US at odds with African Union over Chad's disputed polls

Friday May 24 2024

Chad's newly elected President and junta leader Mahamat Idriss Deby looks on during his inauguration ceremony in N'djamena, Chad on May 23, 2024. PHOTO | REUTERS


The African Union and the United States are finding themselves at odds with how they deal with Chad, a troubled country which has tried to emerge from the coup with elections widely seen as flawed.

But Washington did not directly stay away from commenting on the polls won by junta leader Mahamat Deby Itno, even though violent scenes punctuated the electioneering period.

Chad’s Constitutional Council on May 16 confirmed Deby winner of the May 6 presidential election which the National Elections Management Agency said saw a participation rate of 75.89 percent. The council had dismissed petitions by two other candidates challenging the victory.

At least 10 people, including children, were killed and dozens were injured from celebratory gunfire that followed the announcement of provisional results on May 9, local media reported.

Read: Casualties reported in Chad from gunfire celebrating Deby victory

Yet, the African Union Commission said the polls were somewhat invalid because Deby competed when he shouldn’t have.


The continental body had been criticised for staying silent. Earlier, the AU Commission headed incidentally by Chadian diplomat Mahamat Faki had steered clear of adding Chad to the pile of suspended African countries that had engineered a coup. 

Deby had come to power shortly after his father was assassinated on the battlefront, just days after he had won back a new term in elections. But Deby’s son immediately suspended the constitution and established a transitional military council, which was technically a coup as the constitution provided for steps to be taken in case a president died in office.

Faki’s office said this week it cannot comment on the disputed presidential elections because the African Union Peace and Security Council had advised against Mahamat’s running. 

The US meanwhile has cautiously welcomed it.

Ebba Kalondo, spokesperson to the chairperson of the AU Commission said the only continental body of 15 member states responsible for peace and security issues will decide. 

In fact, the AU Peace and Security Council had extended the ban to all transitional authorities' heads from running and did not send an observation team. 

“It is impossible for the chairperson of the Commission to pronounce on the results of such elections unless he were to violate the decisions of the PSC, which he is obliged to respect,” the AU statement said.

In a statement following the certification of the results, the United States showed both caution in condemning flawed polls as well as cultivating better ties with a possible role player in a troubled region.

Read: Chad violence a new political scare for Africa

US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Washington commends those who exercised their right to vote in the elections, hailing the transitional process in the country.

“We welcome the peaceful conduct of the voting and its aftermath,” the statement said.

“Although there were troubling shortcomings, we welcome the milestones in Chad’s transition process, including negotiating with insurgents, undertaking a National Dialogue, holding a constitutional referendum, and conducting a presidential election.”

Miller however expressed concerns that the transition was not fully inclusive in setting up the institutions responsible for organising elections and adjudicating electoral disputes.

Noting that though 10 candidates who were allowed to run generally followed the code of electoral conduct and were able to campaign nationally, 10 other candidates were disqualified with no avenue for appeal prior to the campaign.

The exclusion, the US State Department spokesperson said, contributed to legitimate concerns about transparency that undermined public confidence in the election and the democratic process. 

“We urge Chadian authorities to work with all stakeholders – especially political parties and civil society organisations – to address any concerns with this election and strengthen the inclusivity and transparency of Chad’s institutional framework for future elections,” Miller said.

With the election, Chad has become the first of current junta-led countries in West and Central Africa to stage a return to constitutional rule via the ballot box.

Read: Deby sworn in as Chad president after 3 years of junta rule

In April, Chad asked the US to halt activities at an air base, citing problems with paperwork. Washington said it would temporarily withdraw some troops.

The stance by Washington on election results now seems like a way to re-seek an avenue back into the heart of Chad, with which they have collaborated on security operations in the tricky Sahel region.

Chad’s neighbours, Niger had already cut similar collaborations with the US after the military there engineered a coup and removed President Mohamed Bazoum in July last year. Niger has since inched closer to Russia.

But Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon had been facing a common problem of insurgencies straddling their borders. That cooperation has also looked shaky lately especially since Niger remains suspended by the African Union.