Chad Names New PM As Military Rejects Rebels' Overtures for Peace

Chadian Parliament (file photo).

Chad's military junta on Monday named Albert Pahimi Padacké as the country's new prime minister. Padacké previously served as Chad's prime minister from 2016 to 2018, until the role was scrapped by deceased president Idriss Déby.

"I accepted it [the role] because the situation in our country requires that all Chadians put themselves above all else, to overcome common challenges, namely peace and stability," Padacké told RFI's Christophe Boisbouvier in an interview.

Padacké, who came second to Idriss Déby in April's presidential polls, was appointed by a transitional military government led by Déby's 37-year-old son, Mahamat Idriss Déby.

It took power after Déby died from injuries suffered during clashes with the Fighters of the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) rebel group.

Respectability

"The position of prime minister has not been one of great influence, and there is no reason to think that this will change now, although of course it might," said Chad expert Judith Scheele from the Paris-based School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences, underlining an evolving situation in the capital N'Djamena after Déby's 30 years in power.

Déby's death came during a visit to the scene of fighting between the Chadian military and the FACT rebel group who were advancing from the north of the country towards N'Djamena, an offensive coinciding with the elections.

His son was quickly named as head of a new military government. The country's parliament was dissolved and the constitution suspended. A curfew was put in place as the junta said it would remain in power during an 18-month transition.

International allies, such as former colonial power France, underlined the importance of Déby's support in the fight against hardline jihadist fighters in the Sahel region, but also touched upon the need for civilian rule in Chad, urging a return to a democratic administration.

The new prime minister is not a new face, according to Berny Sèbe from the University of Birmingham, who has researched Chad.

The appointment of 54-year-old Padacké could suggest that the junta might be willing to take listen to allies in the region or internationally in order to gain a level of respectability.

"It looks as if the military junta wants to demonstrate that it is ready to negotiate, but within the framework that they're setting up," said Sèbe.

Opposition leader, Yacine Abderamane, of the Reformist Party told the Reuters news agency that his party rejected Padacké's nomination and urged talks to find a consensus.

No talk with 'bandits'

Chad's ruling military junta said this weekend it refused to negotiate with the FACT rebel group that fatally injured Déby.

"It's not the time neither for mediation nor negotiation with some bandits," General Azem Bermandoa Agouma, a spokesperson for Chad's ruling military government, said in a statement.

Agouma called for cooperation with neighbouring Niger to help capture FACT fighters.

The junta said some vehicles from the rebel convoy escaped from the fighting and headed towards the border with Niger.

"The defence and security forces, hot on their heels with the support of the air force, located the enemy scattered in small groups regrouping in Nigerien territory between Ngourti, Nguiguimi and the border with Chad," said Agouma, referring to an area more than 300 kilometres north-west of N'Djamena.

Agouma said the FACT leader Mahadi Ali Mahamat was wanted in Libya for war crimes and had his assets frozen, notably for trade in fuel. He accused the rebels of being in league with jihadist fighters and traffickers.

"While they have been described as mercenaries, they're Chadians and their political agenda is in Chad," said Marielle Debos, a political analyst at University Paris Nanterre, who has published books on Chad.

"All rebellions in the past two decades had rear bases in neighbouring countries. They can't be dismissed as foreign or mere mercenaries," she added.

"The situation is tense but the return to war can be avoided. We should be cautious not to fuel self-fulfilling prophecies."

Niger's military is cooperating with authorities in Chad and some arrests have taken place in Dirkou, in north-eastern Niger, according to a unnamed source, as reported by RFI.

Dragging in neighbours

Following the Déby's death, FACT had said that they were ready to announce a ceasefire, and hold dialogue with the Chadian authorities.

The rebels had respected a truce since the killing of Déby, and their overtures towards talks with the Chadian authorities came following initiatives launched by heads of state from Niger and Mauritania, acting on behalf of the African Union bloc.

"We're ready for a ceasefire, for a political solution," FACT leader Mahamat told RFI's Bineta Diagne. "Today, there must be a place for inclusive national dialogue which must include all political players."

Suggestions of talks and the military's subsequent dismissal of this idea are just part of posturing between the different players, according to Scheele.

"Positions of power and influence in Chad are being renegotiated as we speak, and both FACT's offer of a ceasefire and Mahamat Idriss Déby's rejection are part of these negotiations, and might change rapidly," she said.

"The death of President Déby has created a real nightmare, not only for neighbours like Niger or Mali, or the former colonial power, but across the region, because it is creating an open field," said Sèbe, talking about the need for neighbouring countries to maintain amicable relations with N'Djamena.

For the rebels it might also be "the moment of truth" said Sèbe, suggesting that FACT might feel the need to demonstrate that they can affect change.

The new transitional military council brings together 15 high-ranking military officials who are seen as close to the late president.

Déby junior led the presidential guard before being named as Chad's new president and is not known for being particularly vocal, but determined and battle-hardened, like his father.

"I do not think Mahamat Idriss Déby is a puppet but of course he cannot maintain himself in power unless he can count on others, especially in the army," said Scheele, who has published work on northern Chad.

Some opposition figures have called on Chadians to take to the streets on Tuesday to protest against the military junta and also France's role in the country.

Déby had a tight grip on power in Chad for three decades and won six elections.

He was buried on Friday in a ceremony attended by French President Emmanuel Macron, as well as leaders from West Africa and the Sahel region.

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