The Chad News Archive

Chad's Domestic Crisis in Relation to Darfur

All Africa (7/27/09)

Less than a week after Chad and Sudan inked a formal agreement to set aside their differences this past May, the Sudanese government gave Chadian rebels the green light to launch a cross-border attack from their rear bases inside Darfur. Having repelled Sudan-backed rebel offensives that reached the capital N’Djamena in 2006 and 2008, the Chadian military was well prepared. Chadian forces routed the rebels near the border, chased them back into Sudan, and launched cross-border airstrikes against those who tried to regroup.

This latest bloody bout of proxy conflict should not have surprised anyone. Multiple attempts to mediate an agreement between the two capitals have failed to address the primary source of the crisis: the internal rot at the center of each country.[2] [6] Twenty years after coming to power in a coup d’état in Sudan, the National Congress Party in Khartoum [7] shows no signs of loosening its grip on power. Across the border in N’Djamena, Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno pays lip service to political reforms and cracks down violently on legitimate political opposition.

While international efforts to address Sudan’s internal crisis are ongoing, parallel efforts in Chad are virtually nonexistent. A comprehensive approach to peace in the region by definition must deal aggressively with the persistent internal turmoil in Chad, where the precedent of armed rebellion as the sole vehicle for political opposition has been established through decades of brutal governance and violent regime change. Ad hoc efforts by the European Union and others to drive a process of political reform have not made effective use of significant available leverage. The United States has largely steered clear of Chad’s internal crisis, opting to focus on counterterrorism cooperation and humanitarian assistance. But the inadequacies of crisis management in Chad will continue to negatively impact the situation in Sudan, where the United States has invested heavily in peace. For example, short-term humanitarian efforts absent a political process to end the Chadian crisis can institutionalize long-term displacement and can inadvertently support armed groups. In eastern Chad, Sudanese rebels systematically divert food aid from refugee camps in support of the war effort.[3] [8] [8]

It’s time to get serious about Chad, and the Obama administration is in a unique position to forge partnerships with key actors—particularly France and Libya—to coordinate pressure on President Déby to enact genuine political reforms, including overhauling its justice and security sectors and decentralization of power from elites in N’Djamena to Chad’s politically marginalized periphery. Indeed, diplomacy will continue to bear rotten fruit until the international community adopts a regional approach that includes credible efforts to address the internal crises in Sudan and Chad. This requires strategic vision and leadership, which the United States can provide.

Lost in the Sahel

Despite Chad’s relevance to long-term stability in Sudan, Washington’s approach toward N’Djamena remains uninspired. Absent the vision or resources to address the root causes of Chad’s crisis, the U.S. policy is driven by two primary interests: fighting terrorism and supporting humanitarian operations. Through a regional counterterrorism initiative called the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership, or TSCTP, the United States trains Chadian soldiers to fight Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists who may traverse across Chad’s isolated northern region. Although this initiative holds the promise of linking counterterrorism efforts with much-needed development programs in the Sahel, TSCTP has yet to strike a balance that could succeed in addressing the root causes of instability and extremism in the region.[4] [9] Meanwhile, in eastern Chad, American taxpayers have spent nearly $112 million so far in 2009 to underwrite a sprawling humanitarian operation to feed and shelter 250,000 Darfuri refugees [10] and 167,000 internally displaced Chadians.[5] [11] But until the United States puts more muscle and critical thinking behind longer-term efforts to build democratic institutions in Chad, the violent and repressive status quo will grind on.
Chad’s domestic troubles

Sustainable regional peace is simply not possible without a radical change to a coercive Chadian political system that has long been dominated by the rule of the gun. Rather than negotiate with rebel groups, President Déby’s government consistently opts for military confrontation or simply buys off the most venal rebel leaders. Focused exclusively on thwarting the next coup attempt, the Chadian government marginalizes the so-called “unarmed” political opposition and avoids efforts to address a root cause of the conflict—its own authoritarianism. [6] [12]

Political negotiations have thus far amounted to doling out ministries to rebel leaders and political strongmen, a strategy that only entrenches Chad’s factionalist political system. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2008 democracy index ranks Chad 166 out of 167 countries, ahead of only North Korea.  A European Union-led effort to establish meaningful dialogue with the unarmed opposition has failed to gain momentum, and the government continues to rely on strong-arm tactics.[7] [13] Rather than invest resources into much-needed development, the Chadian government channels disproportionate funds into a seemingly never-ending military build-up. For several weeks following an attempted coup in February 2008, bodies were found floating down the Chari River, which runs alongside the capital city of N’Djamena, some of them decapitated and many having been executed with their hands bound. Members of President Déby’s Presidential Guard and of the ANS, the domestic intelligence agency, rounded up opposition politicians, one of whom, Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh, is still missing and presumed to have been killed while in government custody. It is no wonder that most Chadians—80 percent of whom survive on less than a dollar a day—remain disenfranchised and fearful of their government.

Chad was France’s colony from 1900 to 1960 and Paris traditionally maintains good relations with N’Djamena as an anchor within a sphere of political influence in French-speaking Africa. The French military has some 1,100 soldiers on the ground in Chad under Opération Epervier (Sparrowhawk), and the French armed forces provided decisive support to the Chadian government during Sudan-backed rebel attacks in April 2006 and February 2008. French military sources told Enough that the French armed forces share intelligence on rebel movements with their Chadian government counterparts such that the Chadian army does practically no reconnaissance of its own.

France has lent this support despite Chad’s woeful human rights record and wanton and well-documented state corruption, and in the face of the French public’s increasing criticism of its government’s Africa policy. Support for corrupt and undemocratic leaders like Déby is increasingly regarded in French political circles as financially untenable and morally suspect.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy could represent a break from the past. He is the seventh French president to intervene militarily in Chad, but he does not have the same close personal relationships with African strongmen as his predecessors and seems less willing to use his own political capital to support them. And while some within the French political and military establishment do not want France’s sphere of influence to diminish in sub-Saharan Africa, a June 2008 government white paper on military policy proposed abandoning France’s bases in Chad and reducing its military footprint on the continent. France did little to assist the Chadian government during the most recent Chadian rebel invasion in May, and it sent a strong message of the changing state of Franco-Chadian relations by sending its Breguet Atlantique surveillance aircraft out of the country, denying the government a source of intelligence on Chadian rebel movements.

The French government’s attention to the crisis in Darfur is also a break from past practice: Sudan is neither French speaking nor a former French colony. While France’s concern over Sudan is in part a reaction to its threatened interests in Chad, French policy in Darfur is also shaped by the prerogatives of foreign minister Bernard Kouchner. Kouchner, a dedicated humanitarian who helped found the well-respected relief organization Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), remains involved in conflict resolution efforts in Darfur due in part to his relationship with Darfur rebel leader Abdul Wahid al-Nur.[8] [14] Indeed, France’s role in pushing for multinational forces in eastern Chad had as much to do with stabilizing Darfur as with protecting Chadian civilians.[9] [15]

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