Hereditary Kleptocracy in Chad: A Special Report
Our new report examines developments since the death of Chad's long-time ruler, Idriss Déby, in April 2021. It describes how a promised transition to civilian rule is being hijacked by the ruling elite who are intent on transferring power to Déby's son, Mahamat "Kaka" Déby. Kleptocracy has defined Chad for 30 years. But will it continue to do so?
October 20 2023 marks the one-year anniversary of the violent repression by Chad’s transitional government that resulted in the arbitrary arrest, detention, and deaths of scores of civilians.
But what began in the streets with the indiscriminate use of live ammunition soon became a much more targeted campaign against perceived opponents of the transitional government. Many prominent critics of the government were forced to flee the country to escape the brutality of its clampdown.
The trigger for this shocking violence by authorities was a response to widespread protests calling on the government to do what it had publicly promised: to hold elections within 18 months of the death of former president Idriss Déby Itno in April 2021 which would then allow for a transition to civilian rule.
A year on from the massacre, this resource-rich but drastically underdeveloped country is no closer to holding the sort of elections capable of benefiting its people. For the three decades Idriss Déby ruled the country, Chad was regarded as a kleptocracy. His regime was supported by the country’s former colonial power France through its FrancAfrique policy, a strategy long regarded as self-interested and expedient.
Through this “quid pro quo” with Chad, France gained access to natural resources and more recently an essential ally in the region to combat Boko Haram and other Islamist extremists.
But the price of so-called stability through Francafrique was the toleration of authoritarianism, even kleptocracy, resulting in deprivation for ordinary citizens.
Such authoritarianism has frequently led to a lack of accountability and pervasive corruption. In Chad, regional analysts believe this was manifested by cronyism, tribalism and nepotism – the appointment of cliques and family members to key positions throughout government and state-owned enterprises.
NGOs such as Transparency International and BTI Transformation Index have alleged that state assets have been plundered. With the death of President Déby in 2021, Chad became in the eyes of many observers an “hereditary kleptocracy”when power effectively transferred to his son, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno. (Mahamat is commonly referred to as “Kaka” to distinguish him from his father).
There are no verified calculations of Déby’s wealth, but at the time of his death it was reported to be at least $50m. Where that may have been invested is unclear and a strand for future journalistic investigations.
Bodies covered in the Chadian flag lie on the ground during a protest in N’Djamena on October 20, 2022. (AFP/Getty Images)
To assess the state of the country a year on from the massacre, Finance Uncovered has spoken to a range of experts across the political, economic and civil rights landscape and examined various developments, especially in the petroleum sector.
Serious questions are being raised about how much of the country’s oil wealth is being utilised for development and the management of public resources. For example, the government has once again restructured its oil-for-loan agreement with a syndicate led by international commodity giant Glencore as part of the requirement to access funding from the IMF.
In 2023, Chad also expropriated the oil assets of Savannah Energy, a UK-based oil company, without “full compensation”. The company has submitted a case to the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Court of Arbitration.
The uncertainty surrounding the case could be disastrous for future foreign investment in the economy and improving the desultory economic growth Chad has generated over the last decade.
Some analysts also told Finance Uncovered that there could also be a risk to Kaka’s inherited kleptocracy itself. Arguably, no regime was as closely aligned with France as that of Idriss Déby, and this has persisted with the transfer of power to Kaka. France has accepted the transitional government and has provided an explicit security guarantee. This means it will continue to militarily support the regime.
But a growing anti-French feeling in Francophone Africa more generally – a sentiment born from the resentment citizens feel towards dictators who have ruled countries for many decades – also poses a risk to Kaka. His regime could be toppled from within. Nathaniel Powell, Africa analyst at the Oxford Analytica political risk consultancy, says: “He is worried about plotting within his own security establishment. In the capital, the security has been beefed up at all the key installations. There has been a fear that after Niger maybe Chad is next. The French foundations in Chad are quite shaky because if Déby is overthrown any replacement junta may choose to legitimise their rule by ejecting the French.”
Elections are scheduled for 2024, but many Chadians do not believe these will be free or fair. They are more likely to resemble the highly conflicted polls held over the 30 years Déby was president.
All these developments are likely to stunt Chad’s progress and keep it pegged to the very bottom of measures, such as the UN’s Human Development Index where it has remained over the last two decades. One year on from the October 2022 massacre, any prospects of meaningful democratic change have been squashed. The future is beginning to look as dismal as the past.
This feeling was summarised by Succès Masra, one of the main opposition leaders in Chad who fled the country in the wake of the massacre. Asked to describe the health of the nation as he prepares to return for the anniversary, he told Finance Uncovered: “We still live in a country of apartheid where less than 2% of the population, who come from the same region, tribe and even family, use the oil revenues to buy guns and exercise power for their own benefit. This all happens with the diplomatic prestige of France and the silent support of the rest of the senior democratic countries.
“The best way to honour the memories of those killed in the massacre is to get to this promised land of democracy, where the Chadian people will be free to choose their leaders. A country where the ballot is stronger than the bullets which killed them.”
In response to questions posed by Finance Uncovered, a spokesman for the Chad government sent a report on the 20 October 2022 massacre. It blamed opposition figures, including Succès Masra, for the violence and said rioters were fuelled by “psychotic drugs”. It said many military officers were killed and that in response the transitional government introduced curfews around the country which “calmed” the situation. The report’s conclusion stated: “The objective is to lead the country, in the near future, to the restoration of the constitutional order.”