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What lies ahead for the presidential election in Chad

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The landlocked Central African country of Chad, a U.S. ally, holds presidential elections on Monday, three years after a military coup there. But while opposition groups have condemned abuses in the lead-up to the elections, the U.S. and other allies have remained silent, as NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu reports. And a warning - this story contains a brief burst of gunfire.

EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: Military president Mahamat Idriss Deby waves at hundreds of supporters from the roof of an SUV.

MAHAMAT IDRISS DEBY: (Shouting in non-English language).

AKINWOTU: His vehicle crawls through the crowds of waving flags and placards in the capital in N'Djamena. It's one of the few events Deby has held in a tightly managed campaign where none of the other candidates are likely to challenge him. Deby has fought to shore up his grip on power in the landlocked country of 18 million people since he took over in a coup three years ago. He succeeded his late father, who was killed by rebels and is now keen to present these polls as free, fair and legitimate - to stamp his authority. But the lead-up to the vote has followed a familiar script. Heavy gunfire at the main opposition party headquarters in February first raised alarm.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

AKINWOTU: Then the government announced the death of Yaya Dillo, one of Deby's fiercest critics and likely strongest challenger at the polls. The government said Dillo died in an exchange of fire with security forces and that his supporters attacked the internal security agency. But just hours before his death, Dillo told the news agency AFP that he feared an attempt on his life.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YAYA DILLO: (Non-English language spoken).

AKINWOTU: In what was to be one of his final interviews, he warned that the government was using the alleged attack as a pretext for a clampdown. Wakit Tama, a prominent civil society group in Chad, has condemned the vote as a coronation masquerading as a choice.

SOUMAINE ADOUM: (Speaking French).

AKINWOTU: Their spokesperson, Soumaine Adoum, says that institutions like the electoral commission have never been independent and are controlled by the military.

Chad has been ruled by successive regimes accused of repression since they gained freedom from French colonial rule. But U.S. and French officials have been accused of turning a blind eye as Chad has become a vital security and humanitarian partner. The country borders Sudan and hosts over a million refugees. Cameron Hudson is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

CAMERON HUDSON: Their greater concern for Chad is the role that it plays regionally as a force in helping to stabilize the situation across the region in counterterrorism.

AKINWOTU: Last month, that priority took a hit. Chad told the U.S. it would be renegotiating its military agreements, and the U.S. announced a temporary withdrawal of roughly 100 troops based there. It came after neighboring Niger's military leaders ordered the U.S. to close its base while welcoming Russian security forces at the same time. But Hudson says that,for Chad, the move is strategic.

HUDSON: I think, from Chad's perspective, the fact that this message comes just weeks before the presidential election is, again, I think, a reflection of President Deby's that looking tough and standing tough in front of the French and in front of Washington has a great deal of public appeal within his own population.

AKINWOTU: Deby's transition from a military leader to a civilian president is almost complete. It offers him the legitimacy that he craves and, for the U.S., a stable security partnership. But for Chadian people, it's an extension of the status quo.

Emmanuel Akinwotu, NPR News, Lagos.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Emmanuel Akinwotu
Emmanuel Akinwotu is an international correspondent for NPR. He joined NPR in 2022 from The Guardian, where he was West Africa correspondent.
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