don’t mean just attacks by jihadists, but more specifically terrorism in the sense of attacks meant to instill fear among the civilian population). What that ultimately gains jihadists is unclear; in Maiduguri, Boko Haram’s terrorism set off a cycle of violence between the group and the security forces that initially seemed to benefit Boko Haram, but then state-backed vigilantes (reflecting, in part, popular fatigue with the violence) helped partly push Boko Haram out of the city.
  • The fall of Bamako followed by a rapid French intervention: The outright fall of Bamako to JNIM, whether violently or through surrender, would in my view almost immediately provoke a kind of Operation Serval Part 2. The fall of Bamako would very likely entail the fall of the ruling junta there as well, unless some very low-probability and bizarre scenario emerged whether the junta and JNIM shared power (I can’t see it). The fall of the junta and the jihadist takeover of Bamako, then, would almost certainly have the French screaming “I told you so!” and organizing an intervention. I do not think the French government’s appetite for counterterrorism has diminished, overall; I think they’re just frustrated specifically with the Malian transitional authorities, and that they would go back into Mali without hesitation if the political situation there change. If France came charging in, they would send JNIM scurrying, and after the dust settled Mali would be back to something like where it was in 2013, except worse, with JNIM rebuilding in the countryside and a flimsy, pro-French civilian government in Bamako. Then the cycle of the last decade would likely repeat, perhaps with a beefed-up G5 Sahel Joint Force as a replica of the African Union Mission in Somalia.
  • The fall of Bamako followed by a rapid African intervention: What if Bamako fell and France somehow passed on an intervention? Perhaps in this scenario French authorities would calculate that the French public could not stomach Operation Serval Part 2, or perhaps a vestigial junta (could Bamako somehow fall, and the junta try to rule from elsewhere in the south?). That might leave France (and the US) in support roles as the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), or some subset of Mali’s neighbors and peers (Niger + Chad, as in their intervention in Nigeria in 2015?) organized a military intervention. The question then would be whether African forces would organize rapidly or not; in 2012, when jihadists controlled northern Mali, there seemed to be some hesitation on ECOWAS’ part, or at least a preference for attempting negotiations. Would that allow JNIM to look something like Somalia’s al-Shabab in 2009-2010, carving out a substantial territory that it openly governed? Of course, even in al-Shabab’s case their control over the capital was eventually broken.
  • The fall of Bamako followed by stalemate: Would both France and ECOWAS (and Niger, Chad, Senegal, etc.) hesitate to intervene? What then – would there be a kind of Talibanization of JNIM, where they agree to implement their vision within the borders of a single state? Where would that leave JNIM’s ventures in Burkina Faso and further afield? Would JNIM use Mali as a launching pad for some kind of more ambitious attacks elsewhere (potentially returning Mali to the scenario of a rapid French intervention)? Or would the scenario settle into a long-term stalemate, even longer-lasting than al-Shabab achieved in Mogadishu circa 2009-2011? I find this one unlikely but not impossible.
  • The fall of Bamako followed by chaos: What if Bamako falls but no one really “wins”? That is, what if Bamako proves ungovernable for JNIM, amid what would likely be a very unenthusiastic population, massive civilian flight, an immediate suspension of most international assistance and programming, crippling diplomatic and economic isolation of an already desperately poor and landlocked country, etc.? How would other Malian actors react – would there be a bizarre scenario of JNIM controlling Bamako but not Kidal, Timbuktu, Gao, etc? Would JNIM march into Bamako and then march into Mopti, Segou, etc? Or would there be some kind of war of all against all?
  • A failed jihadist attempt to take or hold Bamako, followed by blowback for JNIM: Blockading a city or terrorizing it is not the same as attempting to take it and hold it. What if JNIM seriously tried to take control and then lost to the Malian armed forces – or even to a popular uprising? JNIM leaders must know that even in the best-case scenarios for them, taking Bamako would entail considerable exposure. If JNIM captured Bamako, would Iyad ag Ghali, Amadou Kouffa, Yusuf al-Annabi, and other senior leaders show their faces, as the jihadist leadership did in northern Malian cities in 2012? Or would they rule through proxies? If they show their faces, they’re essentially putting targets on their back, but if they don’t show face, why bother taking the city in the first place – and could they trust mid-level commanders to run a whole capital for them? There is a significant possibility of jihadist overreach here – no matter how much their capabilities have grown, it seems to me that overt state-building efforts still carry more risks than rewards for jihadists. I suppose that’s why ultimately, I still think the first few scenarios I described are much more likely than these scenarios further down the list.

Changing Post-Coup/Transition Norms in West Africa?

I think I’ve made this point elsewhere (can’t remember where), but yesterday’s roundup on Burkina Faso reminded me of it, in the context of discussing the visit by an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) delegation to Ouagadougou. The point is this: ECOWAS seems now to be comfortable with (or reluctantly acquiescing to) two-year transitions, which differ from the previous expectation in two ways – the length (eighteen months) and the precision (“two years” can date from a more or less arbitrary point that is not necessarily when a given junta took power).

The coups in Mali (August 2020, May 2021), Guinea (September 2021), and Burkina Faso (January 2022) all upended business as usual in West Africa and confronted France, ECOWAS, the United States and other external actors with a major dilemma – how much pressure to apply to coup-makers, and to what end? The “gold standard” for an orderly post-coup transition, in the West African regional context, appears to be the fourteen-month transition in Niger in 2010-2011, and ECOWAS (with French backing) sought to enforce a standard of eighteen months. But intransigence from Mali in particular forced ECOWAS into negotiating. Sometimes ECOWAS negotiated in a tough way, as when ECOWAS imposed sweeping sanctions on Mali from January-July 2022 in response to the junta’s proposal for a transition that could have lasted through 2026. Yet even at its toughest-minded, ECOWAS was always negotiating at a disadvantage – ECOWAS is not, I think, going to physically force any junta from power, and I think the juntas all know that. So the end result – and here the juntas watch each other, clearly – is an adjusting of the norms in the ways I described above. Mali’s junta ended up getting sanctions lifted by offering a “two-year” transition plan (but dating from March 2022, meaning that March 2024 will in fact mark three and a half years since the junta took power) and Burkina Faso’s junta now appears to be on the same page as ECOWAS about a “two-year” transition plan (dating from July 2022, giving that junta as much as thirty months in power – not a far cry from what it demanded originally).

(ECOWAS’ mediation/negotiation efforts with Guinea – the new mediator [French] is former Beninese President Boni Yayi – are still ongoing.)

If one thinks that Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso are part of an “epidemic” of West African (or African) coups and if one expects that “epidemic” to claim further victims – I’m ambivalent on both questions – then the next question is what expectations the Malian and Burkinabè experiences set up for potential coup-makers elsewhere in the region. Again, I’m not necessarily expecting any more coups in the short term, but any aspiring West African coup-makers now know that they can likely expect at least thirty months in power. Depending on how one reads their motivations – and especially if one is ultra-cynical and sees coup-makers as primarily there for their own enrichment and empowerment – then the incentives are clear. That ultra-cynical view is a bit too strong for me; I think it’s hard to get in the mind of Assimi Goïta (Mali) or Paul-Henri Damiba (Burkina Faso) and separate what may be, on the one hand, their legitimate frustrations over insecurity, civilian corruption and fecklessness, and pressures from below from their own soldiers versus, on the other hand, more self-serving motivations. But even if one sees these officers as heroes (I don’t), the coup/transition combo itself becomes something different depending on the length of time it lasts. Fourteen months, eighteen months…that’s hitting a reset button on the country’s politics, for better or worse. Thirty months, forty-two months…that’s a full-blown military regime. The pendulum has not, I think, swung back to where it was in the 1980s (Mauritania 1984, Burkina Faso 1987, Chad 1990) or earlier, when a coup-maker could expect to come into power and stay there practically indefinitely, perhaps with the occasional rigged election or cabinet reshuffle to placate various foreign and domestic stakeholders. But the pendulum has certainly swung a bit in that direction versus where it was a decade ago, when coup-makers had a lot more trouble making their rule stick – including in Mali (2012) and Guinea (2008).

Roundup on Floods in the Sahel

Flooding has become a regular and tragic recurrence in the Sahel, a challenge compounded by poor infrastructure – which makes flooding a political issue as well as an environmental and humanitarian one.

A few snapshots:

Senegal:

Torrential rain fell across Senegal on Wednesday, causing floods in the capital Dakar and bringing down a section of one of the main highways into the city.

Cars, scooters and pedestrians inched through torrents of brown knee-deep water as unusually strong downpours battered the semi-arid city, where sandy roads and flat-roofed houses are poorly equipped for the July to October rainy season.

Mali: “Inondation : les populations priées d’évacuer le lit du fleuve.” From Studio Tamani, this segment discusses authorities’ efforts to evacuate riverine areas.

In Burkina Faso’s Le Pays (French), an editorial argues for both increased proactivity on the part of citizens as well as much more ambitious efforts by the state to relocate and care for vulnerable populations.

RFI (French) reports on flooding that has killed roughly a dozen people and left some 16,000 people homeless in Niger, with brief comments from the mayor of a heavily affected commune in the Zinder Region (southern Niger).

Al Wihda Info (French) describes flooding in the Lamé sub-prefecture, southwestern Chad.

Unfortunately, there is very likely more flooding to come. In 2021, in the zone stretching from Mauritania to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a total of 1.4 million people were affected by seasonal flooding. Out of the countries in that zone, Chad and Niger were the second- and third-most affected countries, respectively, after the DRC – 256,000 people were affected in Chad, and 250,000 in Niger.

Chad: What’s Happening with Hinda Deby?

In May, Jeune Afrique published an article profiling the inner circle of Chad’s military ruler Mahamat Deby – who took over after his father, Chad’s longtime ruler Idriss Deby (in power 1990-2021) was killed on the frontlines of a battle against rebels. The piece made me wonder about the fate of Hinda Deby, one of Idriss Deby’s wives and Mahamat Deby’s step-mother.

Idriss Deby died suddenly, but the question of succession was on observers’ minds well before he died. And Hinda Deby’s name was often mentioned. Born in 1980, she is of Mahamat’s generation (he was born in 1984) rather than her late husband’s (who was born in 1952). She and Idriss Deby married in 2005.

As late as the first quarter of 2021, on the eve of the president’s death, Hinda Deby’s “growing influence” was being mentioned by informed observers. Her influence ran through multiple sectors – oil, health, and education, among others – and operated both through formal channels, such as her “Grand Coeur” foundation, and through the strategic placement of family members into top posts (her father Mahamat Acyl, who died in 2020, was a senior diplomat). These family members included, as of 2021, her uncle Abdelmoutalib Abderahim Abdoulfarakh as director-general of military intelligence; her brother Khoudar Mahamat Acyl as the president’s aide-de-camp; her brother Abderahim Mahamat Acyl as deputy director of the Chad Hydrocarbons Company; her brother Ahmat Khazali Acyl as director of the National Social Planning Account; and her aunt’s ex-husband Ahmed Kogri as head of Chadian intelligence (here’s my source for the last four names and positions). From early on in her marriage to the president, journalists and their interlocutors surmised that Deby – who famously relied on his Zaghawa ethnic group as the core of his power – used his marriage to the Arab Hinda to build ties with another key ethnic group and another key family in the country.

Of course, observers of Chadian politics also long predicted that Deby’s successor might be one of his sons, several of whom held senior positions as well. Mahamat was clearly in the running.

My crude reading of what transpired immediately after Deby’s death is that power in Chad remained essentially military – obviously there is a serious gender component to consider and an ethnic one as well, but Mahamat Deby was elevated to head of state not just in preference to Hinda, but also because he had the most central position within the military hierarchy at the moment of his father’s death, namely as head of the Directorate-General of the Security Services of the Institutions of the State, the most elite unit (see more here). There was reportedly a last-minute power struggle between Mahamat and his half-brother Zakaria, a senior diplomat (ambassador to the United Arab Emirates) and a key leader within the then-ruling party, the Patriotic Salvation Movement (French acronym MPS). It’s possible that Mahamat won by strength of personality, but again, it seems the military was revealed or confirmed as the real backbone of the regime – tellingly, the MPS has seemed to be to more an appendage of power under Mahamat than a real power center in its own right, at least so far in 2021-2022. Returning to Hinda Deby’s role, her time as a sort of interim president in 2020, when Idriss Deby was sick, was reportedly a choice meant in part to manage the incipient conflict between Mahamat and Zakaria – suggesting that Idriss Deby may have found his wife more useful as a kind of mediator than as his ultimate successor.

In any case, since Mahamat’s succession, Hinda Deby’s network preserved its influence in the short term but in the ensuing months has been, at least from what I can tell, somewhat sidelined – the Jeune Afrique profile of the new president’s inner circle notes Ahmed Kogri’s continued importance as head of the National Security Agency, but the ex-First Lady’s brothers do not appear in the list. Indeed, in December last year, her brothers ran into serious legal trouble as part of a very murky affair that involved the assassination of a Chadian colonel, an attack on the home of Hinda’s brother Ahmat Khazali Mahamat Acyl, the interrogations and detention of her brothers Ahmat Khazali and Khoudar and, in March, their release as the case was closed. In April, Hinda Deby fainted from apparent heat stroke at a public event, but has otherwise kept a fairly low profile; her Twitter account, for example, features sporadic and mostly personal/spiritual posts.

That, from the limited insight I have, is where things stand – Mahamat firmly in control of palace politics, having shown where the real power ultimately lay. With that said, I wouldn’t count out Hinda Deby over the long term – not necessarily as president of Chad, but as a player in the country’s politics, given her obvious political skill and the wide reach of her family’s network.

The G5 Sahel Joint Force – More Important Politically Than Militarily

The junta in Mali, determined to antagonize France on every possible diplomatic front, is threatening to withdraw from the G5 Sahel, a regional organization created in 2014 by Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad. Mali’s withdrawal would in turn affect the viability of the G5 Sahel Joint Force (French acronym FC-G5S). The Joint Force is a five-nation enterprise set up in 2017 with French backing. It draws troops from the G5 Sahel countries and had an initial target of 5,000 troops. Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum has said the Malian withdrawal leaves the organization “dead.”

The FC-G5S is, as this post’s title indicates, more important in my view as a political symbol than as a military reality. So-called “regional forces” are appealing to Western powers for various reasons, especially when those forces offer the promise that “African solutions to African problems” (a phrase that Western policymakers deploy selectively and, in my view, sometimes disingenuously) will either allow Western forces an exit strategy, or obviate the need for large Western military deployments in the first place. Some regional forces “work,” at least in the limited sense of partly beating back insurgencies and preserving some gains afterwards; the most successful in this sense is the African Union Mission in Somalia. Other regional forces may have some impact but their presence arguably muddies the waters, even distracting attention away from the propensity of member states to act unilaterally or on ad hoc basis – witness the widely hailed Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) in the Lake Chad Basin, but also witness the tendency of Nigeria, Chad, and other MNJTF contributors to do their own thing when the chips are down. The G5 Sahel Joint Force never even achieved the kind of aura the MNJTF developed – chased out of its own headquarters in 2018, the FC-G5S has no major military accomplishments to its credit.

Mali’s withdrawal or potential withdrawal (apparently this is a legal grey area) is a rebuke to France and Niger in particular. Mali’s junta, which has been cultivating near-pariah status in West Africa and with Western powers, was denied the rotating presidency of the G5 Sahel in February; the presidency has remained with Chad’s President Mahamat Deby, who came to power in a coup that was much more palatable to Paris and Washington than the coups (two) that Mali’s junta perpetrated. Chadian-Malian relations are not so bad currently and Deby is urging Mali to stay in the G5 Sahel, but Malian-Nigerien relations are not so great, especially given successive Nigerien presidents’ critiques of the Malian junta. Niger and France are also drawing even closer together as France reacts to its frayed relations with the colonels in Bamako.

The collapse of the G5 Sahel would remove yet another piece of the largely Western-designed framework – unsuccessful, it should be noted – aimed at guiding Mali and the Sahel back to security and stability. Again, I think the G5 Sahel Joint Force was never going to achieve what its backers hoped. I think it would have been better if the FC-G5S could have been more thoughtfully dismantled and debated, but one could be harsh and say that the “death” of the G5 Sahel could productively force a reconsideration of the underlying policy assumptions (fantasies??) about how this all ends – including the recurring hope that the solution is something like an African Union force (a re-hatted G5 Sahel?) with a United Nations Chapter VII (enforcement) mandate and dedicated funding. Here I would note that even that plan is not really fleshed out from what I have seen – is the idea that security will be restored through an open-ended deployment of African forces, all while the region’s politics get worse and worse?

To sum up, then:

  • Mali’s junta is reckless and is spending more time antagonizing France than improving anything in Mali
  • Some of the things the Malian junta is taking aim at weren’t doing much good anyways
  • Western powers don’t have a real plan

Comparing the Prime Ministers of the Sahel

Who are the current prime ministers of the five core Sahelian countries, and what do their careers and approaches tell us about Sahelian politics? A few basic patterns emerge. In education, a combination of domestic government schoolings, STEM specializations, and some overseas training helped to fast-track their careers. In the first phases of their careers, employment within the civil service and particularly within state-owned enterprises was the means of ascent; often simultaneously, these men (they’re all men) either built parallel political careers within political parties, or at least (from within the civil service) weathered major shakeups in the political scene around them. The pivotal decade, in all cases, appears to have been the 1990s – in their 30s and 40s, they solidified positions as insiders that they have maintained ever since.

In the current political environment, the default model is that of a military head of state with a career politician or civil servant as prime minister; Niger is the only fully civilian-civilian lineup, in the sense that the head of state there is neither a current nor retired soldier. Two additional takeaways: (1) military heads of state have deep benches of technocrats and career civilian politicians to draw on when forming governments, even in some of the world’s poorest countries; (2) military heads of state in the region prefer civilian to military prime ministers, even if soldiers sometimes take up other key ministries in governments; and (3) in some cases, there are political rewards for the ability to strategically tack back and forth between the ruling party and the opposition, just as there are rewards for repeatedly seeking the presidency even if one doesn’t win it. None of those patterns are particularly unique to the Sahel, of course. One other interesting detail is that all three of the prime ministers in the core conflict zone of the Sahel – Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso – hail from the conflict zones themselves. Such origins, however, don’t necessarily give these men any particular advantage in attempting to manage or resolve those conflicts.

Here are the biographical sketches:

Mauritania – Mohamed Ould Bilal Messoud (b. 1963, Rosso): Ould Bilal Messoud is a technocrat and engineer with a background in hydraulics and business administration; parts of his education were in Algeria, Senegal, and possibly Europe. Since 1991, he has risen through the ranks of the state bureaucracy. Political turbulence in Mauritania between 2005 and 2009 clearly did not hurt his career, which continued to advance after the coup of 2005 against longtime ruler Maaouya Sid’Ahmed Ould Taya; he then moved into his first ministerial position (as Minister of Facilities, Urban Planning, and Housing) under the short-lived civilian administration of Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi; he then headed up several state-run enterprises after the coup of 2008 and the coming to power of Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz (military head of state 2008-2009, civilian head of state 2009-2019). In 2020, Ould Bilal Messoud became prime minister after allegations of corruption brought down his predecessor, Ismail Bedde Ould Cheikh Sidiyya. From what I observe, Ould Bilal Messoud does not have a particularly big profile, perhaps by choice.

Mali – Choguel Kokalla Maïga (b. 1958, Tabango): Maïga is another engineer, in this case with a specialty in telecommunications; he graduated with a doctorate from the Moscow Telecommunications Institute in 1987/1988. Politically active as a supporter of Mali’s then-military ruler Moussa Traoré, Maïga built a career from 1990-2002 at the Mali Telecommunications Firm (Société des Télécommunications du Mali), rising through the ranks there even as Traoré fell in 1991. Meanwhile, Maïga became the leader of the Patriotic Movement for Renewal (MPR), a successor party to Traoré’s party the Democratic Union of the Malian People; under the MPR banner, Maïga ran for president in the open elections of 2002, placing seventh with under 3% of the vote. He again placed seventh in the open elections of 2013 and then scored eighth in the 2018 elections, each time receiving a slightly lower percentage of the vote. Maïga was appointed transitional prime minister by Mali’s current junta in June 2021, after the junta perpetrated its second coup (the first was in August 2020, the second was in May 2021).

Burkina Faso – Albert Ouedraogo (b. 1969, Dori): Ouedraogo has a background in management sciences, having received a doctorate in that subject in 1999 from Caen-Normandy University in France. From 1996-2002, he taught at the University of Ouagadougou, and then fashioned a long and apparently extremely successful career in the private sector (including at Deloitte) and then as a government consultant on a wide array of technical projects. His previous overt political experience was limited to some student activism, but when the Burkinabè junta (came to power January 2022) was seeking a transitional prime minister, Ouedraogo may have appealed to military ruler Paul-Henri Damiba not just because of Ouedraogo’s technocratic credentials, but also because he is close to Damiba’s uncle Pierre Claver Damiba, the first president of the West African Development Bank.

Niger – Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou (b. 1954, Amaloul Nomade): Mahamadou has a background in economics and public administration, having studied in Togo, France, and the United States. A career civil servant from 1979 to 1991, he was also a founding member of the Nigerien Party of Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) in 1990; the PNDS is the party of Niger’s immediate past President Mahamadou Issoufou and the current President Mohamed Bazoum. During the 1990s and 2000s, Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou was in and out of the Nigerien government while also taking up major posts at the regional and international levels. He served twice as minister (Mines, Energy, Industry, and Crafts from 1991-1993, and Finance from 2011-2012), once as chief of staff (to Issoufou, 2015-2020), was elected twice as deputy from his home Tahoua Region (2011 and 2020), with stints at the Economic Community of West African States, the African Development Foundation, and other such organizations along the way. He was appointed in 2021 as Bazoum’s first prime minister, replacing Issoufou’s longtime prime minister, Brigi Raffini.

Chad – Albert Pahimi Padacké (b. 1966, Gouin; more biographical details here): At least in my research so far, I have not found details of Padacké’s biography between his birth and 1990, when he entered government. Since 1990, under the rule of Presidents Idriss Deby (1990-2021) and Mahamat Deby (2021-present), Padacké has been a major civilian figure associated with the regime, holding ministerial posts on and off: Finance, Commerce, Mines, Agriculture, Justice, Communication, etc., before being appointed Prime Minister in 2016. The post of prime minister was abolished in 2018, but then was resuscitated under the transitional military regime of Mahamat Deby, who appointed Padacké as his first and so far only PM. During the 2000s and up through the 2021 election (won by Idriss Deby just days before his death), Padacké was a frequent candidate for president (2006, 2011, 2021). In 2011 and 2021 he was a distant runner-up, scoring 6% to Deby’s 89% in 2011, and scoring 10% to Deby’s 79% in 2021. If one feels cynical (I do), one could say that Padacké was not a convincing opposition figure, given how many times he served in Deby’s governments – including, by some accounts, serving during the 2006 elections. Mahamat Deby would not have made him PM, it seems to me, if Padacké was not an insider through and through.

Chad: A Delay for the Inclusive National Dialogue, and Perhaps for the Whole Transition

In April 2021, Chad’s longtime President Idriss Deby died unexpectedly on the frontlines of a fight against the rebel Front for Change and Concord in Chad (French acronym FACT). He was almost immediately succeeded by a transitional military-led regime headed by his son Mahamat Deby. The new regime, called the Transitional Military Council (French acronym CMT), put forth plans for an eighteen-month transition, with the provision that the eighteen months can be renewed once if necessary (see the Transition Charter, Article 97). Chad’s authorities have been given substantially more leeway by regional and international actors than have other current juntas in Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso.

Per the “roadmap” adopted by the transitional legislature in July 2021, one key element of Chad’s transition is a planned Inclusive National Dialogue with rebels. The Dialogue was originally slated to take place in either November or December 2021, with elections to follow between June and September 2022. The authorities have presented the Dialogue as an indispensable step; my reading is that they hope to (a) project an image of national unity, (b) bolster their own perceived legitimacy, (c) co-opt as many rebels as possible, and (d) portray any holdouts as bad-faith actors. The Dialogue is being supported by Qatar, which is also acting as a mediator; some key rebels are based in Qatar, such as Timan Erdimi (read an interview with him from late 2021 here).

A “pre-dialogue” set of negotiations, meanwhile, has been taking place in Doha. Here is Al Jazeera:

About 50 rebel groups [have] presented their demands to a delegation of 24 government representatives.

Among the requests, the groups asked for guaranteed safety if they return to the country and for the release of prisoners of war. The government is keen to hand amnesty to those accused of acts of rebellion and to free all members of the rebel groups who will sign amnesty agreements, according to a document seen by Al Jazeera.

But there is disagreement concerning other demands of the rebels, such as banning members of the TMC from running in the next elections, army reforms and a constitutional revision.

The National Dialogue has now been postponed three times. Most recently, on May 1, Chad’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that at the request of Qatar, it was delaying the Dialogue until an unspecified date. As discussed in the Al Jazeera article linked above, moreover, there was pressure from rebels and from civil society groups for the authorities to delay, even as Deby suggested for a while that he would stick to the timeline. Not to be too cynical, but the image of the junta reluctantly postponing the Dialogue to accommodate other actors doesn’t quite convince me; it is clearly politically advantageous for the TMC to prolong the negotiations until it gets maximum buy-in, and the TMC may be quite wary of the reforms it may be called upon to make – and dissidents it may have to let back into Chad – after the Dialogue concludes.

Meanwhile, the CMT can use the Dialogue as a reason for tinkering with the overall timeline of the transition. On that note, this latest delay increases the chances that the whole transition will be delayed – in other words, that the authorities will invoke the clause in the charter that lets them renew the eighteen-month window. There is now talk of holding the Dialogue in June or July, and then elections towards the very end of the year. From the rebel side, some groups say they want a delay in the Dialogue but not a delay in the transition itself.

A Chadian Secretary-General for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation

On November 27, at a meeting in Niamey, Niger, foreign ministers from member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) elected a new secretary-general for the organization, Chadian diplomat Hussein Brahim Taha. He will begin a five-year term in November 2021.

The OIC, formerly the Organization of the Islamic Conference, was founded in 1969. As is often noted, it is the second-largest multilateral organization in the world, after the United Nations. It is headquartered in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, but the general secretariat has not been a Saudi Arabian preserve – of the 11 people to hold the office so far, only two (albeit the most recent two) were Saudi Arabian nationals. Strikingly, the Sahel has been quite well represented on the list, with a Senegalese national serving as secretary-general from 1975-1979 and a Nigerien national serving from 1989-1996 (term lengths, it seems, have been variable). As noted above, moreover, the Council of Ministers meeting that elected Taha took place in the Sahel as well.

The OIC’s secretaries-general have not been clerics/shaykhs, but rather professional government bureaucrats. The outgoing secretary-general, Yousef Bin Ahmad Al-Othaimeen, holds a Ph.D. in Political Sociology from American University and came up through the Ministry of Social Affairs. Chad’s Taha spent most of his career in the Chadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs where, notably, he served as Chad’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1991-2001 according to this profile. He has also served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and as deputy secretary-general of the Chadian presidency.

The sketches of Taha’s biography that I’ve seen indicate someone who is (a) close to Chadian President Idriss Deby and has his confidence, and (b) deeply familiar with Saudi Arabia. Being familiar to or even close to Saudi Arabia, however, should not lead one to the automatic assumption that Taha is a “Wahhabi” – not all of the institutions headquartered in or associated with Saudi Arabia are “Wahhabi” to the same degree, although that’s a longer discussion that goes beyond the scope of this blog.

Turning to that first point, about Deby, I want to expand on something I said on Twitter, namely that to me it is striking that Deby has now placed three of his top diplomats in three key posts at the regional, continental/African, and now global levels:

  • Mahamat Saleh Annadif, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Mali and Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) since 2016;
  • Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission since 2017; and
  • Hussein Brahim Taha, incoming Secretary-General of the OIC.

I take a few, admittedly somewhat speculative, conclusions from this. One is that Deby has a pretty solid network of people he trusts and has given space to develop the kinds of resumes that major multilateral organizations take seriously. I assume that no Chadian could take a major diplomatic position like these without Deby’s backing. So on the one hand Deby, like many other long-ruling African heads of state, is infamous for refusing to signal who his successor might be, for reshuffling his cabinets frequently, for playing with term limits and constitutional structures, for creating new posts (a vice president soon, perhaps?) while eliminating others (the prime minister-ship, in 2018). Yet on the other hand, Deby is clearly not so jealous of power that he would cripple others’ careers – and perhaps in particular would not be threatened by professional diplomats who can rise to serious heights without becoming rival politicians per se. Ultimately all this reinforces his power, of course: thrive with the Deby-dominated system and you can have a literally world-class career. This is not me excusing him or praising him, except to say that he has a talent for authoritarianism – he is not as crude or just straight-up dumb about it as many other authoritarians are.

Then there is the question of how Deby positions Chad and Chadians to take these roles. A lot of those dynamics are out of my view, at least. A large part of the answer is the role that Chad has taken on as (one, would-be) guarantor of security in the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin, and that goes a long way to explaining the MINUSMA and African Union Commission appointments. But that role as security guarantor, on its own, is not sufficient to explain an appointment like the OIC’s secretary-general. Another factor there may be the way that the Sahel is a recurring zone of interest for Saudi Arabia, on and off from the 1960s to the present; Chad, additionally, has a number of Arabophone and/or Arab diplomats, and that may be attractive to OIC members as well (see below, where Taha gives his remarks in Arabic). And, finally, perhaps Deby is also skilled at various forms of behind-the-scenes negotiations. I wonder if he committed to anything in exchange for this OIC appointment.

Here is the video of Taha’s acceptance speech:

Chad: Toward a Vice Presidency (and a Succession Plan?)

In 2018, a constitutional reform in Chad abolished the post of prime minister and restored term limits, but not retroactively, meaning that President Idriss Deby can theoretically remain in power through 2033, assuming he wins a six-year term in next April’s elections and then another six-year term some time around 2027. Deby took power in 1990, meaning he is already, as of now, one of Africa’s longest-ruling heads of state – and he is by far the longest-ruling leader in the Sahel now.

There is a lot of speculation about whom Deby might eventually pick as a successor – or whether he will pick a successor at all. In neighboring Cameroon, a ruler with even more years under his belt, Paul Biya (took power 1982) has not, to my knowledge, indicated a clear successor. In both countries, Icarusus have sometimes seemed to fly too close to the sun, and have then fallen quickly.

Chad is now moving, however, to create a vice presidency, whose occupant will be appointed directly by Deby himself. The idea was a key discussion point at the November 1 “National Inclusive Forum” (boycotted by some opposition parties and labor syndicates). The proposal is part of a wider set of potential constitutional reforms that would include measures such as re-establishing the Senate (which, if I understand correctly, only existed in theory until its elimination in the 2005 constitutional reform). Following the Forum, a November 12 Council of Ministers meeting further fleshed out some of the circumstances (president out of the country, incapacitated, on vacation, etc.) under which the vice president would temporarily take over. The full official readout of that meeting is here, and contains details on other components of the constitutional reform package. On November 16, the National Assembly created a 25-member commission to study the Forum’s proposed revisions to the constitution; the commission has 18 days to complete that task. So the process is moving along pretty quickly.

It will be very interesting, obviously, to see who Deby picks for the post. I don’t know that one should assume that the new VP will be *the* successor, but it would seem that Deby would only pick someone he really trusts, given the potential for the person to assume power in various circumstances.

Press Freedom Issues in Chad

Deutsche Welle (French) reports on an atmosphere in which around 30 independent media outlets in Chad, including the country’s oldest independent newspaper, N’Djaména Hebdo, face risks of suspension. Under a 2018 law, both the director and the editor-in-chief of any given media outlet must have journalism degrees from a university, and that criterion has been used this fall to suspend various outlets.

From my brief research, it looks like two interlocking ordinances were ratified by the National Assembly in November 2018 – one, the actual law regulating the written and electronic media; the other, an ordinance creating the Haute Autorité des Médias et de l’Audiovisuel (High Authority for Media and Audiovisual Media,* HAMA). The ordinances were ratified by a vote of 118 for, 28 against, and 11 absentions, out of 188 total members the legislature.

It is HAMA that has the authority to issue suspensions, and on September 7 of this year, HAMA gave a three-month suspension to twelve different outlets. Organizations such as Reporters Without Borders decried the suspensions, suggesting that the criterion about degrees is immaterial to the question of whether these are legitimate journalistic outfits. Deutsche Welle writes that in the context of Chad’s approaching presidential elections, scheduled for April, there are concerns that more papers will be suspended.

Earlier this month, the Union of Chadian Journalists marked the “International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists,” an occasion created after the 2013 deaths of two French journalists in Mali. The Chadian Union called for a government investigation into the 2014 disappearance of Chadian journalist Noubadoum Sotinan, and also called more broadly for an end to the “harassment and intimidation of media professionals.” From the little research I’ve done, and reading between the lines a bit, it seems that press outlets are mostly opting not to replace senior staff who lack the required degrees – perhaps the editors in question calculate that the real issue at play is not the narrow one of qualifications.

*Forgive the awkward translation, I couldn’t think of a better one.