Press Review CW 20/2024: Competition and Rapprochement
Press Review 10 May 2024 to 17 May 2024

Presidential elections in Chad

On Thursday, the Constitutional Council of Chad confirmed the provisional results of the presidential elections of 6 May, which were surprisingly published last week by the electoral commission Agence nationale de gestion des élections du Tchad (ANGE). According to the commission, the current interim president Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno was able to secure more than half of the votes in the first round with 61.03%, thus avoiding a run-off in the second round. His main rival, the incumbent Prime Minister Succès Masra from the opposition party Les Transformateurs, came in with 18.53%; in third place was the former Prime Minister and candidate of the Rassemblement national pour la démocratie au Tchad (RNDT-Le Réveil) party, Albert Pahimi Padacké (16.91%). According to official figures, voter turnout was 76%. The announcement of the provisional election results just three days instead of 15 days after the election caused surprise and criticism both nationally and internationally. Opposition representatives point to the logistical challenges of collecting over 26,000 election reports from polling stations within just three days and entering them manually at the ANGE headquarters in the capital N’Djamena. The electoral commission and the Minister for Regional Planning, Mahamat Assileck Halata, however, point out that they have strictly adhered to the election regulations and announced the provisional election results within 15 days.

The election processes were also criticised by national and international non-governmental organisations. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), for example, expressed concern and described the elections as neither credible nor free. The non-governmental organisation International Crisis Group (ICG) also expressed doubts about the credibility of the elections and pointed to the exclusion of opposition candidates. Independent election observers had previously been unofficially deployed in the country after around 2,900 observers were denied accreditation at short notice. The general rapporteur of the election observation organisation Observatoire des associations sur le processus électoral au Tchad (OAPET), Gombo Breye Houzibe, also criticised the lack of transparency in the elections.

Even before the official election results were announced, Masra declared himself the winner of the election on Thursday. According to his party, he achieved 59.2% of the vote, while Déby only received 14.36%. After the official results were announced, Masra called for a peaceful protest against what he saw as rigged elections. As a result, the military presence in the streets of the major cities was greatly increased: however, the hoped-for protests did not materialise. Several shootings were reported on the streets of the capital N’Djamena on Thursday and Friday, with at least 10 people killed and 60 others injured, according to various media. The shots are said to have been ricochets from shots fired by the military, who were celebrating the victory of their general Déby. However, the authorities have banned the media from reporting on the incidents and from accessing the injured in hospital. Human Rights Watch and the European Union subsequently condemned the military celebrations as an act of violence.

On Sunday, Masra filed an official complaint against the election results with the Constitutional Council. In the statement of claim, his lawyers document, among other things, the denial of access to polling stations and the counting of votes, the lack of voter lists in some polling stations, ballot boxes taken away by soldiers and the arrest of 79 activists from the Les Transformateurs party on the sidelines of the vote. The party’s vice president, Sitack Yombatina Béni, called for the election to be cancelled due to irregularities. However, the Constitutional Council rejected the complaint on Thursday on the grounds that the opposition could not provide any evidence for its allegations. Third-placed Padacké also lodged an appeal with the Constitutional Council. He demanded the partial cancellation of the election in the three provinces in which Masra was ahead and accused him of using the Chadian national flag during his election campaign, which violated Chadian electoral law. If the Constitutional Council upholds Padacké’s complaint, he would oust Masra from second place.

Meanwhile, Déby announced in his official statement that, as the democratically elected president of the Chadian people, he would immediately implement his election promises. These include above all the creation of jobs for young people and the strengthening of internal security in order to guarantee peace and stability.

The elections on 6 May were the first democratic elections in Chad since the death of then President Idriss Déby in 2021, after which the Conseil Militaire de Transition (CMT) under the leadership of Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, the son of the late president, took power (press review CW 16/2021). This year, there was already an increase in serious protests in the run-up to the elections. One trigger was the announcement by the Chadian electoral authority in February that the elections would not take place in October as planned, but in May. As a result, opposition candidate Yaya Dilo from the Parti socialiste sans frontières (PSF) was killed in an exchange of fire with the military (press review CW 9/2024).

 

Rapprochement between Niger and Benin

On Wednesday, the Beninese government announced that it would lift the blockade on Niger’s oil exports to China via its port in Cotonou. The lifting of the blockade, which was achieved with the mediation of the Chinese government and the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), which operates the approximately 2,000 kilometer-long pipeline from the Nigerian oil field Agadem to Sèmè-Kpodji in Benin, is seen as an important step towards rapprochement in the trade conflict between the two Sahel states. This conflict escalated last week after Benin imposed a ban on the loading of Chinese ships with crude oil from Niger. This was intended to increase pressure on the neighboring state to reopen its borders with Benin, which have been closed since the military coup in Niger in July last year.

Niger’s Prime Minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine reacted indignantly and described the blockade of oil exports as a violation of numerous trade agreements between the two countries and Niger’s Chinese partners. The revenues from Chinese oil exports, which according to the preliminary agreement with CNCP amount to around 400 million US dollars – up to 90,000 barrels of crude oil per day are to be produced in Agadem from May – are crucial for Niger to pay off its national debt of over 600 million US dollars after several domestic bond payments failed to materialise due to sanctions and Niger’s exclusion from the regional bond market.

Since the coup in Niger, trade relations between the two Sahel states have practically come to a standstill. The closure of the border led to falling state revenues and rising food costs in Benin, which triggered nationwide protests. The landlocked country of Niger, in turn, handled a large proportion of its imports via the Beninese port of Cotonou. However, since the military took power, Niger has shifted a large part of its trade to alternative routes via the Togolese port city of Lomé and through Burkina Faso. Although this route is longer and is considered less secure as there is jihadist activity in the region of Burkina Faso through which the route runs, in recent months Niger has systematically expanded its cooperation with Burkina Faso, which is also led by a military junta.

Despite Benin’s concession, Niger has not yet held out the prospect of a complete opening of the Niger-Benin border – this is not possible for security reasons, as Lamine Zeine emphasized in a statement. The tensions between the two countries were triggered by the coup in Niger last year, in which the former president, Mohamed Bazoum, was deposed by the military junta Conseil national pour la sauvegarde de la patrie (CNSP). As a result, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed sanctions on Niger and considered military intervention if the democratically elected Bazoum was not reinstated as president (press review CW 33/2023). Benin, which is also a member of ECOWAS, was considered one of the supporters of an ECOWAS military operation. In response to the threat, Niger closed its borders with Benin, claiming that there are military bases on the Beninese side of the border where terrorists are being trained to destabilise Niger. On 8 May, Benin’s President Patrice Talon denied rumors on social networks that Benin had gathered foreign troops on the border in order to invade Niger. Benin government spokesperson Wilfried Léandre Houngbedji emphasised that although there are military bases in the border region, these are exclusively for fighting jihadists in the region and are home to military instructors from various nations. In January of this year, Niger, together with Burkina Faso and Mali, announced its withdrawal from the regional community due to the ECOWAS sanctions (press review cv 5/2024). The sanctions against Niger were lifted in February.

 

In other news

On Sunday, the annual re-plastering of the Great Mosque of Djenné took place in Mali. The mosque in the Niger Inland Delta is the largest sacred clay building in the world and is considered a highlight of Sudanese-Sahelian architecture in Mali. Every year, before the start of the rain season in June, a new layer of clay is applied to ensure the integrity of the mosque, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site together with the surrounding old town of Djenné since 1988 and has been on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger since 2016. The one-day re-plastering of the mosque, also known as the “Crepissage de la Grand Mosquée”, is considered a symbol of peace and is a solemn communal act that brings together the entire community of Djenné and is accompanied by other cultural and religious activities. Before the security situation in Mali continued to erode, numerous tourists also traveled there every year to witness the event. The construction of the mosque can be dated to around 1200 AD. Djenné was also an important center for the study and spread of Islam in the region.

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