What’s going on with Chad’s Doha peace talks? | Politics News
Doha, Qatar – During the second week of March, some 300 Chadian rebels took up residence in a five-star hotel in downtown Doha. They had flown to the Qatari capital to sign an agreement with representatives of Chad’s transitional government and pave the way for their country’s transition to democracy.
What they didn’t anticipate was that the process would take weeks.
In fact, it’s still ongoing as negotiations move at a snail’s pace amid a series of saga-worthy walkouts, stoppages and hallway talk.
With delegates from Chad’s ruling military transition council also placed in the 43-story hotel by their Qatari hosts, the JW Marriott Marquis has become the epicenter of a somewhat bizarre cohabitation where people who have been fighting fiercely for decades – politically or militarily – find themselves sharing elevator rides or passing forks while queuing at the hotel’s breakfast buffet on the first floor.
“We are crabs in a bucket,” one of the rebels joked.
But how did we get here?
Since Chad’s independence in 1960, the transfer of power in the country has often been done by force. The last president, Idriss Deby, seized power by leading a rebellion in 1990, and himself faced the threat of being overthrown by rebel-led incursions – in 2006, 2008 and again in 2019.
But in April 2021, he was killed on the battlefield while leading troops against the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) – the strongest and one of the few groups still active among the 52 participants in the talks in Doha.
Typically, the military quickly suspended the constitution, dissolved parliament and government, and placed Deby’s son, Mahamat Idriss Deby, also known as Kaka, at the head of a Transitional Military Council (TMC ).
The new leader has proposed a national dialogue with rebels and members of civil society to agree on a constitutional framework to hold elections within 18 months.
The rebels agreed to join such a dialogue, scheduled for May 10 but likely to be delayed, under certain conditions to be discussed beforehand – hence the “pre-dialogue” in Doha. The conditions include a guarantee of security for anyone who wants to return, barring current TMC members from running for office, and a revision of the constitution.
So how is it going ?
Things got off to a bad start. Talks were suspended after FACT representatives walked out of delegations from more than 50 groups at the March 13 pre-dialogue inauguration.
Critics say that by inviting so many rebel groups, the transitional government came with the intention not to seal a deal but rather to dilute the negotiations by involving dissident factions and former rebel leaders who have already joined the interim government.
They also expected the Qatari host to play a more decisive role as a mediator, rather than just a facilitator of the talks.
Instead, the rebels stepped in, reorganizing into three main groups called Qatar, Doha and Roma – the latter comprising the largest and most militarily relevant rebel groups – to convey a more cohesive voice.
“They [the members of the TMC’s delegation] came here without being serious, but they found themselves forced into a very serious negotiation,” said a rebel leader.
Qatar has since clarified its position as mediator, which means that the country will guarantee the follow-up and implementation of the final agreement. This is the first peace process in a long time to go through international mediation, with previous rounds of talks not involving international actors, government officials and rebels, with whom Deby senior refused to negotiate.
Now, each of the three groups has come up with their own list of prerequisites. These are synergized by the Qatari mediator into a single wish list that will be presented to the Chadian government.
It is then that the talks will officially resume.
A risky cohabitation
But as one rebel put it, “the pre-dialogue is already in full swing…it’s happening everywhere, in the cafe, in the hallways, in the rooms of this hotel.”
Some rebels, having spent decades in exile, describe a feeling of distrust and unease at being in the same place as the representatives of power in N’Djamena. Others spoke of the uniqueness of the “historic moment”, noting that many of them were cousins who had never seen each other.
“It’s like a big family that hasn’t yet agreed on how to build its own house,” said another rebel leader, adding that by putting them all in the same hotel, the host s proved a “brilliant strategy” to ease tensions between rival factions.
But cohabitation can be risky, especially if, as some fear, government officials attempt to break the ranks of the rebels.
“They continued Idriss Deby’s strategy of splitting groups and co-opting individual dissidents, even in the midst of talks,” said Jerome Tubiana, an independent Chad researcher.
According to Tubiana, the government does not appear to have a unified vision after “assigning the file not to one but to several government officials who often seemed to be in competition”, he said.
Two key members of the TMC delegation – namely the Minister of Reconciliation Acheick Ibn Oumar and the ex-president and former strongman Goukouni Weddeye – seem committed to peace, Tubiana explained. But they have either been sidelined or unable to play a leading role so far, he said. noted.
What is the goal ?
The aim of the Doha talks is above all “to give credibility to the transitional government’s security guarantees that the main groups – those with a history of violence or simply the opposition parties – will be able to return to N’Djamena and be reintegrated into the Chadian system”. political game without risk [to] for life or in detention,” said Benjamin Augé, a researcher at the French Institute of International Relations, who is following the negotiations closely.
Other sensitive demands, such as the ineligibility of TMC members in the upcoming elections, are unlikely to be accepted in Doha as the government is likely to push these talks into national dialogue, Auge added.
Even if a safe return of the rebels – a historic moment for Chad – is agreed, there is no guarantee of a more inclusive country given that power has only alternated between a privileged minority.
“These talks are mostly a family affair because the main groups invited to Doha are from the same tribes that have ruled Chad since 1990,” Augé said.
During this time, as often happens in families, disagreements can break out. In these cases, Les Sages (the “wise men”), a group of men also called “human resources”, who sit on the same long sofa every day, step in to advise.
Such a case occurred on Friday after the Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic (CCMSR), one of the most important rebel groups, was expelled from the Roma movement due to internal disagreements. The CCMSR spokesperson said the group continues to participate in the pre-dialogue, but is unsure of its reconciliation path at this stage.
While it’s unclear what the impact of the latest developments will be, hotel reservations will likely be extended a bit longer.