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Chad’s own problems and international intervention

by Paul-Simon Handy
There is more to Chad’s current crisis than violence in Darfur. Domestic issues led to the latest attempted coup. [ By Paul-Simon Handy ]

Chad has been in political crisis for decades, and the crisis is fuelled by internal and external factors. February’s attempted coup was the latest in a string of efforts to topple a regime known to be corrupt and unlawful. President Idriss Déby has a long-standing reputation of repressive leadership.

In this context, the approach taken by the UN Security Council is astonishing. It has appointed France to protect the established institutions in N’Djamena, and thus Déby himself. This choice is evidence of the UN’s concern for humanitarian missions plan­ned, namely EUFOR in the east of Chad and the UN-AU hybrid operation in Darfur. However, the decision implies a risk of compounding the complex problems in the triangle Chad-Sudan-Central African Republic.

The international media’s perception of the Darfur crisis is based on simplistic notions, drawing attention to that conflict. The “Hollywoodisation” of aid campaigns in the USA has contributed to this trend. Misleading dichotomies (Arabs against Black Africans, Muslims against Christians) have nurtured the idea that it is the Darfur crisis that is causing instability in the region. Not only are humanitarian agencies suggesting so for understandable reasons, but the UN Security Council is also mainly considering Chad in this light.

UN Security Council Resolution 1778 authorised the deployment of European troops in the east of Chad and the north-east of the Central African Republic, referring to the humanitarian challenges in Darfur. Indeed, armed conflict there has forced about 240,000 civilians to flee towards Chad. Chad is technically and financially overburdened, not least in view of the country’s 180,000 internally displaced people who fled from violence perpetrated by rebels and the regular army.

Ongoing turbulence in N’Djamena is not a direct side-effect of the Darfur conflict. It is the result of a deep-rooted political culture of violence, which has grown since independence, proliferating as a result of state resources being monopolised by small elite groups, often including the military elite. International intervention which fails to take these facts into account will have no more than symbolic success.

Déby seized power in a coup in 1990. That, unfortunately, is normal in Chad. The country has never experienced a constitutional change of government. Its superficial democratisation in the early 1990s did not change the style of governance. It did not grant more scope for popular participation in the country’s economic and political life. Armed conflict seems to be the only option left to the opposition for dealing with political divergence.

In 17 years in office, Déby devoted considerable energy to intimidating opponents, fighting them militarily or luring them into the government camp. He has held on to office, but indirectly he also created the environment for staging coups against him. His decision to propose an amendment to the 1996 Constitution in order to run for a third presidential term is generally considered to have triggered the current crisis. Since, a multitude of rebel groups has formed. Most come from within Déby’s close-knit circle; and they are evidence of a regime collapsing in a deeply divided nation.

Certainly there is also external pressure on Chad. Sudan has several times helped rebels to power in N’Djamena, including Déby himself. Moreover, Libya is also becoming involved with an ambiguous political agenda. But France too plays an important role, although it is currently not possible to identify a clear French strategy. France’s bilateral military obligations in respect to Déby give rise to questions over EUFOR’s neutrality; and that has been aggravated because of the failure of the most recent coup attempt. It remains to be seen whether recent action will really contribute to the safety of EUFOR in Chad’s volatile eastern region.