11 leaders from Central Africa gathered in the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday to discuss the “process of political transition in Chad”. According to a government official, the meeting in Kinshasa comes days after clashes between Chadian police and protestors in which 50 people died, including a dozen members of the security forces.
“The political crisis, which we believe to be engaged in the voice of its resolution, is unfortunately revived. This consensus seems to be shattering, and the street has resumed speaking loudly; death of men by the dozen. And the challenge to be met is major because it is now a matter of putting the transition back on track with the Chadian people, taking into account both their aspirations and the values and ideals of the African Union and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS)”, said Félix Tshisekedi, the President of the DRC and ECCAS.
Hundreds of demonstrators had turned out last week to mark the date when the military had initially promised to hand over power — a spell extended for another two years. The clashes took place after the extension of the “transition” for two years, which was supposed to end on the day of the protests.
This bears watching as the actions of the ECCAS will chart a course of stability or instability for a region that has not been traditionally stable. Of the 11 countries in the grouping, Angola, Congo Brazzaville and Rwanda, their governance challenges notwithstanding, are the most stable and forward-looking. This is something that the other countries want to emulate, and for all its flaws, the DRC, as an example, may finally be on the right track towards building a sustainable democracy and a state that brings peace to its region. Such an outcome would be beneficial not just to the DRC but to ECCAS and Africa as a whole.
The budding instability in Chad threatens this. Coups are contagious, as seen next door in the ECOWAS bloc. Given that there are multiple conflicts in a geographically contiguous arc that includes southern Libya, Chad, the northern and western reaches of Cameroon, Darfur in Sudan, the northern Central African Republic and the eastern DRC, there is the potential that ‘proactive’ officers getting ideas can recreate, spread and suck in 160 million people into a vortex of instability of the kind that held sway in this part of the continent in the 1980s and 1990s.
Thus, ECCAS will have to be firmer with Mr Deby. There is no other choice. However, the question remains as to what sort of political transition the ECCAS can pressure Mr Deby to accept. Potential regional power brokers are hobbled with legitimacy concerns of their own – having acquired power in flawed and controversial elections and superintending over governance systems characterised by shrinking civic freedoms and crackdowns on opposition parties and politicians that do not meet the minimum standards for functioning democracies. This situation was precisely the sort of democracy that Chad had under Idris Deby. Mahamat Deby could be well within his rights to ask regional leaders why they seek to preach to the choir when all he does is aspire to join their club.
Neighbouring West Africa, with much more robust (but flawed by Western standards) democratic traditions and institutions, has struggled to rein in recalcitrant members such as Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali who are veering off the rails of representative governance. The prospects are worsening for a Central Africa scarred by conflict, pock-marked by economic deprivation and hobbled by a deficit of sound leadership.