Chadian ruler Mahamat Idriss Deby on Wednesday pushed ahead with his stated plans to return the country to civilian government, appointing a former opposition figure as prime minister to head an interim administration of the “national union”.
Deby named Saleh Kebzabo, 75, a former journalist who ran for the presidency four times against his ironclad father Idriss Deby Itno.
The 38-year-old five-star general took office after the elder Deby, who had been in power for three decades, was killed in an anti-rebel operation in April 2021.
But he has since angered many at home and embarrassed supporters abroad by urging to stay in power beyond an initially promised deadline and contest promised elections.
Speaking to journalists on Wednesday, Kebzabo pledged to accompany young Itno “in a grand undertaking” … over the next two years of political transition.
Kebzabo, a bitter opponent in the last years of the elder Deby’s rule, had quickly recognized his son as leader after his death. Two leaders of his UNDR party took part in the first interim government set up by the junta.
Deby’s junta had initially declared that it would restore civilian rule after 18 months in power and had initially promised not to vote in subsequent elections.
But as the 18-month deadline neared, a nationwide forum hosted by Deby turned back the clock.
Last weekend she approved a new 24-month timeframe for holding elections, nominated Deby as “interim president” for the interim period and said he could stand as a candidate in the election.
Deby was sworn in on Monday and vowed to appoint a “government of national unity” within days.
The outgoing prime minister was 55-year-old political veteran Albert Pahimi Padacke, who had served 18 months and had also been prime minister under Deby’s father.
He officially resigned along with his government on Tuesday.
– Foreign snub –
Chad, a semi-desert country in the heart of central-west Africa, has been chronically unstable since gaining independence from France in 1960.
Under the elder Deby, Chad became a valued ally of Western countries fearing the spread of jihadism in the Sahel.
However, at Monday’s inauguration ceremony, foreign displeasure at his son’s bid for power was evident, despite calls for an earlier return to civilian rule.
The African Union turned down the event, while France and the European Union were only represented by their ambassadors.
Just three weeks earlier, the AU had urged the junta not to extend its hold on power beyond 18 months and “clearly” warned that any of its members would vote in future elections.
With the exception of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, no other African country sent its heads of state. A handful of key neighbors – Niger, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – were represented by their ministers.
The AU and West African bloc ECOWAS have been harsh critics of the series of coups that have swept the region over the past two years, with takeovers in Guinea, Burkina Faso and Mali, as well as Chad.
– election of government –
Enrica Picco of the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank said the junta had been officially dissolved as a result of the forum, meaning Deby’s powers as interim president would be “expanded and expanded”.
Picco said the new government’s election presents an opportunity for Deby that will give him a chance to build bridges in his divided country.
On the other hand, if the government is “completely closed to the parties, armed groups and civil society that have not taken part in the dialogue, anything is possible – protests or armed groups resuming their attacks”. She said.