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Migrants from sub-Saharan countries with target Europe travelling through nothern Chad with the interim goal Libyan south on 6 February 2013 Désirée von Trotha/picture alliance/dpa Picture-Alliance
Report 266 / Africa

Chad: Defusing Tensions in the Sahel

Growing discontent among young people in Chad’s Sahel regions risk driving them into the arms of rebels in neighbouring countries. Authorities should end the impunity of individuals guilty of a range of abuses and distinguish between economic migrants and potential rebels.  

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What’s new? Anger at the state is rising among youth in Chad’s Sahel regions of Bahr el-Ghazal and Kanem. Impunity for abuses committed against locals and the authorities’ treatment of all young people leaving for Libya – many of whom simply seek economic opportunity – as potential rebels are fuelling discontent.

Why does it matter? Worsening relations between young people in those regions and the authorities, combined with the economic downturn, risk aggravating the very trend that authorities fear – the reinforcement of rebels in neighbouring countries, particularly southern Libya.

What should be done? To rebuild trust with youth from these regions, Chadian authorities should avoid conflating migrants with those joining rebels. This requires maintaining security controls but ensuring they do not curtail people’s freedom of movement. They should also hold accountable those guilty of abuses, irrespective of their political ties.

Executive Summary

Since 2016, tensions have risen between young people in Chad’s central regions of Bahr el-Ghazal (BEG) and Kanem and the government. Friction is fuelled by Chad’s economic crisis and a series of abuses perpetrated against citizens in these regions by individuals close to the inner circles of power. The perceived impunity of those responsible has left many young people deeply humiliated. Restrictions on the movement of people from those regions, many of whom travel north and to Libya to find jobs, also exacerbate resentment. Growing anger at the state could empower rebel movements in neighbouring countries. To regain the trust of young people in BEG and Kanem, Chad’s authorities should demonstrate they can prosecute and punish those guilty of abuses, even those with powerful connections. They should avoid treating all migrants as potential rebels and ease restrictions on people’s movement. With donors’ help, the government should work to revive the economy of a region haemorrhaging young people who seek opportunities elsewhere.

With international attention in Chad focused on Boko Haram and ongoing conflicts in the northern Tibesti mountains between the Chadian army and Tebu (Teda) militias, the country’s central regions, including the semi-desert BEG and Kanem in the Sahel, have largely been ignored. The history of those regions diverges from that of other parts of Chad. While no local rebellion has ever gathered momentum there, those regions did contribute many fighters to different armed groups during the civil wars of the 1970s and 1980s. Even today, rebel Chadian forces based in southern Libya include several thousand combatants from Kanem and BEG. For some youth, joining such groups is less about gaining power than about improving their status in acutely unequal societies.

Following colonial practice, successive governments in N’Djamena have long supported local elites to maintain control over volatile regions. In BEG, economic and political elites from the Kreda – the region’s largest ethnic group – enjoy a privileged relationship with the state and actively promote or represent the ruling party. But over recent years, mounting discontent among young people increasingly drowns out their leaders’ appeals for calm.

BEG and Kanem citizens have recently been targeted in serious incidents involving individuals perceived to well-connected. These included the widely reported rape of a Kanem girl by sons of Chadian dignitaries and an armed assault on a convoy of prisoners from these regions by forces from the president’s Zaghawa ethnic group. While some of those responsible were prosecuted, some failed to serve their sentences and others face no repercussions. For a segment of youth in BEG and Kanem, this impunity is a source of humiliation.

The central regions are also among the poorest in Chad. Indicators of malnutrition and maternal and child health in BEG and Kanem have steadily worsened over the past twenty years and now rank among the lowest in the country. Chad’s financial crisis since 2014 has hit the populations of these areas especially hard. Falling oil prices and poor agro-pastoral production in 2017 and 2018, combined with deteriorating security, are hitting the local economy hard. In areas that are both isolated and highly dependent on trade with neighbouring countries, regional instability, a closed border with Nigeria since 2014 and intermittent closures of crossings to Libya, relaxed since early 2017, and Sudan have severely eroded the local population’s income.

As in Chad’s other Sahelian regions, BEG and Kanem suffer deep-seated struc-tural problems that are largely intractable in the short term.

BEG and Kanem have long had high emigration rates, but the political tensions and economic slump, combined with a gold rush since 2012 in Tibesti, Niger and Algeria, have driven increasing numbers of young men out of the Sahel into northern parts of Chad and neighbouring countries. Against a backdrop of insecurity in Tibesti since August 2018 and growing Chadian rebel movements in southern Libya, the government has a somewhat exaggerated fear that the high numbers of young men leaving the Sahel represent mass enlistment in rebel forces. State and local authorities have opted for a military response that involves tightening and increasing the number of checkpoints in the country’s far north and Sahel. But these measures have serious limitations: while the state’s fears are partly justified, local authorities too often conflate the majority of young people leaving to find employment with aspiring rebels, further widening the rift between those people and the state.

As in Chad’s other Sahelian regions, BEG and Kanem suffer deep-seated structural problems that are largely intractable in the short term. However, Chad’s authorities could take steps to help defuse tensions before they trigger a crisis. In particular, they should:

Ensure that those who commit crimes, especially those with alleged powerful connections, cannot exploit communal solidarity or political ties to avoid prison sentences, as has happened in the past. This requires implementing a recommendation from the November 2017 final report of the committee on reform of the Chadian state: namely, that although diya (blood money) and other traditional methods can be used to resolve certain disputes, “they should not interfere with public prosecutions, and that criminal responsibility is an individual rather than a collective matter”.

Adopt a more measured tone in public statements to avoid conflating economic migrants with potential rebels. Authorities should also replace current policies restricting the movement of a traditionally mobile Sahel population with a framework that permits such movement while retaining monitoring mechanisms, in particular checks of identity documents and vehicle searches to ensure travellers are not carrying weapons.

To help the population affected by the economic crisis, donors in Chad should:

  • Rebalance and expand their project portfolios to avoid concentrating aid exclusively around the Lake Chad basin and extend support to neighbouring regions such as BEG and Kanem.
  • Provide extra resources to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and others to better understand migratory movements in Chad and the needs of those tempted to emigrate, including young people from the Sahel, and better manage those who have returned. Despite significant international (and particularly European) interest in migrants heading to Europe, and considerable funds granted to Niger and Sudan, few studies have focused on Chadian migration into neighbouring countries.

Brussels/Nairobi, 5 December 2018

Chad: Defusing Tensions in the Sahel


I. Introduction

Located in the heart of the ancient empires of Kanem and Kanem-Bornou, which lasted from the eighth to the nineteenth century, Kanem still has a sultan with real administrative and traditional power. Alifa Mouta Ali Zezerti succeeded his deceased father in 2010 and became the 40th Sultan of Kanem. He is based in Mao, the region’s capital, 5km from Ndjimi, the Kanem Empire’s former capital.[fn]The new sultan holds an advanced economics diploma from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and was a bank manager in N’Djamena and adviser to the prime minister. The size of the crowd attending his inauguration ceremony in Mao in 2010 showed the importance of the sultan’s role in Kanem. The sultanate has a court of ten executive members in Mao and 76 tribal chiefs from all over Kanem are subject to the sultan’s authority.Hide Footnote But the sultanate is the last vestige of past grandeur. With the region’s economy now in a critical condition, many locals have a strong feeling of social decline and see Mao as a town frozen in time.

In 2008, Kanem was separated from Bahr el-Ghazal, which became an administrative region in its own right with Moussoro as capital city. Sparsely inhabited, Kanem and BEG are respectively home to 354,603 and 260,865 inhabitants, according to the 2009 census. The livelihoods of these sedentary and nomadic communities, almost exclusively Muslim, are essentially agricultural, with crops in the sand dunes and low-lying areas (wadis), livestock farming and nomadic herding. Bahr el-Ghazal is one of Chad’s main animal production regions.[fn]The “bahr” (“river” in Arabic) and today’s BEG “were originally part of the great wadi that crossed the region and flowed through the Ennedi plains and into Lake Chad”. “La résilience des pasteurs aux sécheresses, entre traditions et bouleversement, les ONG au défi des transhumances”, Urgence, réhabilitation, développement (URD), February 2011.Hide Footnote

The largest ethnic groups are the Dazagada (“those who speak the Daza language”), the Kanembu (“people from the South”) and Arabs. While the Kanembu outnumber any other ethnic group in Kanem and hold senior positions there, the Dazagada are more numerous in BEG.[fn]The Dazagada are a subgroup of the Goran and are sometimes called the Tebu of the south as opposed to the Tebu of the north, most of whom live in Tibesti and speak the Teda language.Hide Footnote In this report, we often mention the Kreda ethnic group, a subgroup of the Dazagada, with a strong presence in Moussoro. Their influence has increased significantly over the last twenty years in BEG and in Chad’s capital, N’Djamena.[fn]Nine of BEG’s fifteen cantons are under Kreda control, three are led by the Daza, one by a Kanembu and one by a Haddad.Hide Footnote The turbulent history of the Kanem and Kanem-Bornou empires contributed to the emergence of a clear division of labour and the hierarchy of social groups that is still present today. For example, the Haddad, literally “the blacksmiths”, long used as slaves, are still to some extent looked down on.

The location of this pivotal region between the Maghreb, and sub-Saharan Africa, and between western and eastern Sahel has made it a strategically important although largely neglected zone. This report, which continues Crisis Group’s coverage of unstable regions in the Sahel, tries to cast light on a politically sensitive area and to better understand local dynamics.[fn]See Crisis Group Africa Reports N°261, The Niger-Mali Border: Subordinating Military Action to a Political Strategy, 12 June 2018; N°258, Finding the Right Role for the G5 Sahel Joint Force, 12 December 2017; N°254, The Social Roots of Jihadist Violence in Burkina Faso’s North, 12 October 2017; and N°238, Central Mali: an Uprising in the Making?, 6 July 2016. Also see “Forced out of Towns in the Sahel, Africa’s Jihadists Go Rural”, Crisis Group Commentary, 11 January 2017.Hide Footnote Following Crisis Group’s report published in March 2017 on the threat posed by Boko Haram in the Lake Chad area, it makes recommendations designed to ease tensions in the Sahel that could spark violence locally or fuel rebellions on Chad’s borders.[fn]See Crisis Group Africa Report N°246, Fighting Boko Haram in Chad: Beyond Military Measures, 8 March 2017.Hide Footnote This study is based on many interviews conducted between February and November 2018 with residents of these regions, in Moussoro (BEG), Mao (Kanem) and N’Djamena, as well as in Paris with members of the Chadian diaspora.

II. Ambivalent Relations with N’Djamena

Inhabitants of central Chad have ambivalent and sometimes conflictual relations with N’Djamena. Although these regions form a solid electoral base for the governing party, there is also strong and growing social discontent that is not reflected in voting patterns and rarely spills over into the street.[fn]A demonstration against austerity measures took place in Mao before the 2016 presidential election. In addition, a “ghost town” operation was organised on 24 February 2016 in Mao, N’Djamena and Moundou in the country’s south, during which shops and schools remained closed and the local administration did not function. “Opération ‘ville morte’ au Tchad”, Deutsche Welle, 24 February 2016.Hide Footnote

Avant l’élection présidentielle de 2016, une manifestation contre les mesures d’austérité a toutefois été organisée à Mao. Une opération « ville morte » a aussi eu lieu le 24 février 2016 à Mao, comme à N’Djamena ou encore à Moundou au Sud du pays, au cours de laquelle les commerces et les écoles sont restés fermés et les administrations n’ont pas travaillé. « Opération “ville morte” au Tchad », Deutsche Welle, 24 février 2016.Hide Footnote

Anger is mounting in these regions.

Although the results of the 2016 presidential election do not exactly indicate how people actually voted, they showed that President Idriss Déby enjoyed a lot of support in Kanem and BEG.[fn]For more on the elections, see “Tchad : une nouvelle République sans Etat de droit ?”, Fondation pour la recherche stratégique, 20 June 2018.Hide Footnote His party, the Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS), is well established there and the only other consequential parties in the area – Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) and the Movement for Peace and Development in Chad (MPDT) – in a position of weakness, have once again made deals with the government to ensure their political survival. During the 2016 election campaign, many people marched under the banner of the MPS at large rallies in Moussoro, Chadra (southern BEG) and Salal (northern BEG).[fn]Crisis Group interview, young resident of BEG, Moussoro, March 2018.Hide Footnote

However, anger is mounting in these regions. Since 2016, Kanem and BEG citizens have been the victims of assaults by people connected to circles of power in N’Djamena who have enjoyed a degree of impunity, leaving locals deeply humiliated. Inhabitants also believe they do not receive their share of the country’s wealth even though the local elite’s income has increased dramatically since the oil boom. In this context, there is a widening gap between the elite and local people who see the latter as too close to the government.

A. Relations between the Sahel Regions and Central Government since the 1990s

The overthrow of President Hissène Habré and Déby’s rise to power in 1990 reshuffled the cards and provided a host of opportunities for the Sahel regions’ inhabitants. Some took advantage of these new circumstances more than others. In the 1990s, the Kreda economic elite from BEG built on its hostility toward former President Habré to move nearer to the new government. In contrast, Kanembu businessmen in Kanem, perceived to be close to Habré, feel that they have not benefited as much from the new political situation and have become to some extent resentful toward Déby.

1. Kanem

In Kanem, the start of the Déby era was marked by distrust between the Kanembu and the Gorans on the one hand and the new government on the other. Following the introduction of a multi-party system in 1990, many political movements appeared – close to 160 parties have been formed and legally recognised since then.[fn]Marielle Debos, Jérôme Tubiana, “Deby’s Chad, Political Manipulation at Home, Military Intervention Abroad, Challenging Times Ahead”, U.S. Institute for Peace, 12 December 2017.Hide Footnote For example, former Chadian President Lol Mahamat Choua (29 April-29 August 1979) formed the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) in 1991. Although many Chadians associate it with Kanem, it succeeded in mobilising many supporters outside the region in the 1990s.

The RDP quickly became one of the most important opposition parties in Chadian politics, sparking suspicion on the part of the authorities. According to RDP members, Idriss Déby considered the party to be an electoral threat and a political movement capable of attracting Habré’s supporters.[fn]Bichara Idriss Haggar, Les partis politiques et les mouvements d'oppositions armés de 1990 à 2012 (Paris, 2014).Hide Footnote N’Djamena also suspected Kanem’s business elite, close to the RDP, of funding the enemies of the governing party. Skilfully using a mixture of co-optation and repression, a well-tested scheme in Chad, the authorities arrested several party members and supporters, while others went into exile, in some cases forming their own armed groups.[fn]In the Sahel, as elsewhere in the country, the boom in the number of political parties at the start of the 1990s went hand in hand with the creation of many armed groups. For example, the National Council of Chadian Recovery (CNR) was formed in 1992 by Colonel Abbas Koty Yacoub and Bichara Idriss Haggar, leader of the RDP.Hide Footnote

After several decades of Déby’s rule, the context has radically changed and the RDP, like many opposition political parties, has migrated between different political positions, for more than ten years, mounting timid challenges to the government one moment and providing strong support the next. Shortly after criticising the changes to the constitution made in 2005, which removed the limit on the number of presidential terms of office, and after refusing to participate in the 2006 presidential election, the party negotiated an alliance with the MPS to secure positions in the government and seats in the National Assembly and ensure its political survival. In 2011, it joined the coalition formed by the MPS, “the Alliance for the Rebirth of Chad”, and supported the governing majority for the presidential election. In April 2018, its MPs voted for the new constitution, which has greatly reduced the role and power of parliament and removed other checks and balances.[fn]“Le Tchad adopte une nouvelle constitution renforçant le pouvoir du président”, Le Monde, 1 May 2018. For an analysis of the constitution, see “Tchad: une nouvelle République sans Etat de droit?”, op. cit.Hide Footnote

But this opportunistic political rapprochement between Kanem’s historic political party and the MPS does not hide the local population’s discontent. The Kanembu, the region’s largest ethnic group, believe they have not benefited from advantageous business positions as much as their Kreda neighbours since Déby took power. They feel they are losing economic and social status and are voicing their bitterness toward the Chadian government.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, young people and economic actors in Kanem, Mao; politician from Kanem, N’Djamena, March 2018.Hide Footnote The economic crisis that has hit Kanem so hard in recent years reinforces this sense of decline in the region, which used to be at the heart of the powerful Kanem-Bornou Empire.

The current Sédigui oil project and Rig-Rig gas project in northern Kanem have raised expectations and prompted a certain amount of hope among the population.[fn]“Idriss veut faire du Kanem un nouveau centre pétrolier”, Africa Energy Intelligence, 7 November 2017.Hide Footnote Representatives of youth and women’s associations said they had been consulted during regional action committees chaired by the governor, while the companies involved in these projects announced a wave of local recruitment for the end of 2018.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, diplomat, representatives of Mao youth association, N’Djamena, September 2018. The regional action committee is responsible for formulating and monitoring social development policies in the region.Hide Footnote Although work has begun on these projects, the timetable is uncertain and doubts persist about their feasibility, especially given the security threats in the area.

2. Bahr el-Ghazal (BEG)

Since 1990, some elites from BEG’s largest ethnic group, the Kreda, have made common cause with President Déby. The participation of many Kreda in the rebellion led by the Transitional Government of National Unity (GUNT), under or alongside former Chadian President Goukouni Weddeye (1979-1982) and their open hostility toward Habré at the end of his rule naturally led them to maintain good relations with the person who overthrew him, Idriss Déby.[fn]Crisis Group interview, politician, N’Djamena, February 2018.Hide Footnote The new political situation quickly opened up new economic perspectives for the Kreda and allowed the government to keep some level of control over a region that had reputedly been politically sensitive ever since the colonial period.

Sectors of BEG’s youth living in Moussoro, Salal and neighbouring villages are angry with their leaders and tempted by various forms of resistance.

Some Kreda benefited from business projects in N’Djamena and their activities prospered in the 1990s. Taking advantage of interest-free credit and their political connections, successful merchants took over much of the hardware trade.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, politician and economic actor, N’Djamena, March 2018.Hide Footnote From 2007 onward, the region’s major economic operators, specialising in the construction, fuel distribution and service sectors, also benefited from the oil boom and the launch of a major public works program. They obtained many public sector contracts and import licences.

The relationship is also political. Almost all Bahr el-Ghazal’s deputies are members of the MPS. Meanwhile, the BEG elites that live in N’Djamena promote support for the MPS at home, as in the last presidential election. “In Moussoro, as elsewhere, people fight to get a prominent position in the MPS”, said one young person.[fn]Crisis Group, BEG resident, Moussoro, March 2018.Hide Footnote In fact, the MPS has more clients than genuine militants and being chosen to represent the party locally is often the start of a political career.[fn]Crisis Group interview, economic actor, N’Djamena, November 2017.Hide Footnote

The Movement for Peace and Development in Chad (MPDT), formed in 1993 by Mahamat Abdulaye Mahamat and supported by BEG’s Kreda business elite, has never had much political influence and quickly allied itself with the government. In 2005, it was one of the only parties not to oppose the constitutional changes introduced by the MPS. Arrested in 2009 following telephone conversations with Chadian rebels in Libya, Mahamat Abdulaye Mahamat went into exile in Senegal but returned in 2016 and is again a government ally.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former civil servant originally from BEG, N’Djamena, March 2018.Hide Footnote

But Déby’s good relations with the Kreda elite have also served his aim to maintain control over the people of BEG, considered to be recalcitrant ever since the colonial period.[fn]Letter from Colonel Ducarre to the district commander, dated 1920 and reproduced in Joubert Georges, “le Faki Naïm”, Bulletin de la société des recherches congolaises, n°24, November 1937.Hide Footnote Moussoro’s military base is one of Chad’s largest and has turned Moussoro into a garrison town with many checkpoints. To contain insecurity in the region and manage the sharp tensions between the National and Nomadic Guard of Chad (GNNT) and the rest of the population, the president has several times dispatched his uncle there – General Mahamat Saleh Brahim, head of the GNNT until 2009 and nicknamed “proconsul” in Moussoro.[fn]Crisis Group interview, BEG resident, N’Djamena, March 2018. The GNNT’s main mission is to provide security in rural areas, particularly by safeguarding transit along transhumance corridors for herders, stopping cattle theft and patrolling national parks.Hide Footnote Moreover, as explain below, the close relationship between BEG’s elite and the government can be deceptive: sectors of BEG’s youth living in Moussoro, Salal and neighbouring villages are angry with their leaders and tempted by various forms of resistance.

B. Co-option: A Flawed Strategy

Although power in Chad is in practice concentrated in the hands of the Zaghawa, the president’s ethnic group, the government has been able to broaden its support base by co-opting elites from a range of ethnic groups and regions.[fn]“Deby’s Chad, Political Manipulation at Home, Military Intervention Abroad, Challenging Times Ahead», op. cit.Hide Footnote Of the Sahel groups, the Kreda have played their cards well. The most striking case is undoubtedly that of Abakar Tahïr Moussa, Chief Executive Officer of the Almanna group, with interests in construction, oil services and commerce.[fn]“Tchad: trois patrons en béton”, Jeune Afrique, 28 April 2014.Hide Footnote This Kreda businessman who returned from Saudi Arabia in 1996 is now one of the most important figures in Chad’s economy. An early member of the MPS, he became its treasurer and is said to have used his own money to support Idriss Déby’s presidential campaign in his region in 2016.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society, Moussoro and N’Djamena, March 2018.Hide Footnote

BEG’s Kreda have also won political space and are well represented in the country’s most important ministries and key institutions. For example, foreign Minister Cherif Mahamat Zene, reappointed to the fourth republic’s first government (formed in May 2018), Mahamat Ahmat Choukou, former president of the Constitutional Council and Ali Kouloutou Chaini, president of the MPS’s parliamentary group are all Kreda from BEG.[fn]“Le Tchad promulgue sa nouvelle constitution et passe à la 4ème République”, Radio France Internationale (RFI), 5 May 2018.Hide Footnote

« Le Tchad promulgue sa nouvelle constitution et passe à la 4ème République », Radio France Internationale (RFI), 5 mai 2018.Hide Footnote

The Kreda’s influence is greatest in the security sector.

But the Kreda’s influence is greatest in the security sector. Ali Souleymane Bachar and Kedallah Younouss Hamidi served as ministers of Territorial Administration several times between 2010 and 2017 and the former was director-general of the police in 2010. In the last few years, the changing situation in Libya has become a priority for N’Djamena and Déby has surrounded himself with men who know that country and the rebels based there. For example, Jiddi Saleh, who spent time in exile in Libya and Algeria in the 1980s at the side of former Chadian President Goukouni Weddeye, led the National Security Agency (ANS) between 2012 and 2016. Sometimes nicknamed Déby’s “securocrat”, he currently holds the strategic position of national security adviser to the president.[fn]“Deby’s Chad, Political Manipulation at Home, Military Intervention Abroad, Challenging Times Ahead”, op. cit.Hide Footnote Issa Ali Taher, who also comes from BEG, was director of the president’s civilian cabinet, before being dismissed in May 2018.[fn]Crisis Group interview, BEG resident, N’Djamena, February 2018.Hide Footnote His contacts with rebels in southern Libya and his great knowledge of the country, where he used to live, have made him a key adviser for the government.

The Chadian government uses these elites to keep these regions under its indirect control.[fn]See Crisis Group Africa Briefing N°78, Chad’s North West: The Next High-risk Area?, 17 February 2011.Hide Footnote With weak local government in BEG, as it is in many other regions in the country’s interior, the government relies on those who offer loyalty to extend its control.[fn]Marielle Debos, Le métier des armes au Tchad. Le gouvernement de l’entre-guerres (Paris, 2013).Hide Footnote In the case of Moussoro, this particularly means business people, who intervene regularly to resolve local conflicts, sometimes at the request of the local authorities, whose legitimacy is often challenged. They also have the power to demand the departure of governors or prefects when these are criticised by the population.

In Chad, there are frequent ministerial reshuffles and governorships are “short-term” contracts. This instability is used deliberately and politically to remain in control but also reflects disagreements between the local authorities and the population. This is particularly true of the region of Bahr el-Ghazal, which since its creation in 2008, has had thirteen governors, who have often been forced out following complaints by local people and pressures from local elites. A former governor privately stated: “we are supposed to be the guardians of public authority but in reality, that is not the case. People call their relatives [in the administration] in N’Djamena to put pressure on us”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, N’Djamena, March 2018.Hide Footnote

The BEG and Kanem elites maintain a relationship with the government that allows them to have a voice in local disputes. But they also attract criticism from the population, which accuses them of supporting the Zaghawa against local people and acting dishonourably in order to “get rich”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, BEG resident, N’Djamena, February 2018.Hide Footnote The youth in BEG is increasingly deaf when the elite tries to persuade them that “we are in the regime’s good books, do not spoil this opportunity”, and their relationship with central government is creating palpable tension.

III. Mounting Tensions in the Region

A. Abuses against BEG and Kanem Citizens

Since 2016, tension between the government and the populations of Kanem and BEG has been rising, fuelled by a series of abuses by individuals close to the inner circles of power.

The case of Zouhoura, a sixteen year-old girl from Kanem, raped by the sons of government dignitaries in N’Djamena in February 2016 caused deep shock and great anger in the country.[fn]“Tchad: quand un viol devient une affaire d’Etat”, Libération, 23 February 2016.Hide Footnote The girl publicly asked for the perpetrators of the assault to be punished. Thousands of people called for “justice for Zouhoura” at demonstrations in several cities, including N’Djamena and Mao, and the affair became politically important in the middle of the electoral period. In response to the popular protest, just a few weeks before the presidential election, the president was forced to speak out and condemn the assault; he reassured “the country’s girls and mothers that justice will be done”.[fn]“Viol d’une jeune fille au Tchad, un acte ignoble, selon Idriss Déby”, RFI, 16 February 2016.Hide Footnote On 30 June 2016, Chad’s criminal court sentenced several culprits to ten years in prison.[fn]“Tchad: dix ans de prison pour les violeurs de Zouhoura”, Le Monde, 1 July 2016.Hide Footnote

For the people of Kanem and BEG, this was not an isolated incident. In November 2016, several people died in intercommunal clashes between Zaghawa, the president’s ethnic group, and Kreda in Ngueli, in N’Djamena’s 9th district, after a fight broke out between two adolescents at the end of a football match. Two days later, armed men, allegedly Zaghawa, opened fire on a crowd that had come to pay their respects at the funeral, killing five people.[fn]“5 morts à Nguéli dans un affrontement intercommunautaire”, Tchad infos, 26 November 2016.Hide Footnote

In April 2017, another incident added to the list of Kreda grievances against the Zaghawa. Armed men attacked a convoy of prisoners at Massaguet on the way to Koro Toro, killing a dozen detainees, mainly Kreda. Their target was a Kreda colonel and his bodyguards, accused of killing the Zaghawa General Adam Touba, their commanding officer in the joint Chad-Sudan force.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, politicians and members of civil society, N’Djamena, March 2018. Composed of several thousand troops deployed on the Chad-Sudan border, the joint force was created after Chad and Sudan normalised relations and signed an agreement on the security of their joint border in January 2010.Hide Footnote Many young Kreda felt deeply humiliated and reacted angrily to the ambush.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, young Kanem and BEG residents, Moussoro, Mao, March 2018.Hide Footnote The perpetrators of the armed assault were sentenced to life imprisonment at the end of June 2018 but the people who ordered the attack reportedly remain free.[fn]“Tchad: les auteurs de la tuerie de Massaguet condamnés à perpétuité”, Tchad infos, 25 June 2018.Hide Footnote

In this context, the Kreda elite’s efforts to calm down young people in BEG have been less and less successuful. For example, after the clashes in Ngueli, young Kreda, against the advice of their elders, asked the victims’ families to refuse the diya (a standard way of settling accounts in the Sahel) proposed by the Zaghawa families.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Kreda economic actors and politicians, N’Djamena, February 2018. The diya is the sum of money due in compensation for a crime or accident. It aims to settle disputes between the parties and avoid vendettas.Hide Footnote They preferred to raise money themselves to support the grieving families. Refusal of the diya is unuusal, especially among the Kreda. After the attack on the convoy, young Kreda also dissuaded the victims’ families from organising a ceremony of remembrance and suggested that they refuse to accept the condolences offered by government representatives.[fn]At a community meeting organised after the Ngueli incident, young Kreda called Zouhoura's father a traitor and refused to allow him to speak because of his support for Idriss Déby in the 2016 presidential election. Crisis Group interviews, politicians and members of civil society from BEG, N’Djamena, March 2018.Hide Footnote

Lors d’une réunion communautaire organisée après l’incident de Ngueli, les jeunes Kreda ont également qualifié le père de Zouhoura de traître, lui refusant la parole, pour avoir soutenu Idriss Déby lors de l’élection présidentielle de 2016. Entretiens de Crisis Group, acteurs politiques et de la société civile originaires du BEG, N’Djamena, mars 2018.Hide Footnote

The perpetrators of some attacks feel protected by their connections with the country’s leaders.

In the past, violence in Chad has often been triggered by one-off local events.[fn]Le métier des armes au Tchad. Le gouvernement de l’entre-guerres, op. cit.Hide Footnote Seemingly unrelated to the political debate in N’Djamena, these events reflect, however, the balance of forces and who holds power in Chadian society. The perpetrators of some attacks feel protected by their connections with the country’s leaders. In this context, attacks against people from BEG and Kanem by individuals close to the inner circles of power crystallise resentment and fuel a simplistic popular anti-Zaghawa discourse. Following these attacks, messages calling on young Kreda to join the rebellion in Libya circulated widely on social media. According to several senior government officials originally from BEG and Kanem, these incidents and the impunity enjoyed by some of the perpetrators and planners have led to growing local support for rebel groups in southern Libya.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, government officials originally from BEG and Kanem, N’Djamena and Moussoro, March 2018.Hide Footnote One such person was Zouhoura’s uncle, who left for Libya set on “avenging his niece”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, young man, Moussoro, March 2018.Hide Footnote

Entretien de Crisis Group, jeune homme, Moussoro, mars 2018.Hide Footnote

B. A Regional Economy in the Red

The BEG and Kanem regions suffer the constraints associated with the Sahelian environment; deep-rooted gender inequalities, lack of public investment in basic services and the relative absence of humanitarian and development organisations.[fn]“Analyse qualitative des causes de la malnutrition, Grand Kanem, Tchad”, Action against Hunger (Action contre la faim), May 2012.Hide Footnote Although close to N’Djamena, these regions are difficult to access. The lack of infrastructure and the long distances between the villages and administrative centres make travelling difficult. In Mao, Kanem’s capital, historic inertias linked to the role of the Sultanin decision-making also discourages investments.

The Sahel regions are among the poorest in the country and every year register alarming malnutrition rates and maternal and child health indicators.[fn]Ibid. Hide Footnote This discourages international donors, who humanitarian actors say, no longer want to heavily fund NGOs for regions like Kanem and BEG “because these indicators have not improved for the last fifteen years and there is a chronic malnutrition crisis”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, humanitarian actor, N’Djamena, February 2018. “La résilience des pasteurs aux sécheresses, entre traditions et bouleversement, les ONG au défi des transhumances”, op. cit.Hide Footnote

In addition to these deep-rooted structural problems, the difficulties faced by BEG and Kanem residents also have more proximate causes: the financial crisis affecting Chad since 2014, caused by the drop in oil prices; poor agro-pastoral production in 2017/2018; a fall in cereal production (minus 27 per cent in Kanem, 20 per cent in BEG) in the same period; and, most importantly, the growing regional insecurity. Closure of Chad’s borders with Nigeria, the Central African Republic (CAR) and, intermittently, with Libya and Sudan, has hindered economic activities in these remote areas, which are very dependent on trade with neighbouring countries.

In a previous report, Crisis Group described the impact of Boko Haram’s activities on the populations around Lake Chad and on Sahel herders, including the closure of the border between Chad and Nigeria in 2014 and the implementation of a state of emergency, which, although not officially renewed, has in reality been maintained on the ground.[fn]Crisis Group Report, Fighting Boko Haram in Chad: Beyond Military Measures, op. cit.Hide Footnote In a country where 80 per cent of exported cattle is traditionally sold in Nigeria, restrictions on movements on the lake and the interruption of trade with neighbouring Bornou has had a considerable effect on the trade of livestock, which are traditionally transported on foot, and has caused a major pastoral crisis. Herders take longer routes to go to neighbouring countries or are forced to sell their animals in Chad at a very low price, up to 50 per cent less in the case of cattle.[fn]Crisis Group interview, humanitarian actor, N’Djamena, February 2018.Hide Footnote

Herders’ income has fallen drastically, and their main assests cattle, are threatened. In response, several humanitarian donors, including the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), have funded animal stock reduction projects by buying animals at the usual market price for re-selling as dry meat. Although these projects are very useful, they are limited in scale and account for only a few thousand head of cattle.[fn]Ibid. Hide Footnote

Ibid.Hide Footnote

The intermittent and only partially effective closure of the border between Chad and Libya and the establishment of a military operations zone in northern Chad in January 2017 have also hindered trade and increased the cost of imported food and manufactured goods in BEG and Kanem. Indeed, these regions, although they are close to N’Djamena, traditionally have close links with Libya for supplies and trade. In Moussoro and Mao, the largest markets are known as “Libyan markets” and these towns act as a trading link between southern Libya and the Chadian capital.[fn]Karine Bennafla, Le commerce frontalier en Afrique centrale, acteurs, espaces, pratiques, (Paris, 2002).Hide Footnote Many retail traders from N’Djamena regularly visit Mao and Moussoro to buy products imported from Libya. The reduction in trade with Libya has therefore had an impact on the income of residents of these trading towns.

C. Intra-religious Divides

Unlike neighbouring countries such as Nigeria, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Sudan, Chad, where Muslims account for about 55 per cent of the population and Christians for about 40 per cent, has not been affected by sectarian violence. But Chad attracts a large number of missionaries, for example evangelical churches in the south of the country and Wahhabi movements, a term roughly referring to those who support a strict interpretation of Islam in Chad.

The strong presence of Wahhabism in BEG sometimes generates low-level local tensions and forms part of a wider struggle for influence among the country’s Muslim communities.[fn]Wahhabism is a doctrine founded in the eighteenth century in the Arabian peninsula by Muhammad Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab. It is based on the “uniqueness of God” and “a critique of the cult of saints and Sufism”. In central Africa, the word “Wahhabism” has taken on a generic meaning and is used to describe all tendencies of Islam that preach a return to a pure version of the religion, stripped of traditional practices deemed unacceptable. This report uses the expression “Wahhabi” in this sense, common in Chad. But those who are described as “Wahhabis” generally prefer to be called “Sunnis” because they say that they represent the only true Islam.Hide Footnote Since the 1990s, national authorities and the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (CSAI), the official body representing Muslims in Chad, traditionally led by a Sufi, have voiced their fears about the strong growth in these regions of Wahhabi groups sponsored by the Islamic organisation Ansar al-Sunna.[fn]Ansar al-Sunna is an Islamic organisation with a presence in Egypt, Sudan and Chad, which says it is inspired by Wahhabism. The Sufi majority in Chad is hostile toward their proselytising, but Wahhabis have never used violence to extend their support base. “Deby’s Chad, Political Manipulation at Home, Military Intervention Abroad, Challenging Times Ahead”, op. cit.Hide Footnote They are particularly successful among the Kreda, who have a long history of trade with Saudi Arabia and are well represented in the Chadian diaspora in the country’s capital Riyad.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, religious leaders, politicians, civil society actors, N’Djamena, February 2018.Hide Footnote

Entretiens de Crisis Group, responsables religieux, hommes politiques, acteurs de la société civile, N’Djamena, février 2018.Hide Footnote

Since the 2015 N’Djamena bombings, Chadian authorities have been trying to strengthen their control over the religious landscape

While visiting Moussoro several years ago, President Déby reportedly urged members of Ansar al-Sunna “not to beg the Arabs [Saudis] for money with which to destabilise Chad”.[fn]Crisis Group telephone interview, member of the Kreda elite, July 2018.Hide Footnote Sheikh Hissein Hassan Abakar, a former CSAI president who died in January 2018, had acrimonious relations with Wahhabis and reportedly alerted the American embassy in Chad as early as 2007 about the religious activism of Ansar al-Sunna representatives in the Gulf countries and the propaganda messages broadcast on their radio station, Al-Bayane.[fn]“Grand Imam voices concern over extremists’ ‘new strategy’in Chad”, U.S. embassy N’Djamena cable, 4 June 2007, as published by WikiLeaks, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/07NDJAMENA455_a.html.Hide Footnote Meanwhile, “Wahhabis” have long criticised official Islamic bodies in Chad and viewed the CSAI as a Sufi organisation that seeks to contain their growth.

Since the 2015 N’Djamena bombings, Chadian authorities have been trying to strengthen their control over the religious landscape by banning burqas and turbans, keeping a watch on some neighbourhood mosques, Friday sermons, Quranic teachings and radio broadcasts.[fn]For more information on these attacks and the response of the Chadian state to tighten security, see Crisis Group Africa Report N°233, Chad: Between Ambition and Fragility, 30 March 2016.Hide Footnote Several associations led by citizens of Moussoro, such as Ansar al-Sunna al-Mohamadiya, have been dissolved or suspended because they allegedly “posed a threat to public order”.[fn]Website of the U.S. embassy in Chad, consulted in September 2015, http://french.chad.usembassy.gov/rapport_sur_la_li bert_de_religion.html.Hide Footnote A number of mosques have also been closed in BEG and public officials have been appointed on Moussoro’s community radio in order to tackle sectarian excesses.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former local official in Moussoro, N’Djamena, February 2018.Hide Footnote State authorities have also been promoting “Chadian Islam”, that they see as represented by various forms of Sufism. Many Kreda supporters of Ansar al-Sunna consider that these messages and actions have stigmatised their community.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Moussoro residents, citizens from BEG, Moussoro and N’Djamena, March 2018.Hide Footnote

In Moussoro, Salal and N’Djamena’s Diguel neighbourhood, where many Kreda live, people have instigated forms of passive resistance to these measures: mosques are built without CSAI’s authorisation, and therefore illegally;[fn]Crisis Group interview, former BEG local official, N’Djamena, February 2018.Hide Footnote many women defy the full veil’s ban; and dissolved associations re-form under different names in order to continue as before.[fn]The government has previously introduced similar measures. In 1997, 30 religious associations were dissolved for allegedly posing a threat to public order. In May 2006, Chad banned or suspended the activities of the following associations: Mountada al-Islamia, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), the charitable foundation Moukarrama de la Mecque and the Haramain, another charity, accusing them of promoting violence for religious purposes. Crisis Group interview, diplomat, N’Djamena, August 2015. See Ladiba Gondeu, L’émergence des organisations islamiques au Tchad. Enjeux, acteurs et territoires (Paris, 2011).Hide Footnote However, Idriss Déby de-escalated tensions by calling for calm in his statements made in 2017, and by asking the CSAI to resume dialogue with those representing different branches of Islam. The CSAI’s new leadership, appointed in April 2018 after the death of Sheikh Hissein Hassan Abakar, includes members of Ansar al-Sunna.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former political actor from Moussoro, N’Djamena, March 2018.Hide Footnote

Unlike in Sudan, where members of Ansar al-Sunna occupy government positions and influence the political agenda, in Chad, this current’s growing influence has been relatively harmless politically. But advances made by movements espousing stricter interpretations of Islam have had repercussions on society. Sufi students in N’Djamena told Crisis Group: “people don’t talk to each other as much as they used to, they greet each other less”; “they think we’re bad Muslims”.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, N’Djamena, March 2018.Hide Footnote Antagonism between Sufis and Wahhabis has created tensions in Moussoro. The stricter currents also reject the Sufi-organised prayers for rain and celebrations of the prophet’s anniversary. On a local level, however, these differences have not led to conflict.

In terms of security, intra-religious tensions have not been the driving force of Chad’s armed opposition based in neighbouring countries, even though some rebels have occasionally used religious references to add weight to their criticism of the authorities. Before his arrest in 2017 in Niger, the former leader of the Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic (CCMSR), Mahamat Hassane Boulmaye, originally from BEG, criticised Idriss Déby and BEG officials close to the inner circles of power for being bad Muslims, based on the Suras in the Quran and on the Hadiths.[fn]“Cadres musulmans du Tchad, avez-vous posé la question : qu’est-ce que le Dajjal ?” and “Le dispote Idriss Déby, peut-il être un démon ?”, Python-News blog (phyton-news.over-blog.com), 29 and 30 September 2015. “Le Niger s’apprête à extrader le rebelle tchadien Mahamat Hassan Boulmaye”, RFI, 19 October 2017.Hide Footnote Several sources who were close to Boulmaye admit privately that the former leader was not a devout Muslim and that he used religious references simply as a means of mobilising support.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, former rebels, N’Djamena, March 2018 and Paris, October 2018.Hide Footnote

Young men and intellectuals close to Ansar al-Sunna, sometimes from BEG, have joined rebels in Libya.[fn]According to a former Chadian rebel who tried unsuccessfully to play a leading role in the CCMSR rebellion in Libya, unlike other Chadian armed groups based in southern Libya, the religious angle is an important way of gaining access to this group, allowing combatants to form alliances in southern Libya. Crisis Group interviews, religious leader, N’Djamena, March 2018; former Chadian rebel, Paris, October 2018.Hide Footnote Abderaman Issa, a former Kreda parliamentarian from the Movement for Peace and Development in Chad (MPDT), and also a professor and researcher in contemporary history at the N’Djamena University and the King Faisal University, reportedly joined the rebels before being arrested with Boulmaye in Niger in 2017.[fn]Crisis Group interview, religious leader, N’Djamena, March 2018.Hide Footnote

The strong presence of so-called Wahhabi currents in BEG is certainly a cause for concern among Sufi religious leaders in Chad, but is also straining relationships between local and national authorities and movements with close ties to Ansar al-Sunna.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, senior Chadian civil servant and religious leader, N’Djamena, September 2015 and March 2018.Hide Footnote Locally, however, tensions between Sufis and Wahhabis are still at a low level and a large majority of those interviewed in Moussoro and N’Djamena say that they have not yet seen the potential for religious conflict in the Sahel.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, youth associations, officials, economic actors, teachers, students, members of humanitarian NGOs, Moussoro and N’Djamena, March 2018.Hide Footnote

Entretiens de Crisis Group, associations de jeunes, fonctionnaires, acteurs économiques, professeurs, étudiants, membres d’ONG humanitaires, Moussoro et N’Djamena, mars 2018.Hide Footnote

IV. The Sahel’s Itinerant Youth

To a far greater extent than intra-religious tensions, the economic crisis combined with the strained political and security situation currently affecting the Kanem and BEG regions are driving young men to leave for the north and neighbouring countries, in particular Libya. Unlike the few Chadians departing from the south, east and N’Djamena who sometimes aim to reach Europe, most of the young people from Kanem and BEG who go to Libya choose to stay there.[fn]In the Western discourse on migration, Chad is presented as a linchpin in curtailing African migration toward Europe. Idriss Déby’s participation in various international (particularly European) summits on migration indicates the wish to involve N’Djamena in the strategy to bring migration flows under control. But although other Africans pass through Chad on their way to Europe via Libya, and increasingly so after the tightening of controls in Agadez in Niger, the country is not – unlike Niger or Sudan – located on a busy migration route. Europeans spend far more money on efforts to control migration in Niger and Sudan than in Chad, where very few projects related to migration have materialised. See “Chad: the unexpected migration debate”, Deutsche Welle, 27 November 2017 and “Multilateral Damage: The Impact of EU Migration Policies on Central Saharan Routes”, Clingendael (Netherlands Institute of International Relations), September 2018.Hide Footnote

The Chadian state broadly conflates migrations from Kanem and BEG to Libya with mass enlistment in rebel forces. Actions taken by local and national authorities to curtail emigration primarily aim to reduce the number of young men joining the Chadian armed groups based in southern Libya. But the government’s fears are exaggerated and the reality is more complex. Many Chadians traditionally leave for Libya to find work and send remittances to their families in Chad. For many households in the Sahel area of Chad, these money transfers constitute the main source of income. Most of the young men interviewed by Crisis Group in Moussoro and Mao express their wish to leave for Libya to find work, often with the help of other family members already living there.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, young people from BEG and Kanem, Mao, Moussoro, March 2018.Hide Footnote Migration therefore serves to redistribute resources.[fn]“Analyse qualitative des causes de la malnutrition, Grand Kanem, Tchad”, op. cit. Crisis Group interviews, BEG and Kanem citizens, N’Djamena, March 2018.Hide Footnote

« Analyse qualitative des causes de la malnutrition, Grand Kanem, Tchad », op. cit. Entretiens de Crisis Group, ressortissants du BEG et du Kanem, N’Djamena, mars 2018.Hide Footnote

A. Increasing Migration

Both the Kanem and BEG regions have historically had some of the highest emigration rates in Chad. Initially, people left for political or security-related reasons, but since the 1970s economic and environmental factors have become the main drivers. Due to the severe droughts of 1973 and 1984, many families left for large cities such as N’Djamena or for southern Chad, or alternatively headed to Saudi Arabia (via Sudan), Nigeria and Libya. Among Chadians in Riyadh, the Kreda and the Kanembu probably are the most numerous. Most of them are reportedly employed in odd jobs. More than 80,000 Chadians, mostly men, are believed to be living in Libya and mainly work as farmers and traders.[fn]“Mobilités au Tchad, infographie des mobilités sur le territoire tchadien”, International Organization for Migration (IOM), May 2018.Hide Footnote

« Mobilités au Tchad, infographie des mobilités sur le territoire tchadien », Organisation internationale pour les migrations (OIM), mai 2018.Hide Footnote

1. Drivers of migration over the past decade

The discovery of gold deposits from 2012 onward in Tibesti (northern Chad), Niger, North Darfur (Sudan), southern Algeria and southern Libya, and in 2015 in the Batha region (central Chad), has triggered a gold rush and led more people to migrate. In Algeria, where artisanal gold mining is prohibited, many Chadian gold miners – some of whom came from BEG and Kanem – were even arrested some years ago. At that time, the Chadian justice minister intervened personally to request their release, but by then some had already died in prison.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, BEG citizens, N’Djamena, March 2018.Hide Footnote

Entretiens de Crisis Group, ressortissants du BEG, N’Djamena, mars 2018.Hide Footnote

Despite being banned, gold mining in the Tibesti region continues to attract large numbers of Chadians as well as foreigners.

Despite being banned, gold mining in the Tibesti region continues to attract large numbers of Chadians as well as foreigners, some of whom arrive via clandestine people-smuggling networks.[fn]“Mobilités au Tchad, infographie des mobilités sur le territoire tchadien”, op. cit.Hide Footnote The shift of some migration routes toward the Tibesti gold mines shows the importance of these new crossing points during migrants’ journeys toward Fezzan in Libya.[fn]There are various migration routes in Chad. To the west, migrants take the N’Djamena-Faya-Largeau route to reach Zouarké; others pass through Mao and head directly for Zouarké along the Chad-Niger; finally, since 2013, Chadians as well as Sudanese pass through Kalaït and Faya-Largeau before reaching the mining area of Kouri Bougoudi, and then continuing toward Libya. Potential migrants sometimes delay their onward journeys due to the money to be made in the mines. “Multilateral Damage: The Impact of EU Migration Policies on Central Saharan Routes”, op. cit., and “Migrations mixtes au Tchad”, Altaï Consulting for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (HCR), January 2018.Hide Footnote However, the extreme tensions in Tibesti since October 2018 and the confrontations between the army, heavily deployed in the country’s north, and the Teda self-defence groups near the gold-mining areas, could have a strong impact on these migrations.

Recent security developments have also affected these dynamics. Chadians flocked back to their country of origin after the start of the Libyan civil war in 2011; many have lost everything they had acquired over decades in Libya. According to humanitarian organisations supporting their reinsertion, tens of thousands of people fled the violence and resettled in Kanem or BEG in 2011.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, humanitarian actors, N’Djamena, March 2018.Hide Footnote These returnees who had previously sent considerable sums of money back home became a burden for their families. Faced with a drastic fall in living standards and the difficulty in adapting from a modern, urban lifestyle to an arid, rural environment, many decided to head back to Libya despite the continued insecurity.[fn]Ibid. Hide Footnote

In times of economic crisis, migration becomes the most effective way for people to improve their standard of living.[fn]“Analyse qualitative des causes de la malnutrition, Grand Kanem, Tchad”, op. cit.Hide Footnote Most of the young unemployed population from the BEG and Kanem regions make these journeys to become economically self-sufficient, to get married or to improve their social status. Migrating abroad is considered a better financial move than relocating to a different part of Chad. For young people engaged in trade between Chad’s Sahelian regions and Libya, the aftermath of the overthrow of Qadhafi has even opened up new opportunities. “I work in the car trade between Sebha and Moussoro. Since 2011, there has been more cars for sale. I can now find a Hilux for FCFA3 or 4 million ($5,260 to $7,014) in southern Libya”, said ayoung retail trader from Moussoro, adding: “To protect myself, I buy a weapon as soon as I cross the border into Libya because there are no security checks over there”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, young retail trader, Moussoro, March 2018.Hide Footnote

Entretien de Crisis Group, jeune commerçant, Moussoro, mars 2018.Hide Footnote

2. An upward trend in 2017 and 2018

Emigration from Kanem, BEG and the neighbouring Batha region intensified in 2017-2018.[fn]“Mobilités au Tchad, infographie des mobilités sur le territoire tchadien”, op. cit.Hide Footnote Humanitarian NGOs have confirmed this trend and reported ever more households impacted by migration in these areas: “When we ask women if we can give them a medicine, many say that they first need to call their husbands who are abroad”.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, humanitarian actors, N’Djamena, March 2018.Hide Footnote

Highly conservative estimates by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which has set up two monitoring posts to assess the flow of migrants in Zouarké and Faya-Largeau in northern Chad, more than 2,000 people crossed into Libya via Zouarké just in March 2018. Chadians are also travelling in the opposite direction back to Chad, driven by the insecurity in Libya.[fn]The IOM recorded 3,600 Chadians who have returned from Libya during this same month. “Mobilités au Tchad, infographie des mobilités sur le territoire tchadien”, op. cit.Hide Footnote The conflict between the Tebu and Awlad Suleiman groups for control over the southern Libyan town of Sebha in 2018 has undoubtedly reinforced this trend.[fn]Crisis Group telephone interviews, Chadian civil society actors, researcher, July 2018. Members of Awlad Suleiman, sometimes supported by the national Libyan army led by Khalifa Haftar, regularly accuse the Tebu of participating actively in Chadian rebel movements in Libya.Hide Footnote

Chadians are not the only people increasingly on the move. Although Chad is not located on one of the main migratory routes toward Europe and the flows of people there are limited, tighter controls in recent years in Niger (particularly in Agadez) and Sudan – two traditional routes – have encouraged some migrants from West and East Africa to take their chances via Chad. Senegalese, Liberians, Somalians, Eritreans, Malians and Sudanese en route to Libya are now making detours via Chad.[fn]“Multilateral Damage: The Impact of EU Migration Policies on Central Saharan Routes”, op. cit.Hide Footnote Unlike most young Chadians from the Sahel who are not aiming to reach Europe, these other nationalities – as well as Chadians from the south, N’Djamena and eastern parts of the country – often want to cross the Mediterranean.

Mao is in fact known as a crossing point for southern Chadians who are trying to reach the Mediterranean coast:

People smugglers make contact with the Chadians who want to go to Europe. When they arrive in Mao, these people are told to leave the town on their own to get round the checkpoints, and then they regroup at a meeting point a few kilometres out of town. Once there, people pile into cars and set off northward.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Mao residents, Mao and N’Djamena, April and September 2018.Hide Footnote

The roads from Mao to Zouarké in the north are dangerous and the lack of available water en route makes these journeys very perilous.

B. The Temptation to Join the Rebellion

In a minority of cases, young men travelling from the Sahel to Libya– in addition to subsistence activities – engage as mercenaries in rebel movements, mainly to save up money. Qadhafi’s overthrow in 2011 created a new regional conflict system and saw a market for fighters emerge, attracting people from Chad Sahel regions. For some youth from these regions, joining rebel movements is not necessarily about gaining power but more about improving their status in acutely unequal societies. Currently, between 2,000 and 4,000 Chadian fighters are reportedly based in southern Libya.[fn]Crisis Group telephone interview, researcher, October 2018.Hide Footnote

Entretien téléphonique de Crisis Group, chercheur, octobre 2018.Hide Footnote

Joining rebel movements is not necessarily about gaining power but more about improving their status in acutely unequal societies.

It would be a mistake, however, to focus purely on economic motivations or to see these rebels as simply going through a rite of passage. Problems of governance are also a motivating factor. The large numbers of Dazagada from Kanem and BEG (particularly Kreda and Kercheda) in the armed groups in Libya reflect, in addition to the obvious financial incentive of joining the rebels, the frustration felt by the youth in the Sahel. Many young people in Moussoro and Mao say that they feel humiliated and want to take revenge; they say that some of their brothers and friends have left to join the rebel forces to seek vengeance after the Zouhoura affair and the attacks in Massaguet and Ngueli.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, young BEG and Kanem residents, Moussoro and Mao, March 2018.Hide Footnote

Some rebel Chadian leaders in southern Libya are originally from these regions and find it easy to attract new recruits. Ali Mahadi Mahamat, a Goran (Daza Kecherda) from Salal currently leads the Front for Change and Unity in Chad (FACT), a political and military group that emerged from a schism in Mahamat Nouri’s Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD).[fn]FACT and UFDD are two Chadian rebel groups with forces in southern Libya. “Communiqué de presse constitutif”, FACT, 8 April 2016.Hide Footnote Undoubtedly one of Chad’s most well-endowed armed opposition forces in southern Libya in terms of its number of fighters, this group is particularly active in the Joufra region.[fn]“Deby’s Chad: Political Manipulation at Home, Military Intervention Abroad, Challenging Times Ahead”, op. cit.Hide Footnote According to several men interviewed in Moussoro and Mao, social media amplifies messages and plays an important role in these mobilisations.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, young men, Moussoro, March 2018.Hide Footnote The leaders of the rebel movements are well aware of this trend: “the world has changed. Today’s hyperconnected youth no longer wait passively to be told what to do” said Ali Mahadi Mahamat.[fn]“Mahamat Mahadi Ali, la rose et le glaive”, Libération, 29 May 2017.Hide Footnote

Several hundred predominantly Kreda combatants also formed their own armed faction in 2016, the Military Command Council for Saving the Republic (CCMSR). They split from FACT due to internal rifts after tensions flared up in the leadership, another in the long line of divisions within Chadian rebel movements. CCMSR’s former head, Mahamat Hassan Boulmaye, a Kreda from Moussoro, often referrerd in his writings to leading figures from Bahr el-Ghazal in order to mobilise support and justify rebellion. He criticised citizens from his region who had close political ties to Déby, presenting them as traitors “to the cause of BEG”.[fn]“Djiddi Bichara Hassan, partisan du démon, exploiteur du peuple”, Boulmaye’s blog, Python News, 12 November 2015.Hide Footnote In Moussoro and Mao, many young people welcome such messages.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, young men, Moussoro, March 2018.Hide Footnote

In an attack in the Chadian Tibesti region near Libya in August 2018, the CCMSR killed several dozen Chadian soldiers and seized other military personnel, proving once again its capacity to cause damage.[fn]The CCMSR claimed responsibility for this attack and demanded the release of Boulmaye and two of its senior officials arrested in 2017. The Chadian army retaliated in September 2018 with a "clean-up” operation around Kouri Bougoudi, and the country’s air force launched strikes in the area, killing a number of civilians, according to a local parliamentarian. Tensions have since been mounting in Tibesti and Borkou, as evidenced in the recent fighting in November 2018 between the army and the local population organised into self-defence groups near the Miski gold mines. “Tchad: le CCMSR affirme détenir prisonniers trois officiers de l’armée”, RFI, 17 August 2018. “Au Tchad, des bombardements de l’armée dans le Tibesti”, Le Monde, 14 September 2018. Crisis Group interviews, politicians and Tebu (Teda) civil society actors from Tibesti, N’Djamena, November 2018.Hide Footnote Furthermore, as tension mounts between the Teda and the army in Tibesti, CCMSR’s spokesperson, Kingabé Ogouzemi de Tapol, has tried to tap the Tedas’ anger to form opportunistic alliances with discontented Tibesti. This strategy has largely failed and the coordinator of Miski’s self-defence groups, Molly Sougui, quickly condemned CCMSR’s attempts to seize upon the conflict in Tibesti.[fn]“Tchad : le comité d’auto-défense de Miski accuse le CCSMR de bavures contre des civils”, Alwihda, 16 November 2018.Hide Footnote

As in the past in BEG and Kanem, Resistance movements are not formed locally but elsewhere. Unlike northern Chad, the central Sahelian regions are not so much a fertile ground for rebel movements but a source of combatants. Chadian traders and families in Libya are frequently approached by recruiters of locally active groups. “They drop by and see my relatives every month to say hello and ask after me”, said a young trader from Moussoro whose family lives in Libya, adding “they say that I can join them if I want to; many of my friends have already done so”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, young retail trader, Moussoro, March 2018.Hide Footnote Recruiters are allegedly also operating in the Kanem, BEG and Batha regions, according to the Chadian authorities, although this has not been independently confirmed.[fn]In 2017, a network recruiting young men to join the rebellion was reported in north Kanem, near the Lake Chad region, and a police mission allegedly was swiftly dispatched from N’Djamena to investigate. Crisis Group interviews, humanitarian actor and residents of Mao, Mao and N’Djamena, April and September 2018.Hide Footnote

« Tchad : le comité d'auto-défense de Miski accuse le CCSMR de bavures contre des civils », Alwihda, 16 novembre 2018.Hide Footnote

V. State Responses

Against a backdrop of rebel movements in southern Libya, the Chadian state has a somewhat exaggerated fear that the increasing numbers of young men leaving the Sahel represent mass enlistment in these rebel forces. “The gold rush in Tibesti hides other realities. It’s common knowledge. These young people are going to join the rebels”, said a senior official from the Territorial Administration Ministry posted to Mao.[fn]Crisis Group interview, local official in Kanem, Mao, March 2018.Hide Footnote In Moussoro, the authorities added: “no motorbike taxis are left, they’re all going north to join the rebel movements”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, local official in BEG, Moussoro, March 2018.Hide Footnote In August 2018, the public security Minister Ahmat Mahamat Bachir said that the gold miners were colluding with the rebels.[fn]“Le gouvernement tchadien chasse les orpailleurs artisanaux”, BBC, 13 août 2018.Hide Footnote

By taking measures to stem the flow of migrants, the authorities are seeking above all to prevent young people from joining the armed groups operating in Libya. To this end, they have tightened and increased the number of checkpoints in the country’s far north and Sahel regions and have carried out awareness-raising initiatives as a means of dissuading potential emigrants.[fn]Furthermore, in order to complete this series of local measures, President Idriss Déby has recently proposed a general amnesty for Chadians “who have left the country for one reason or another”. But this announcement has already been turned down by the leaders of major Chadian rebel groups in southern Libya, such as the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) and the Union of Resistance Forces (UFR).Hide Footnote

Par ailleurs, pour compléter ce canevas de mesures locales, le président Idriss Déby a récemment proposé une amnistie générale pour les Tchadiens « qui ont pour une raison ou une autre quitté le pays ». Cette annonce a cependant déjà été rejetée par les chefs des groupes rebelles tchadiens importants au Sud de la Libye, comme l’Union des forces pour la démocratie et le développement (UFDD) et l’Union des forces de la résistance (UFR).Hide Footnote

A. Tightened Controls

In 2016, Ahmat Mahamat Bachir recalled that “clandestine emigration of Chadians to Libya is forbidden”; he called on governors and security forces in these regions to “track down anyone found to be defying this ban”, adding that individuals from various regions, including BEG and Kanem, used people smugglers in order to reach Libya.[fn]Chad’s presidency website, https://presidence.td/fr-synth-255-Mardi_le_27_decembre_2016.html, 27 December 2016.Hide Footnote The governors have since issued several decrees to prevent people departing for the country’s north and to Libya. In Moussoro, the governor set up a joint security committee made up of the gendarmerie and the National Nomadic Guard to patrol the buffer zones, particularly between Faya-Largeau and Moussoro. Before leaving Moussoro for the north, all vehicles must be checked by state officials and members of the National Security Agency (ANS) in order to report the destination, purpose of travel and identity of those making the journey. Several barriers have been set up along the main roads leading to Libya.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, BEG authorities, Moussoro, March 2018.Hide Footnote

These measures have led to the arrest of several hundred people from the Sahel. On the border between BEG and the Borkou region, “some friends of mine have been arrested while they were inflating their tyres”, said a young driver from the town.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Moussoro, March 2018.Hide Footnote Local authorities said that when the vehicles are pulled over, they are impounded and their passengers are either jailed or their names taken.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, BEG authorities, Moussoro, March 2018.Hide Footnote In April 2018, 372 people were stopped in Faya-Largeau.[fn]Crisis Group interview, humanitarian actor, N’Djamena, March 2018.Hide Footnote Some inhabitants of Mao and Moussoro told Crisis Group that they had been subjected to extorsion by security forces during checks.[fn]“Multilateral Damage: The Impact of EU Migration Policies on Central Saharan Routes”, op. cit. Crisis Group interviews, young men, Mao and Moussoro, March 2018.Hide Footnote This suspicious attitude is worsening relations between the authorities and youth who want to migrate from the Sahel regions.

In any case, these security measures and checkpoints have serious weaknesses and are sometimes ineffective; many young people get round them simply by leaving at night or taking other routes.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, young retail trader and driver, Moussoro, March 2018.Hide Footnote In Zouarké, in northern Chad, witnesses claim to have seen convoys of dozens of vehicles passing close to checkpoints without the soldiers being able to stop them.[fn]Crisis Group interview, humanitarian actor, N’Djamena, March 2018.Hide Footnote Military officers themselves reportedly bemoan their lack of resources to pursue vehicles bypassing their checkpoints.[fn]Ibid.Hide Footnote This lack of results has previously led to the replacement of certain governors (as in Faya-Largeau).[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chadian political actor, N’Djamena, February 2018.Hide Footnote

Entretien de Crisis Group, acteur politique tchadien, N’Djamena, février 2018.Hide Footnote

B. Opportune but Inefficient Awareness-raising Initiatives

In a bid to dissuade young people from leaving the country, authorities have also carried out awareness-raising initiatives. They have asked imams, during their Friday prayers, to alert people to the risks of gold mining and to try to discourage the faithful from joining the rebels. During official ceremonies, state authorities remind potential emigrants that they risk sanctions by leaving.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, BEG authorities, journalist and teacher, Moussoro, March 2018.Hide Footnote Members of civil society, such as young people’s associations or teachers, have also been used to deter the undecided from travelling north, particularly through community radio stations (Ndjimi in Mao, FM Wadi Bissam in Mondo and Al Bissary in Nokou).  

Distrust between the state authorities and the populations of Kanem and BEG has been exacerbated by a series of abuses perpetrated against citizens in these regions

However, these communication and awareness-raising campaigns face serious difficulties: it is hard to reach villagers living far away from administrative centres, and radio stations have limited coverage. But most importantly, these efforts are not enough to counteract the ripple effect of young people returning with money, expensive cars or other visible signs of wealth.

VI. Defusing Tensions and Regaining Trust

Discontent and tensions observed in Kanem and even more in Bahr el-Ghazal have been mounting since 2016. Firstly, the Sahel regions – already facing deep-seated structural problems – are mired in a severe economic slump, making the local people’s lives very difficult. Distrust between the state authorities and the populations of Kanem and BEG has been exacerbated by a series of abuses perpetrated against citizens in these regions by individuals close to the inner circles of power. These economic, political and identity-based tensions have so far remained latent but have resulted, among other things, in the departure of growing numbers of young men, most often headed for northern Chad and Libya.

Although any significant short- or medium-term improvement in the living conditions of these populations remains unlikely, the state can still make some limited progress in certain areas to regain their trust, including by tackling impunity and by not automatically assuming that young people who emigrate intend to join armed groups. International donors must strengthen their aid strategy in this reputedly “unliveable” area where development indicators have long ranked among the lowest in the continent.

A. Putting an End to Impunity

On the eve of the 2016 presidential election, the government faced strong protests, particularly in the capital N’Djamena, during which the impunity enjoyed by individuals perceived to be close to power was an important theme.[fn]Crisis Group Report, Chad: Between Ambition and Fragility, op. cit.Hide Footnote At a more local level, most people interviewed by Crisis Group in Kanem and Barh el-Ghazal said they felt humiliated by the rape of Zouhoura and the murders of citizens from the area.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, members of civil society, teachers, journalists, youths, Mao and Moussoro, March 2018.Hide Footnote The impunity enjoyed by some of the culprits is leading people to take up arms, which some describe “as the only means of defending their rights and their honour”.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, young men, Moussoro, March 2018.Hide Footnote

In addition, the Kreda youth’s refusal of the diya after the attacks in Ngueli clearly shows their rejection of traditional conflict-resolution mechanisms, which they consider only benefit those in power. The final report of the committee on reform of the Chadian state, presented in 2017 ahead of the national forum on institutional reform that opened on 19 March 2018,[fn]The institutional reform committee in Chad released a report in November 2017 listing dozens of proposals, for the most part relating to the reform of institutions ahead of the debate on the new Chadian constitution. For more information about the forum, see “Le Tchad lance son forum sur la réforme des institutions”, RFI, 19 March 2018.Hide Footnote describes the implementation of the diya, now a subject of political debate, as an unevenly applied practice that “is likely to encourage a discriminatory treatment of citizens, and this fuels thesense of injustice”.[fn]“Rapport final du comité d’appui aux réformes institutionnelles au Tchad”, November 2017.Hide Footnote It emphasises that the diya should not interfere with public prosecutions and that “criminal responsibility is an individual rather than a collective matter”.[fn]Ibid.Hide Footnote

This recommendation was adopted neither at the forum on institutional reform nor in the new constitution. In order to restore trust between the BEG and Kanem citizens and the state, the government should now implement it, particularly in cases of homicide. While traditional conflict resolution mechanisms can be useful, notably to prevent spiralling community violence, they should not allow those guilty of crimes to exploit communal solidarity or political ties to avoid prison sentences. By prioritising the fight against impunity, especially for individuals with powerful connections, the Chadian government could lay the foundations for for a healthier relationship with the people from BEG and Kanem.

B. Avoiding the Conflation between Migrants and Armed Combatants

The authorities are attempting to stop the flow of young Chadians leaving for Libya, particularly from the Sahel regions, fearing mass enlistment in rebel forces. N’Djamena understandably sees the anarchy in Libya as a major security threat to Chad. In particular, the government fears it will lose control of Saharan routes and will be unable to counter the proliferation of weapons on its territory, given that southern Libya is now home to several thousand Chadian rebels. But contrary to the discourse of local authorities in the Sahel, only a minority of young men leaving for Libya do enlist in armed groups. These migrations to Libya are not new and represent for people from BEG and Kanem the most effective way to improve their standard of living. By conflating potential migrants with potential rebels, authorities risk worsening their relations with the youth from these regions.[fn]An agreement signed in May 2018 to tighten security on the borders between Chad, Sudan, Libya and Niger has added to this confsion by bundling together the problems of terrorism, trafficking and clandestine emigration.Hide Footnote

To avoid widening the rift between the state and the Sahelian youth, the authorities should adopt a more measured tone in public statements that avoid conflating migrants with future rebels. Furthermore, the increase in arrests and the seizure of vehicles reinforces the idea among sections of the youth that the state is hostile to them. The current policies restricting the movement of a traditionally mobile population should therefore be replaced with a framework that retains monitoring mechanisms, in particular identity checks and vehicle searches to ensure travellers are not carrying weapons.

C. Investing in Development in BEG and Kanem

Few international organisations are present in the BEG and Kanem regions. Several development actors, including the European Union (EU) with its trust fund for the Sahel and the European Development Fund, the World Bank and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation fund some projects in Mao and Moussoro but only on a limited scale. Only a handful of NGOs (including two international organisations, one in Moussoro and the other in Mao) are active in the region. The lack of any tangible improvements in humanitarian indicators after several decades of support has detered other donors from engaging. In Kanem, BEG and Chad’s wider Sahel region, malnutrition rates are among the highest on the continent. The focus on the humanitarian fallout of Boko Haram’s activities in the Lake Chad area entails a real risk of concentrating aid there to the detriment of other regions. Donors should rebalance and expand their project portfolios to extend support to neglected regions which could otherwise become fertile ground for various violent actors.

Furthermore, the lack of awareness about migratory patterns in Chad calls for extra resources to be channelled to international organisations specialising in migration, such as the IOM, to better understand these dynamics and give insights into the needs of the populations tempted to emigrate, including the Sahel youth, and to organise better support for people returning to Chad.

VII. Conclusion

Although the prospect of destabilisation in Kanem and BEG can be ruled out in the immediate future, young people’s discontent is palpable and gaining ground. It is essential to make sure that instability does not emerge in this strategic area linking Sudan and Niger and the Maghreb and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Given the growing anger at the perceived unequal treatment between the group in power and the rest of the population, the Chadian authorities should demonstrate to local populations that they can change their way of governing, in order to prevent these regions from developing into conflict zones.

Brussels/Nairobi, 5 December 2018

Appendix A: Central Regions in Chad: Kanem and Bahr el-Ghazal

Crisis Group
Burkina Faso's President Christian Kabore, Mauritania's President Abdel Aziz, France's President Macron, Mali's President Keita, Chad's President Deby and Niger's President Issoufou pose during G5 Sahel Summit in Bamako, Mali, on 2 July 2017. REUTERS/Luc Gnago
Report 258 / Africa

Finding the Right Role for the G5 Sahel Joint Force

Créée en février 2017, la Force conjointe du G5 Sahel est une force de nouvelle génération dans un espace sahélien où se bousculent des initiatives militaires et diplomatiques parfois concurrentes. Il ne suffira pas de fournir des armes et de l’argent pour résoudre les crises sahéliennes. Pour atteindre ses objectifs, la force doit gagner la confiance des populations et des puissances régionales et obtenir leur soutien.

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  • What’s the issue? Ten months after the Sahel’s five countries set up the G5 Sahel joint force (FC-G5S) as a means of settling the armed conflicts within the region, multiple questions have been raised and the force is struggling to find its place in the region.
  • Why does it matter? This force’s success or failure will depend on whether it can position itself in the crowded field of armed forces already in the Sahel and gain people’s trust in the region.
  • What should be done? The G5 Sahel joint force must also have political support, coordinate its work with other regional and international actors and forces, and receive tangible financial support from its donors.
Executive Summary

Ten months after its launch, the G5 Sahel joint force (FC-G5S), a joint project undertaken by the five countries of the Sahel (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad), is slowly taking shape. This force is now backed by two UN Security Council resolutions and has its own headquarters; it also carried out its first mission in the border zone of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso in early November. The force represents an important step toward addressing the worrying instability that affects Mali and the Sahel in general, but it remains a work in progress. This raises numerous unanswered questions about its funding, operational capacity, the political cooperation between its five members, and its place in the Sahel – a region crowded by sometimes-competing military and diplomatic initiatives. The backers of the FC-G5S – due to meet on 13 December at the Paris conference aimed at fine-tuning its operationalisation – must grasp the fact that the construction of this force, and more generally the resolution of crises in the Sahel, is not exclusively a matter of weapons and money.

As part of a larger organisation known as the G5, set up in 2014, the FC-G5S is still mainly an experimental force. Its creation is part of a growing appetite both within and outside the continent for this new generation of military response in a global context that is increasingly sceptical of both the effectiveness of the UN peacekeeping doctrine and its suitability to asymmetrical conflicts and terrorism.

Although not completely pulling out of the Sahel, France and other European countries with a presence in this region are attempting to reduce the number of their troops on the ground and to bring down the expense of their overseas operations by delegating them partially to their African partners and replacing them with the use of drones. The Sahel is politically and economically strategic, especially for France and Germany, both of which view the region as posing a potential threat to their own security and as a source of migration and terrorism. As for the African states themselves, they have lost trust in the ability of their own regional and continental organisations to guarantee their security. Instead they are choosing to try out these new collective defence mechanisms, known by specialists as ad hoc forces.

The FC-G5S was created shortly after another ad hoc force, the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), was launched by four countries (Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria and Chad). The MNJTF has been fighting against the Boko Haram’s uprising in the Lake Chad basin since 2012. Compared to this analogous force, the G5’s equivalent has various weaknesses: the respective armies lack capability and its members are much poorer. Whereas the MNJTF can mobilise with discreet support from Western powers against a single enemy, the G5 acts in a region containing more than twenty active armed groups, making it difficult to focus on a common target. This new force will increasingly need to carve out a place for itself in a region where the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and France’s Operation Barkhane already have forces in operation, and in the same theatre as a deployment of U.S. troops, whose exact number remains a mystery.

The success or failure of the new force will largely depend on how it positions itself in this crowded security field, and on its coordination with the armies already in place since 2013. France’s Operation Barkhane will almost certainly guide the development of the FC-G5S, but it is much less obvious how the force will collaborate with MINUSMA (35 per cent of the troops for this UN mission are provided by the members of the G5 states). Any logistical support that MINUSMA might provide could not be regional, for example, because its stabilisation mandate only covers Mali.

[The G5's] success will also be contingent on its backers’ ability to make it fit into the wider picture.

Its success will also be contingent on its backers’ ability to make it fit into the wider picture with a set of political objectives. In areas where the G5 has operations and comes to secure peace, spaces for negotiation must swiftly be found while channels of communication with certain leaders of jihadist groups from the Sahel should also be maintained or reactivated. The FC-G5S will achieve its objective by isolating jihadist groups from local communities and from other armed groups which currently give them support.

To be effective, the FC-G5S will need the trust and support from local populations, whose rights must be scrupulously respected; its mistakes and abuses will be sure to drive people in this region toward giving their allegiance to jihadist groups, which are skilled at offering protection and promises of revenge. In this sense, the MNJTF provides an example of what not to do: anger or fear incited by acts of brutality committed by its armed forces, particularly by Nigerian troops, caused many people to join the ranks of Boko Haram.

The G5 and its armed force must also earn the trust of Algeria and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). For the time being, these two regional powers prefer the Nouakchott process that groups together eleven West African countries, from the Lake Chad basin and Maghreb, hence it is deemed more inclusive. In their eyes, this process is also more legitimate, having been initiated by the African Union (AU). Unless a better understanding is reached with these two partners, the search for greater regional cohesion will paradoxically lead to new rifts between neighbours. Similarly, given the slow and difficult process of setting up this initiative, and all the effort required, it is important not to forget the peace process already underway and floundering in the north of Mali, and that it is currently the only political solution to a crisis which is more political and social than military. In short, the FC-G5S must not simply become a façade that conceals a lack of political vision.

  • Ensure scrupulous respect for the rights of people living in zones of FC-G5S’s operations, otherwise a section of these populations, in search of protection, will side with the jihadist groups active in the Sahel. Military personnel, police forces and the judiciaries of the G5 countries must therefore be made aware of fundamental human rights; legal recourses must be made available to families of those killed or arrested in connection to the G5 force’s operations; compliance must be ensured with the human rights and international humanitarian law reference framework established by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; those found guilty of human rights violations must be severely punished.
  • The FC-G5S must be part of a project that is not simply repressive but instead seeks political solutions to crises affecting the Sahel. Its operations must go hand in hand with local-level negotiations designed to tackle the causes of conflicts and to encourage certain leaders of jihadist groups from the Sahel region to engage in dialogue.
  • Diplomatic initiatives must be taken in parallel with the use of force by the G5 countries and by France, the group’s main backer. The prime objective of this approach would be to relieve any reservations that Algeria and ECOWAS may have about the creation of the FC-G5S, in order to create a regional unity that spreads beyond the G5 Sahel’s borders, while also ensuring that these two regional powers will work alongside the G5, and not against it.
  • Bilateral military cooperation from the U.S. must be arranged for improved coordination with the other forces deployed in the Sahel. If the U.S. wishes to fight against jihadist groups, it should strive for its bilateral cooperation not to duplicate but complement the contributions made by France, the European Union (EU), and the UN to the FC-G5S.
  • The FC-G5S must be given significant financial backing. It would be better for the donors to provide immediate and tangible funds rather than simply make pledges. They must show themselves to be sufficiently generous by providing more than the amount initially requested, and to guarantee long-term funding to the force

Brussels/Dakar, 12 December 2017

What Is the G5?

Launched in February 2017, the G5 Sahel joint force (FC-G5S) forms part of the regional G5 Sahel organisation. The idea for this new regional body – comprising Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad – was conceived in February 2014. Designed to respond to the security and development challenges facing the Sahel region, it has been supported by France, the most military active European country in this part of the world. Paris has refused to take ownership of this initiative, however, and has gone to some lengths to attribute its existence primarily to the presidents of its five member states.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, French military officer and European diplomat, Dakar, November 2017.Hide Footnote It is hard to give a definitive answer to the paternity question, but ever since the G5 was set up, Paris has clearly been busy making diplomatic efforts in support of the group, and certain regional actors rightly or wrongly perceive that France is behind the initiative.

The G5 is a very fluid and constantly changing organisation. At the time of its creation in 2014, the G5 described itself as a multidimensional grouping with a strong development component. This aspect has gradually slipped into the background as the G5’s initiators have turned their attention to the area of most interest to the international community: security. The priority has therefore shifted toward the construction of a joint armed force, a task that has proved very difficult, especially in terms of its financing.

During the G5 summit held in July 2017, France, Germany and the European Union (EU) added a new element to the group called Alliance for the Sahel, which is still a work in progress.[fn]For further details about the Alliance for the Sahel, see French diplomacy website (in French): https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/politique-etrangere-de-la-france/defense-et-securite/crises-et-conflits/la-force-conjointe-g5-sahel-et-l-alliance-pour-le-sahel.Hide Footnote Tasked with coordinating the initiatives and mobilising donors, this alliance was created without the G5 officially abandoning its own development objectives. This raises two questions: one concerns the ability of the Alliance and the G5 to work in conjunction with each other, given that the G5’s permanent secretariat is “an institutional framework to coordinate and follow up regional cooperation for development”; the other issue relates to the G5’s prospects as an organisation.[fn]The G5 described itself in these terms in a job advertisement published in early December 2017.Hide Footnote And over time, the G5 is increasingly being reduced to its military component. Even though the G5 and FC-G5S acronyms are not interchangeable and describe two distinct structures, they are still frequently confused. Many writers refer to the G5 as an armed force, something it is not but what it could become in the future.

The FC-G5S separates the Sahel into three sectors: an eastern sector for Niger and Chad, with two battalions; a central sector covering Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, in which three battalions have been deployed; and a western sector corresponding to Mauritania and Mali, where two battalions will be operating. The battalions will each consist of 650 men. The different zones are equipped with their own tactical command post (PC tactique), while a general command post (PC opératif) has been set up in Mali. The force is led by a commander appointed by the president chairing the G5. Selected from among the G5 member countries’ five heads of state, this position has a one-year duration.

The joint force’s initial mandate includes fighting terrorism, organised crime and human trafficking; restoring state authority; helping displaced persons to return home; contributing to humanitarian operations; and helping to implement development projects. Officially it has a peace-enforcement mandate rather than a peacekeeping one. In fact, the work of the FC-G5S is rather a counter-insurgency operation than a classic peace-enforcement mission. Its rules of engagement fall within the realm of warfare.

The FC-G5S is another example of recent attempts made by African countries to take on responsibility for their own security.

The FC-G5S is another example of recent attempts made by African countries to take on responsibility for their own security, which have had varying degrees of success. The trend began with the tentative steps taken in 1978 by an African detachment of troops in Shaba (former Zaire), followed by the first peacekeeping force sent by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU, precursor of the AU) into Chad in 1981.[fn]See Romain Esmenjaud and Benedickt Francke, “Qui s’est approprié la gestion de la paix et de la sécurité en Afrique?”, Revue international et Stratégique, 2009.Hide Footnote Subsequently, from the 1980s until the 2000s, initiatives have mostly formed part of peacekeeping missions, enlisting intervention forces rather than fighting forces.

Some major Western actors have been eager to progressively withdraw from the region, due to a combination of their own domestic political and budgetary pressures. This is compounded by new security challenges facing the African continent, such as terrorism and the growing networks of international criminal groups, as well as the declining effectiveness of the UN peacekeeping concept. The situation that has lasted for around a decade has accelerated the pace at which, and significantly changed how, countries in Africa are taking control over their own security.

The G5 is part of a current shift toward the creation of ad hoc forces that go beyond peacekeeping and have a mandate for direct military intervention. The implementation of this new type of force now lies at the heart of the strategy adopted by the AU, whose Peace and Security Council created the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in 2007.[fn]See Crisis Group Africa Report N°255, Time to Reset African Union-European Union Relations, 17 October 2017.Hide Footnote

The G5 is keen to address the failures of regional and international military cooperation initiatives that have followed the establishment and expansion of armed groups in Mali and then in the Sahel. These militias spilled out from the Algerian civil war waged in the 1990s, with small groups of uncompromising combatants settling in the Malian desert. More recently, fighters have been spawned by localised conflicts such as intercommunity disputes in central Mali and regional unrest of the kind generated by the chaos in Libya. Despite various efforts, the countries in the Sahel-Saharan region have never achieved a joint security apparatus capable of putting a stop to the activities of these groups. The Algerian-led Joint Military Staff Committee of the Sahel Region (CEMOC) has never properly taken off. Lacking resources and without enough mutual understanding among its members, ECOWAS has been unable to deploy troops to the Sahel as part of its own regional security initiative known as the Standby Force.[fn]ECOWAS is equipped to undertake military intervention through its Standby Force (Force en attente, FAC), formerly known as ECOMOG. For more information on the role of this force, see Crisis Group Africa Report N°234, Implementing Peace and Security Architecture (III): West Africa, 14 April 2016.Hide Footnote Ill-adapted to asymmetrical warfare, the MINUSMA has also failed to stabilise the country at the centre of Sahel’s crises.[fn]“We must rethink the UN’s peacekeeping doctrine …. You cannot keep the peace where it doesn’t exist”. Speech by Senegalese President Macky Sall at the opening of the Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security in Africa, November 2017.Hide Footnote  

Armed groups have not only taken advantage of this ineffectiveness and divisions between countries in the region, but they have also shown an organisational ability superior to the states under attack. Spurred on by a common cause, they are often better than the nation states at making things mesh at a local, regional and international level. The Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM), created in March 2017, is the most recent example of this state of affairs. This alliance operating under the international banner of al-Qaeda consists of two groups, Ansar Eddine and the Macina Liberation Front, which have a strong presence in northern and central Mali, along with al-Mourabitoun, an organisation active throughout the wider border region of the Maghreb.[fn]“Open Letter to the UN Security Council on Peacekeeping in Mali”, Crisis Group, 24 April 2017.Hide Footnote

These groups have also made the most of Sahel’s vast desert landscape by adapting their strategy to the French and international military intervention of 2013. The French operation, carried out within the framework of Operation Serval, chased out armed groups from towns which they had briefly controlled. This also had the effect, as part of a discreet political strategy, of encouraging al-Qaeda supporters, particularly those involved in Ansar Eddine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), to join the Algeria-brokered peace talks or retract their support for these terrorist groups. But these groups have then used one of the most classic stratagems in warfare:[fn]Exerting pressure on the enemy’s void is the subject of an entire chapter of Sun Tzu’s treatise on military strategy, The Art of War. A few lines of this classic work perfectly sum up the current strategy adopted by the armed jihadist groups operating in the Sahel: “Emerge from the void; attack undefended places; you can ensure the safety of your defence if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked …”.Hide Footnote they dispersed and started attacking rural targets that had been abandoned by states and rendered vulnerable by local tensions, particularly in the case of border areas. Without joint security initiatives, these areas located largely beyond the reaches of the states are perfectly suited for government adversaries to regroup and move around freely.

The G5 countries want to remedy [the] lack of regional cooperation and surveillance of these abandoned locales.

The G5 countries want to remedy this lack of regional cooperation and surveillance of these abandoned locales. France and Germany are also concerned by threats to their domestic security and perceive the Sahel as a potential base for those launching attacks on their countries, even though this region has not been the origin of any such attacks in Europe. Both of these countries, as well as various members of the EU, are keen to stem the flow of migrants from this area and envisage the FC-G5S as a more global strategy to bring migration under control. From this perspective, the initiative appears logical and sensible.[fn]France, and the EU in general, has been trying to attribute the origin of the G5 to the countries in the region and minimise the role played by Paris in its gestation. Crisis Group interviews, French military officer and European diplomat, Dakar, November 2017.Hide Footnote

The group’s operational phase began with the inauguration of its general headquarters in Sévaré in Mali and its first mission (named Hawbi) to the border area of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger in early November. Yet the details remain vague for how this extremely complex new security apparatus will work in practice; it is more experimental than effective, and raise many unanswered questions. It will take time to build. And even the partial replacement of the French troops – as awaited by a France that is tired and short of solutions – is set to be a lengthy process. It must also succeed where similar initiatives have failed, and create something that few regional groupings have achieved: a common defence.

Operational Capabilities and Limited Funding

The G5 was set up soon after the regional Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) was established and began operations to tackle the Boko Haram uprising in the Lake Chad basin.[fn]This is a joint force consisting of four countries from the Lake Chad basin: Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria and Chad.Hide Footnote This is often cited as an example to be followed given its relative success at containing the expansion of Boko Haram.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, EU officials, Addis Ababa, March 2017.Hide Footnote The G5 will have many difficulties emulating the MNJTF, for at least three reasons.

Firstly, the armies’ capabilities are not comparable. The MNJTF has benefited with everything from the Nigerian army’s manpower and weapons, Chad’s veteran soldiers, and the long experience of one of Cameroon’s army units that enjoys unconventional funding, the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR).[fn]Set up in 1999 to combat banditry and cross-border crime, the light intervention battalion became the rapid intervention battalion in 2008. It is funded by the national state oil company.Hide Footnote Conversely, three of the G5’s armies (from Burkina, Niger and Mali) have more weaknesses than strengths.

Burkina Faso’s army and intelligence services are immersed in a restructuring process after President Compaoré’s downfall in October 2014. Niger’s army must operate with a budget that has a chronic deficit, at a time of tense relations with the political establishment, and the obligation to have a permanent presence along three borders (with Mali, Libya and Nigeria). And although the Malian army exists on paper, its operational capability is feeble. Its reorganisation process is progressing very slowly, and it largely remains the same disorganised armed force as it was before Captain Sanogo’s coup d’état in March 2012. As before, some of its members sell their equipment to the highest bidder and commit abuses against the civilian population.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Malian combatants, Kidal, July 2017.Hide Footnote

Although not as weak as its neighbours in the central Sahel region, the armies of Mauritania and Chad are far from being beacons of hope. Despite boasting a good reputation for its intelligence services and rapid intervention units, Mauritania has not participated in any major combat situations for the past four years. Chad’s soldiers also may not be quite as sharp as they were in 2013, fatigued by multiple deployments and financially weak after the fall in oil prices. Despite having superior capabilities than the G5’s other members, both of these armed forces are distanced from the current flashpoints in the central sector, around the Liptako-Gourma region near the borders of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. This creates a paradox where the cornerstones of the G5, its weakest links, must initially be the ones that take on most of the work.

The G5 lacks a donor from among its members able to disburse an important sum of its own money.

Secondly, the G5 lacks a donor from among its members able to disburse an important sum of its own money, as happened in the case of Nigeria and the MNJTF.[fn]Nigeria has put $100 million into the MNJTF.Hide Footnote Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad rank in the last five places of the UN Development Programme (UNDP)’s human development index (HDI). Mauritania and Mali are not much higher. The G5 therefore faces a similar paradox to AMISOM: its member countries must take responsibility for their own security while still relying on foreign financing backing.

For the time being, the force’s initial budget is set at €423 million for its first twelve months of operations. This amount is broken down as follows: 230 million for investments, 110 million to cover initial operations, and 83 million to pay the troops. Even if the budget is severely cut, as a number of sources have indicated will be the case,[fn]This initial budget might be reduced to around €250 million. Crisis Group interview, Western diplomat, Ouagadougou, October 2017.Hide Footnote it is still far from being exercised.[fn]Crisis Group interview, diplomat, Paris, October 2017.Hide Footnote The EU has donated €50 million, not including France’s 8 million, and the G5’s member countries have contributed 10 million each, while Saudi Arabia has pledged to donate €84.8 million.

The focus on the force’s budget has ended up as a distraction from another issue: its future funding and durability. The refusal of the Americans and British to fund the force through a regular and enduring UN mechanism places the G5 in a permanently precarious financial situation.[fn]The U.S. has committed to providing €51 million of funding to certain member countries of the FC-G5S. Eighty per cent of this amount must be allocated to Burkina Faso within the framework of bilateral cooperation. Crisis Group interview, political counsellor, Paris, November 2017. Hide Footnote As noted by a diplomat recently, “if the funding is raised by a donor conference, there will be funds for a year or two, not much longer”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, New York, November 2017.Hide Footnote The poor countries of the G5 must maintain over a long period of time costly equipment (sophisticated vehicles, latest-generation weapons, high-performing intelligence structures, seasoned troops) normally reserved for the world’s most well-endowed armies.

Funding the G5 also raises the question of its member countries’ ability to absorb significantly large sums of money for them, without suffering the consequences. The G5’s initial budget, if it remains at €423 million for the first year, corresponds to about one year of the total budget of all the armies put together. No mention is made of how this inflow of money will fuel the corruption that has undermined the G5 member countries in the past, heightened tensions both internally and between the countries in the region, and increased manipulations among the political elites wanting to help themselves to some of this windfall of cash. Some of the G5 countries’ armies are already struggling to cope with the plethora of training courses offered to them since the war started with Mali. Officers and non-commissioned officers from the member countries are spending longer in training or preparatory missions than in doing their actual jobs.[fn]Crisis Group interview, high-ranking officer of the gendarmerie, Ouagadougou, December 2016. Hide Footnote

Thirdly, the MNJTF is fighting against a single common enemy, Boko Haram, isolated in a relatively confined area in the Lake Chad basin. The G5 countries will be facing a different reality. Their troops will be fighting in a far wider area containing a proliferation of armed groups that are intertwined and often split up into different factions, making it hazardous even just pinpointing the actual target: “Right now, we don’t really know who we’re going to be fighting against”, admitted a high-ranking member of Burkina Faso’s army last October.[fn]Ibid.Hide Footnote The shifting meaning of the word “terrorist”, referred to in Resolution 2359 of the UN Security Council, makes it a notoriously difficult term to define. The comings and goings of some combatants between different groups blurs the picture and may lead to the G5 forces attacking armed groups that do not even appear on any list of terrorist movements. On 7 November, after the G5’s first operation, some members of the Coordination of Azawad Movements (known by its French acronym, CMA), a signatory of the 2015 Bamako Convention, were arrested before being released four days later following an angry response from the CMA.[fn]“Mali: libération des membres de la CMA arrêtés lors de l’opération Hawbi”, Radio France Internationale (RFI), 12 November 2017. The Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) is an alliance of Malian Touareg and Arab rebel groups, created in 2014 and including (among others) the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA); the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA); a branch of the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA); the People’s Coalition for Azawad (CPA) and a wing of the Coordination of Patriotic Resistance Movements and Forces (CMFPR).Hide Footnote

In addition, in the same way the MNJTF is supported by units of armed civilians, the G5 increasingly uses militia or proxies to fight those it has designated as the enemy.[fn]See Crisis Group Africa Report N°244, Watchmen of Lake Chad: Vigilante Groups Fighting Boko Haram, 23 February 2017.Hide Footnote It is uncertain whether all of the member countries consider these militias as their allies.[fn]Niger for example uses Touareg and Doosaak groups based in Mali to combat jihadist groups. It is uncertain whether these groups are all allied with the Malian government.Hide Footnote By the same token, national interests will continue to prevail over the common interest. Chad in particular will certainly refrain from taking part fully unless its president considers that the country’s vital interests are under threat. And Mauritania, geographically the most westward country in the G5 grouping, is currently a long way from the armed attacks to the east; this makes it highly improbable that it will immediately enter the fight against groups posing no direct or immediate danger to it.[fn]Mauritania may become more active in future stages of G5’s operations when its forces may be able to move swiftly into the regions affected by the activities of terrorist or criminal groups. The president of Mauritania is concerned about the movements of certain criminal groups specialising in drug trafficking, which are operating in Mali’s Timbuktu region with representatives operating in his country, notably around the city of Nouadhibou. Crisis Group interview, political counsellor, Paris, November 2017.Hide Footnote La Mauritanie pourrait être plus active dans une phase future de l’action du G5 quand les forces de celui-ci pourront se projeter rapidement dans des régions soumises à l’action de groupes terroristes ou criminels. Le président mauritanien est préoccupé par les activités de certains groupes criminels spécialisés dans le trafic des stupéfiants, opérant dans la région de Tombouctou au Mali avec des relais installés dans son pays, notamment autour de la ville de Nouadhibou. Entretien de Crisis Group, conseiller politique, Paris, novembre 2017.Hide Footnote

Le G5 souffre également d’un manque d’autorité politique, aucun des dirigeants des pays membres n’ayant l’ascendant sur les autres pour dicter une direction commune.

Political leadership is also missing in the G5, since none of the member countries predominate over the others to agree on the way ahead. For the moment at least, the five members of the G5 do not share the same views on which direction the group should take going forward.[fn]In his October 2017 report, the UN Secretary-General emphasised, for example, that Chad and Niger consider that the first phase of the force’s operations must be completed before progressing to the second phase, whereas Mali and Burkina Faso show support for planning the second phase while the first is still underway.Hide Footnote

The fight against transnational criminal groups, included in Resolution 2359, is also a hard-to-reach goal. It is likely to be held back by conflicts of interest arising from collusion between segments of the member states and traffickers. This can include the direct involvement of certain influential national leaders in lucrative trafficking, or more distant relations based on political patronage or the practical reality of obtaining and exchanging information.

More broadly, the G5 states will have to fight against a trafficking that forms the backbone of the economy in certain disadvantaged regions within their territory, for which they have few alternative or attractive proposals. To break these illicit channels, especially those of migrants, without providing compensation, is to take the risk of turning a large segment of the local population against the state. And the G5 needs the support of its own populations to succeed.

This local support will be crucial for the future of the G5 and is already a concern for many diplomats in the region.[fn]Crisis Group interview, U.S. diplomat, Ouagadougou, October 2017.Hide Footnote It will mean not only considering the economic interests of local populations, but also respecting their rights. The challenge, in fact, is to avoid pushing more people into the arms of armed groups through frequent misconduct and abuse against civilians during counter-insurgency operations or while attempting to curb illicit trade. This risk is even greater as armed groups are now anchored among populations that often perceive them as protectors, and are sometimes open to their messages of struggle against what are deemed occupying forces. In this regard, the MNJTF is a bad example to follow, since the action of its armies, especially that of Nigeria, has incited thousands of men and women to join the ranks of Boko Haram, seeking revenge or protection against the abuses they suffered. 

Another lesson to retain is that of the Malian army’s brutal action in the centre of the country, an important factor in the deterioration of the situation.[fn]See Crisis Group Africa Report N°238, Central Mali: An Uprising in the Making?, 6 July 2016.Hide Footnote Indeed, many problems in this region arose because what were essentially police tasks were undertaken by the army, particularly those concerning cattle theft, an inexhaustible source of local conflicts. The G5 forces must be made up of as many police forces as possible, with the investigative capacities and tact that the military does not possess. Although the enemy is difficult to define, it must not be the population of the countries concerned, even if they hold sympathies for certain armed groups.

It is also essential that the FC-G5S act in accordance with the points mentioned in UN Resolution 2391 regarding its obligations under international law and human rights. The force will have a strong interest in working within the human rights and international humanitarian law framework as defined by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

A Security Bottleneck and Political Vacuum

A further aspect of the situation in the Sahel sets apart the MNJTF from the G5. The MNJTF has settled in an area where it is the main force operating on the ground. This has greatly facilitated its mission. In contrast, the FC-G5S operates in a region where the military forces of France, the UN and the U.S. are already present. Moreover, the G5 must undertake its mission while avoiding being at odds with a growing number of regional and continental initiatives. Without a greater cohesion between the different forces on the ground, deploying the FC-G5S could aggravate what increasingly resembles a security and institutional bottleneck.

The FC-G5S will first have to find the best possible way to collaborate with MINUSMA. With nearly 35 per cent of MINUSMA contingents coming from G5 member states, there is a need for discussion between the UN and these countries regarding their respective roles. It is evident that the G5 members will be unable to provide contingents comprised of thousands of men to both forces for very long. They lack the means to do so.

The question of collaboration between the two structures is also far from settled. France is of the opinion that tasks could be divided up between the FC-G5S and MINUSMA as follows: the former would provide security and border control while the latter would oversee the hinterland.[fn]Crisis Group interview, diplomat, Paris, October 2017.Hide Footnote For their part, some G5 members, such as Burkina Faso and Chad, have a different view of the situation. They would prefer to see some of their MINUSMA troops return home to provide security within the framework of the FC-G5S or at the national level.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, politicians and senior officers of the Burkinabe army, Ouagadougou, September 2016.Hide Footnote

This last option remains very hypothetical for the time being and raises some serious issues. Bringing home current MINUSMA troops would mean that these countries would no longer receive automatic financial contributions from the U N. This could lead to cash flow problems for their respective Ministries of Defence. Such a situation could strongly demotivate unstable armies, which have often used UN missions as safety valves. G5 countries face a dilemma: maintain their troops in MINUSMA and hold on to the associated benefits while lacking troops to secure their own territories, or repatriate these forces, at the risk of losing a source of income and of creating tensions within their militaries.  

The possibility of MINUSMA providing logistical support for the FC-G5S is also a matter of debate. Diplomats first point out that aid for water, food, fuel and medical services could only be provided within Mali, given that MINUSMA’s stabilisation mandate does not apply beyond Malian borders. On this point, an arrangement could in theory be made with the U.S., which is planning to provide logistical support for some member countries of the FC-G5S as part of its bilateral collaboration. But even if this arrangement is agreed upon, the logistical support provided by MINUSMA will likely encounter funding issues, since the U.S. strongly opposes any increase in MINUSMA’s budget and all recourse to mandatory contributions. The question that could be asked is whether MINUSMA has the capacity to support another force besides itself.

The G5 countries will also have to consider their membership and obligations to other organisations.

The G5 countries will also have to consider their membership and obligations to other organisations. Niger and Chad have two irons in the fire: the FC-G5S and the MNJTF, which is currently facing a resurgence of Boko Haram attacks. The complaints coming from Chad, which considers that too much is being asked of it, must be taken very seriously, and not merely seen as a clever ploy to raise the stakes and sell its commitment at a higher price.[fn]“Idriss Déby menace de retirer ses troupes des opérations de la Minusma et du G5 Sahel”, Jeune Afrique, 25 June 2017.Hide Footnote This country already supplies 1,390 men to MINUSMA and about 2,000 men to the MNJTF. If they are badly handled, the issues generated by these multiple commitments may eventually weaken, or even shatter, the FC-G5S or MNJTF.

The G5 will also have to deal with two major players in the Sahel-Saharan region: ECOWAS and Algeria. ECOWAS is unhappy that it was not involved in crucial choices concerning its own turf, and that three of its members created the G5, an organisation seen as competing and non-inclusive. ECOWAS unofficially supports another structure, the Nouakchott process, which it considers to be more inclusive, effective and sustainable than the G5.[fn]Initiated by the African Union Commission in March 2013, the Nouakchott process was launched in March 2017. It is a mechanism designed to strengthen both security cooperation between Sahel countries and the operational implementation of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) in the Sahel region. It brings together eleven countries: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Chad.Hide Footnote The Nouakchott process brings together West African and Maghreb countries and, as a result, would appear to be better suited to manage conflicts such as the one in Mali, whose causes and repercussions extend far beyond the borders of West Africa. As a major regional player, Algeria goes even further by making its support for the G5 conditional on its integration into the Nouakchott process, which it considers more legitimate, since it was initiated by the African Union.[fn]Crisis Group interview, diplomat, New York, November 2017.Hide Footnote As usual, the country is observing this initiative supported by France with considerable concern.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, diplomats, New York and Ouagadougou, October and November 2017. Hide Footnote Finally, Algeria is worried about the impact, whether positive or negative, of G5 activities on the implementation of the 2015 Bamako Agreement.

An adverse situation could be created if, while seeking stronger regional cooperation, the G5’s arrival on a very crowded scene were to trigger new divisions among the region’s countries. There is a real risk of this occurring. An ECOWAS member country recently objected to the G5’s request to loan equipment belonging to the Standby Force of the West African regional organisation.[fn]Crisis Group interview, ECOWAS executive, November 2014.Hide Footnote As the MNJTF did by erasing some of the animosity between Nigeria and Cameroon, the G5 will have to overcome past disputes between its members, but also between these members and their neighbours. The security effort will not suffice unless it is also supported by constant and patient diplomatic work, aimed at defusing the points of contention between the region’s countries and easing frustrations.

Above all, the construction of the G5 and its armed forces cannot overshadow the need to pursue attempts to settle the Sahel crises by political means. There is a danger today of choosing the security-based solution and giving up on the difficult search for non-warlike solutions to problems that are eminently political and social.

As the G5 and its force prepare to receive millions of investment dollars, they should not forget that a peace process has been launched in Mali, and that it is stagnating. This process does not cover other areas of conflict where the FC-G5S is supposed to intervene. In central Mali as in northern Burkina Faso, local conflicts are the breeding ground for terrorist groups. The FC-G5S needs to fit into a larger framework with policy objectives. If it manages to pacify the areas where it operates, local spaces of negotiation must be created to deal with the causes of conflicts between communities. Jihadist groups thrive on these local conflicts, and they must therefore be a priority. Attempts should be made to re-engage with some local leaders of jihadist groups from the Sahel region, with a view to reopening negotiations. The success of the FC-G5S is connected to this political agenda and to the need to isolate jihadist groups from local communities and other armed groups.


Attempting to respond to the deficit in regional military cooperation, the FC-G5S is also a default response to a situation characterised by a lack of political and diplomatic solutions to the current crises in the Sahel. This initiative, which is an important component of the Sahel conflict resolution strategy, can only succeed if it adapts to the region’s security landscape by coordinating with the forces involved at the strategic and diplomatic level, respecting the populations whose support is essential, and benefiting from solid financial support.

Brussels/Dakar, 12 December 2017


Appendix A: Map of Sahel
Map of Sahel CrisisGroup