Libya/Chad: Beyond Political Influence
Africa Briefing Nº71
23 Mar 2010
The full report is available in French.
Since Muammar Gaddafi came to power in 1969, Libya has been Chad’s most important neighbour. During the Habré presidency, a hostile relationship was marked by military interventions, but since President Déby took office, Libya has dropped all territorial claims in the country and evolved into a regional powerbroker playing an active role in the peace negotiations between the N’Djamena regime and various insurgencies. Libya has the financial means and regional authority to bring the protagonists to the table but has done little to assist with the implementation of the agreements it chaperones. Its diplomacy has achieved brief successes by facilitating N’Djamena’s cooptation of rebels but has failed at longer-term progress toward durable stabilisation of Chad. The discrepancy between its strong pressure to get signatures on agreements and its lack of interest in implementation suggests Gaddafi’s mediations are based less on a desire to stabilise Chad than to assert his regional influence.
Libya’s involvement in Chad is marked by an ambivalent and painful history. A strategy to occupy and even annex large parts of the country coupled with continuous support for regime opponents led to several military confrontations in the 1980s that Chad was able to fend off with the help of its former colonial power, France. Libya was unable to exploit the fall of Habré and rise of Déby, because these events coincided with UN Security Council sanctions that isolated and weakened it in the 1990s. Yet, Tripoli recognised the changing geopolitical environment and adapted its policy towards its southern neighbour. It was unable to radically change the course of events there, but it became a crucial player in Déby’s struggle against his armed opposition. In one way or other, Gaddafi has been involved in almost all the internal Chadian negotiations, most notably that of Syrte in 2007.
Because of Chad’s internal political crisis, the deterioration of the Chad-Sudan relationship and the emergence of the Darfur crisis, Libya has been able since 2003 to solidify its position as a powerbroker. It used its links to the armed opposition on both sides of the Chad-Sudan border to become the principal mediator between the rebel factions, and it helped re-establish contact between N’Djamena and Khartoum, in the process perhaps preventing what could have been a direct war between the two regimes with disastrous regional consequences.
However, Libya’s diplomatic successes in Chad have been short-lived, due to a lack of focus on longer-term reforms and its difficulty in tolerating the contributions of other regional or wider international players in its quest to dominate its neighbourhood. Tripoli rarely uses its authority to force the parties to stick to the deals it brokers, and those parties always suspect a hidden agenda behind the diplomacy, since Gaddafi makes little secret of the desire for his mediations to advance geostrategic ambitions. At the same time, the Chadian government uses Libya’s good offices to co-opt armed opponents, who in turn try to make the most personal profit out of the peace deals. Lastly, the lack of coordination between Libyan and other peace initiatives has led to a struggle for influence that has allowed the protagonists to play the several interlocutors against each other.
Gaddafi’s efforts in Chad have only partially helped him to improve his image internationally and have, in fact, reinforced the view that Libyan foreign policy remains contradictory. In Chad, it provides the financial and political underpinnings for Déby’s strategy of buying off his opponents with positions and money and thus hampers any serious internal reform that might eventually lead the country out of its lengthy political crisis. If Libya were to engage politically in structural reforms necessary for the stabilisation of Chad, it would be able to capitalise on its mediation efforts while maintaining its regional influence.
Nairobi/Brussels, 23 March 2010