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As Chad’s President is Laid to Rest, Bishops Call Warring Parties to Inclusive Dialogue

Late President Idriss Déby Itno who succumbed to injuries from a battle with the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) on 20 April 2021. Credit: Presidency of the Republic of Chad

As the President of Chad is being laid to rest Friday, April 23, Catholic Bishops in the North-Central African nation are calling on the warring parties to an “inclusive national dialogue” to bring an end to the ongoing violent conflict.

Chad’s President, Idriss Déby Itno, who had been at the helm of the country since 1990 died Tuesday, April 20. According to a BBC News report,  President Déby succumbed to injuries from a battle with the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), a dissident army rebel group in the Northern part of the country.

A transitional council of military officers has appointed Deby's son, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, as interim president. 37-year-old Mahamat who is the same age as his father was when he took power through a military coup is heading the Transitional Military Council (CMT), a 15-member team expected to oversee Chad’s transition period for the next 18 months.

In their collective statement issued Thursday, April 22, Catholic Bishops in Chad “join their voices to that of all Chadian men and women to call for an inclusive national dialogue which should be a dialogue of reconciliation.”

The members of the Episcopal Conference of Chad (CET) add, “This inclusive national dialogue for reconciliation is today a necessity for lasting peace in our country.”

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“It is necessary to create the conditions for its success,” they say in reference to the inclusive dialogue, and add, “This dialogue, conducted by a politically independent, credible and neutral body, will enable all the sons and daughters of our country to lay the foundations of a new consensual political order based on respect for individuals, concern for the common good and the promotion of social justice.”

In their April 22 statement shared with ACI Africa, CET members underscore the need for a ceasefire if the inclusive national dialogue is to bear fruit.

“It is necessary that all the warring parties unilaterally declare a ceasefire without conditions and drop their weapons,” Catholic Bishops in Chad say.

Late President Déby was reportedly killed while visiting troops on the frontline. According to Reuters, he was seen by western powers as an ally in the fight against Islamist extremist groups, including Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin and groups linked to Al Qaeda and Islamic State in the Sahel.

Following his death, CMT announced a fourteen-day national mourning period. The government and the National Assembly have been dissolved and a nationwide curfew imposed from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. The country’s borders have also been closed.

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In their April 22 collective statement titled, “Peace be with you”, Catholic Bishops in Chad say that they received with deep sorrow the news of the “tragic death of the President.”

“The Bishops, gathered in an ordinary session of the Episcopal Conference and in communion with the whole Church Family of God, send their sincere condolences to the people of Chad, to the great Itno family and to his relatives,” the Catholic Church leaders say in their message signed by CET Chairman, Archbishop Edmond Djitangar Goetbé.

They add, “In this Easter season, our country is severely affected by the loss of so many compatriots, victims of recent fighting, of which our president is unfortunately one. We commit him (President) and all the other victims of the clashes that we deplore to the mercy of God.”

“We share the anxieties and hopes of the Chadian people who are currently writing a delicate and decisive page in their history,” CET members say, and add, “To our people, anxious about the present and the future, we address a message of peace from the risen Christ: Peace be with you.” 

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“May the hearts of Chadian men and women receive this message of peace and not be troubled, for the Easter season brings promises of rebirth and victories: the victory of light over darkness, of peace over violence, of reconciliation over all conflicts that threaten the dignity of human life and the stability of our country,” the Bishops say.

They go on to call for “profound conversion” amid the violent conflicts in the country saying, “The situation that our nation is going through in these difficult times concerns all of us and requires from every Chadian a profound conversion, a true change of heart; gateway for achieving reconciliation and lasting peace.”

Making reference to Pope Francis’ Encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, CET members note, “Those who work for tranquil social coexistence should never forget that inequality and lack of integral human development make peace impossible. Indeed, without equal opportunities, different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode.”

They continue in reference to n. 235 of Fratelli Tutti, “When a society – whether local, national or global – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programs or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility.”

In a televised address April 20, army spokesman, General Azem Bermandoa Agouna said, “The National Council of Transition reassures the Chadian people that all measures have been taken to guarantee peace, security and the republican order.”

Making reference to the army spokesman’s message, Chad’s Catholic Bishops say, “The transition should be conducted with strict respect for the constitutional order.”

“The Church Family of God in Chad will not fail to make its contribution to the success of this inclusive national reconciliation dialogue,” CET members further say in their April 22 collective statement.

They “invite the Catholic faithful and all believers to intensify prayers so that God will instill in the hearts of each Chadian the will for dialogue, reconciliation, brotherhood and peace.”

“Then we will be able to better resist the demons of violence and thus build a New Chad,” the Bishops say, and implore, “May Our Lady of Peace, Patroness of Chad, intercede with us and for us.”