A victim of the conflict between farmers and herders walks in front of a the health center of the department of Assoungha, in Abeche, in the Ouaddaï region, 23 March 2019. AFP/ Amaury HAUCHARD
Report / Africa 20+ minutes

Avoiding the Resurgence of Intercommunal Violence in Eastern Chad

Intercommunal violence, particularly between Arabs and non-Arabs, has ravaged eastern Chad throughout 2019 and could further threaten the country’s stability. The government should initiate a debate on managing pastoralism and support an inclusive conference on the east.

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What’s new? Throughout 2019, bloody intercommunal conflicts, in particular between Arab and non-Arab communities, have ravaged eastern Chad. Notwithstanding recent calm, the violence is indicative of deep identity fractures and is underpinned by competition for land and traditional and political power.

Why does it matter? Chad’s internal situation is fragile, and renewed violence in the east, a region that borders the historically troubled Darfur province of Sudan, could threaten its stability.

What should be done? The government should apply the state of emergency more flexibly to allow inhabitants to access markets and public services, initiate a debate on managing pastoralism, punish civilian and military officials for abuses of power and support an inclusive conference on the east.

Executive summary

Hundreds of people have lost their lives in a spike of intercommunal violence in the east of Chad in 2019. Tensions have mostly pitted majority groups in Ouaddaï and Sila provinces against Arabs. These conflicts flow in part from established rivalries between herders and farmers, but also derive from deeper identity-based competition over land, traditional authority and local political positions. In addition, populations no longer trust authorities who they accuse of taking sides in local disputes. In this context, the government in N’Djamena is worried about rapid changes in Khartoum, and the proximity of Sudan’s troubled Darfur province increases risks in Chad’s east. Chadian authorities should avoid an overly rigid application of the state of emergency in the east, which has helped reduce violence but has hurt local populations. To avoid renewed conflict, the government should also initiate a broad debate on how to manage cattle mobility, take measures against military and other officials who abuse their power at the local level and back an inclusive conference on the east.

The violence in the Ouaddaï and Sila regions has multiple origins. It is firstly linked to the settlement of nomadic herders from the country’s north. This is not a new phenomenon. But its current scale causes concern among the region’s majority farming communities, who fear losing power and accuse the newly arrived groups, especially Arabs, of refusing to respect local customs. Herders, meanwhile, feel stigmatised. Some Arabs say they are treated like foreigners in a region where their families have been part of society for generations.

The conflicts also reflect the area’s troubled relations with Sudan’s neighbouring Darfur province. The crisis in Darfur and the proxy war between Chad and Sudan in the 2000s exacerbated local tensions and rivalries among communities that are now at loggerheads in the east of Chad. These proxy wars saw pro-government Sudanese militia, the Janjaweed, mostly recruit Arabs and attack villages in Ouaddaï and Sila provinces, forcing many residents to flee and generating resentment against Arabs in general. Even today, many in Sila and Ouaddaï fear that Arabs want to take over their land and expand power at their expense.

The government fears that periodic violence could spread to other provinces.

Regular visits by the president and his minister of public security throughout 2019 attest to growing official concern about instability in the east. The government fears that periodic violence could spread to other provinces, and even lay the ground for different government opponents and insurgents to find common cause. The crisis comes at a time of growing national strain and just months after a column of rebels entered Chad from Libya in February 2019. While the new dispensation in Sudan has been broadly welcomed by many regional and international actors, its implications for the stability of eastern Chad and the security of the border between the two countries remain unclear.

Faced with rising tensions in the east, Chad’s authorities decided to escalate their response in August 2019 by imposing a state of emergency in Ouaddaï and Sila, as well as in Tibesti in the north. The government has strengthened its military presence in the east and intensified efforts to disarm communities and warring actors there. This has helped reduce both clashes among different groups and criminality in late 2019. But populations in Ouaddaï and Sila are now suffering from abuses by security forces and restrictions on movement and trade. Moreover, the government’s actions have addressed neither the intercommunal grievances nor the problems of local governance which underpin recent conflicts. In this context, it could be hard to hold legislative elections, currently scheduled for 2020, in the east.

To avoid further violence and, even if major progress is unlikely in the short term, deal with the deeper causes of this crisis, authorities should:

  • Initiate a broad debate with civil society and Chad’s international partners who have a say in pastoralism issues, with a view to adjusting land ownership policies and mechanisms and drafting clear consensual rules for the settlement of new populations. Such a debate is all the more important given that nomadic herders from the north are set to continue moving southward due to climate change and other factors, creating further intercommunal strains in the east and elsewhere in the country.
  • Punish locally based officials and army officers who, because they have invested in large herds or work for absentee owners of those herds, pick sides in herder-farmer conflicts. To avoid conflicts of interests, the authorities should not send state representatives to places where they own cattle.
  • Support an inclusive conference on the east bringing together traditional authorities, traders, parliamentarians, and economic and religious actors. It should deal with herder-farmer relations, access to land, the use of diya (blood money), the role of traditional chieftancies and the circulation of small arms, and should formulate recommendations. That conference should lead to the creation of a mediation committee, comprising some of the conference’s participants, to ensure follow-up of its recommendations. That committee should then become a permanent body, supported by the government, to mediate among warring communities in the east.
  • Support the work of traditional chiefs instead of harassing them.
  • Introduce greater flexibility in applying the state of emergency to permit Ouaddai and Sila inhabitants to access weekly markets and public services and resume their activities. Authorities should also take measures against officials who abuse their power in dealings with traders and other civilians.
  • Ensure that arms collected during disarmament operations are systematically destroyed.

For their part, Chad’s international partners and donors should encourage authorities to take the above-mentioned actions. Humanitarian actors should also include a rapid reaction capacity in their national planning for the east, in case the situation deteriorates significantly.

Nairobi/Brussels, 30 December 2019

I. Introduction

Instability has been spreading in eastern Chad since early 2019, after a long period of relative calm. In less than a year, more than a hundred people have been killed in intercommunal clashes. The main trouble-spots are in the regions of Ouaddaï, Sila and Wadi Fira – which together constitute an area once known as the Grand Ouaddaï. Tensions have flared up in the sub-prefectures of Marfa, Chokoyane, Abdi, Abkar and Kimiti, and can also be felt in cities such as Abéché, capital of Ouaddaï.[fn]See Appendix A.Hide Footnote

Dwindling in importance as a peripheral area, Ouaddaï has since considered itself “a cul-de-sac within the contemporary state”.

Semi-desert in its northern half but with more tree cover in its southern half, the Grand Ouaddaï area was long the heart of a powerful sultanate. Strategically located on trans-Saharan trade routes, this region was once a commercial and cultural crossroads linking the Sahara to the Mediterranean to the north and to the Arabian Peninsula to the east. The sultanate of Ouaddaï, a slave-trading kingdom that led raids to the south, withstood several attempts at colonial annexation and was brought under French control only in 1909, seven years before the British conquered the neighbouring sultanate of Darfur. The country’s trade was redirected toward Africa’s Atlantic coast as a result of colonisation, the decision decision to place Chad’s capital (N’Djamena) in the west, and the marginalisation of Chad’s east by the country’s first post-independence presidents. Dwindling in importance as a peripheral area, Ouaddaï has since considered itself “a cul-de-sac within the contemporary state”.[fn]Johanne Favre, “Marginalité de l’Etat et violences sociales au Far Est (Tchad oriental)”, Bulletin de l’association des géographes français, 1 September 2007.Hide Footnote

The sense of social relegation causes resentment among Ouaddaïans, a people proud of their glorious past, and sours the relationship between Abéché and N’Djamena. Ouaddaïans often refer to a mutual mistrust between themselves and central authorities: as one local civil society member said, “the regime sees us as adversaries”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Ouaddaïan civil society member, N’Djamena, September 2019.Hide Footnote Indeed, the ruling party often fares poorly in elections in this area.

After Idriss Déby became president in 1990, various events strengthened the area’s oppositional identity and further eroded trust between Ouaddaïans and the authorities. On 4 August 1993, gunmen from the Zaghawa community (Déby’s ethnic group) killed numerous civilians during an attack on the small village of Gniguilim in the sub-prefecture of Wadi Hamra.[fn]Favre, “Marginalité de l’Etat et violences sociales au Far Est (Tchad oriental)”, op. cit.Hide Footnote The apparent immunity enjoyed by those responsible for the massacre provoked violent protests by Ouaddaïans, including the Maba (an important ethnic group in the region); demonstrators set fire to various government buildings, and attacked military barracks in Abéché, before marching on N’Djamena. The regime used extreme brutality to suppress the uprising.[fn]Ibid.Hide Footnote In 1994, following Ouaddaïan rebels’ attack on a military garrison in Abéché, an event known as “the safarôg revolt”, the army shot numerous Ouaddaïans in Abéché and surrounding areas.[fn]Youssouf Togoïmi, formerly a prefect of Ouaddaï who later became a member of the Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad (Mouvement pour la démocratie et la justice au Tchad, or MDJT) rebel group, failed to reach an agreement with the army. Favre, “Marginalité de l’Etat et violences sociales au Far Est (Tchad oriental)”, op. cit.Hide Footnote Many years later, in 2008, Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh, a long-time opposition leader in the region, disappeared after security forces (according to various eyewitnesses) arrested him, causing anger among many inhabitants of eastern Chad.[fn]“Tchad: l’opposant Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh a disparu il y a dix ans”, RFI, 3 February 2018.Hide Footnote

Eastern Chad has been a trouble-spot ever since the country’s independence in 1960,[fn]On the history and underlying causes of the rebellions in eastern Chad, see Robert Buijtenhuijs, Le Frolinat et les guerres civiles du Tchad (1977-1984): la révolution introuvable (Paris, 1987); Mohamed Tétémadi Bangoura, Violence politique et conflits en Afrique: le cas du Tchad (Paris, 2006); and Crisis Group Africa Report N°144, Chad: A New Conflict Resolution Framework, 24 September 2008.Hide Footnote and is widely acknowledged to be a launch pad for armed uprisings.[fn]See Crisis Group Africa Report N°149, Chad: Powder Keg in the East, 15 April 2009.Hide Footnote In February 2019, rebels from the Union of Forces of the Resistance (Union des forces de la résistance, or UFR) crossed the Libya-Chad border on their way to eastern Chad and Sudan where they hoped to garner support, probably in preparation for an assault on the capital. The French army helped check the rebels’ progress, reassuring the authorities, who feared that the insurgents would train their guns on N’Djamena.[fn]Crisis Group Commentary, “Au Tchad, l’incursion des rebelles dévoile les fragilités du pouvoir”, 13 February 2019.Hide Footnote

The “far east” of Chad also shares a long border with Darfur.[fn]Favre, “Marginalité de l’Etat et violences sociales au Far Est (Tchad oriental)”, op. cit.Hide Footnote Home to many different communities, the Sudan-Chad border is non-existent in the eyes of the nomads who cross it every day. Moreover, in recent decades, communities on both sides of the border have been displaced by climate change, political persecution and war.[fn]Jérôme Tubiana, “The Chad-Sudan Proxy War and the ‘Darfurization’ of Chad: Myths and Reality”, Small Arms Survey, April 2008.Hide Footnote Conflicts in Chad and Sudan, although different, often affect each other, due to the two countries’ close ethnic and trade connections, combined with their historically complicated relationship. Consequently, the fighting that broke out in Darfur in 2003 not only triggered mass refugee flight to eastern Chad but also stirred up eth-nic rivalries in this area.

Responding to the increasing instability in eastern Chad, international actors deployed two peacekeeping missions in 2008: the EU’s EUFOR Chad/CAR, and the force deployed by the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT), which took over from EUFOR Chad/CAR in 2009 and continued operations until December 2010. These missions, deployed without any political mandate, were designed to prevent violence spreading from Sudan, protect civilians, and improve security in refugee camps and surrounding areas.[fn]For a more detailed analysis of these missions, see C. Churruca, “EUFOR Chad/CAR Mission on the Protection of Civilians: A Distinctive EU Way to Peace Operations”, in M. G. Galantino and M. R. Freire (eds.), Managing Crises, Making Peace. Towards a Strategic EU Vision for Security and Defense (London, 2015), pp. 216-235; and Alexandra Novosseloff and Richard Gowan, “Security Council Working Methods and UN Peace Operations: The Case of Chad and the Central African Republic, 2006-2010”, Center on International Cooperation, April 2012.Hide Footnote

This report analyses the escalating tensions among Arab and non-Arab populations in eastern Chad.

This report analyses the escalating tensions among Arab and non-Arab populations in eastern Chad. The distinction between “Arabs” and “non-Arabs” is blurred. Some Chadians whose mother tongue is Arabic are often labelled perfunctorily as Arabs without consideration of their ethnic belonging; so-called Arab populations inhabit every Chadian region. By the same token, in eastern Chad, categorising people as indigenous (or even Ouaddaïan) frames discussions in ethnic rather than historical terms: the description is often used for sedentary populations from certain ethnic groups who are not nomads, even though the latter have also lived in these regions for many years.[fn]The many ethnic groups in the Ouaddaï and Sila regions include the Maba, Mimi, Massalit, Tama, Zaghawa, Sinyar, Kadjeske, Moubi, Kibet, Dagal, Dajo, Rumah and Mouro communities.Hide Footnote

The crisis in eastern Chad exposes the domestic fragilities of a country often presented as the region’s gendarme and a strong actor in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel. This report continues Crisis Group’s work in unstable parts of the Sahel and describes the root causes of intercommunal conflicts observed in 2019 in eastern Chad. It analyses the evolution of measures taken by the authorities to contain the violence, reveals their limitations, and makes recommendations for improving stability in the area in the short to medium term.

The report is based on around 60 interviews carried out in eastern Chad in Abéché, Farchana and Tiré, and in N’Djamena and Paris, with members of civil society, human rights organisations, Chadian politicians, business people, traditional and religious leaders, and senior military officials, in addition to representatives from humanitarian and development organisations as well as Chad’s international partners.

II. A Crisis Escalating Beyond Farmer-Herder Conflicts

The recent intercommunal violence in eastern Chad has a number of causes. First, it is the result of a longstanding but growing trend whereby nomadic herders from the north settle in the Sahelian regions in central Chad, including the Ouaddaï and Sila provinces. This process, primarily linked to climatic factors, has now become a social and political phenomenon. The ensuing tensions run far deeper than the regular disputes between herders and farmers in the region. The “indigenous” populations are deeply troubled when new groups of herders settle in the area. They are worried about losing their local political power, traditional chieftaincies and access to land. On the other hand, the nomads, who are mainly Arabs, complain of stigmatisation and of being treated like foreigners in a region where their families have been part of society for generations.

These clashes are intensifying in a climate of mistrust between local inhabitants and the authorities, who are accused of favouritism and corruption. The farmers often suspect the local gendarmerie, governors, prefects and army officials of giving preference to herders, either because they have herds themselves or because they are seen as acting under the orders of powerful owners.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Chadian civil society members, N’Djamena and Abéché, September 2019.Hide Footnote

The conflicts in eastern Chad are also developing within a regional context reshaped by the ouster of Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir. As they did fifteen years ago, Chadian authorities began by portraying the current crisis in the country’s east simply as spillover of Sudan’s troubles. In August 2019, Idriss Déby said: “This intercommunal conflict is linked to the chaos in Sudan”.[fn]“Affrontements dans l’est du Tchad: le président Déby met en cause la situation au Soudan”, France Info, 19 AugustHide Footnote The truth is that the violence in the eastern provinces mainly stems from local problems rather than any domino effect originating in Sudan.[fn]On the various origins of crises in Darfur and Chad, and how they have become militarised, see Roland Marchal, “Tchad/Darfour: vers un système de conflits?”, Politique africaine, no. 102 (2006), pp. 135-154.Hide Footnote That said, all actors are aware that the situation evolving in Khartoum poses a risk for the region, which has long been affected by the crisis in Darfur and was in the middle of the proxy war between Chad and Sudan in the 2000s.

The Darfur crisis aggravated local problems and soured relations among the different ethnic groups in eastern Chad.

The Darfur crisis aggravated local problems and soured relations among the different ethnic groups in eastern Chad. The fighting in the region and the increasingly frequent attacks on Chadian villages by the Sudanese Janjaweed militia – who recruited mainly from nomadic Arab communities – caused an internal displacement of more than 170,000 civilians within a few years.[fn]For further information about these attacks, see “‘They Came Here to Kill Us’: Militia Attacks and Ethnic Targeting of Civilians in Eastern Chad”, Human Rights Watch, January 2007; and “Chad: ‘Are We Citizens of this Country?’ Civilians in Chad Unprotected from Janjawid Attacks”, Amnesty International, January 2007. For the wider context, see Tubiana, “The Chad-Sudan Proxy War and the ‘Darfurization’ of Chad: Myths and Reality”, op. cit. Between the outbreak of the violence in Darfur and 2010, 170,000 or 180,000 Chadians have been displaced by the conflicts and between 200,000 and 250,000 Sudanese have found refuge in Chad. See “Réfugiés et déplacés dans l’Est du Tchad”, EchoGéo, Sur le Vif, posted on 13 November 2007, consulted on 12 November 2019.Hide Footnote Chad’s Arab population, as well as the country’s non-Arab ethnic groups, was also affected by the violence in Darfur. The Janjaweed’s radical ideology prompted some of Chad’s Arabs to drive out non-Arab tribes and claim their land.[fn]Crisis Group Report, Chad: Powder Keg in the East, op. cit.Hide Footnote Atrocities reported by refugees fleeing Darfur caused non-Arab ethnic groups to stigmatise and mistrust Chad’s Arab population as a whole.

The normalisation of Chad-Sudan relations in 2010 has made a difference.[fn]After almost a decade of a proxy war between Chad and Sudan, during which each of N’Djamena and Khartoum armed and supported rebellions in the other’s territory, the two countries moved toward normalising their relationship in early 2010 and signed an agreement to ensure security on their shared border. A joint force of several thousand soldiers was set up for this purpose.Hide Footnote But resentments continue to simmer, and this background helps explain the current disputes between Arab and non-Arab populations.

A. From Distrust to Open Hostility

In May and August 2019, intercommunal conflicts in eastern Chad have taken a serious toll on the population: several hundred people have been killed and many thousands displaced, fuelling tensions between Arab and non-Arab populations.[fn]The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports that almost 5,200 people have been displaced in the sub-prefectures of Chokoyan and Marfa, in the Ouara department. “Tchad - suivi des urgences”, Displacement Tracking Matrix, Report 21, IOM, 23 August 2019. According to an international NGO working in eastern Chad, mainly on primary health care and malnutrition, these displaced households returned to their villages of origin several years ago in order to farm the arable land.Hide Footnote These disputes are nothing new but have become notable in 2019 due to their geographic spread, the associated violence (some individuals have been targeted on ethnic grounds), and the mobilisation of military-grade weapons, a development described by the authorities as an “arms race”.[fn]“Tchad: les instructions de Déby pour freiner la course à l’armement des civils”, Alwihda, 5 October 2019.Hide Footnote According to many Chadians interviewed in N’Djamena and Abéché, including members of human rights organisations who have researched these conflicts’ origins, the outbreak of violence in 2019 is an escalation of a series of clashes occurring since various late 2016 precarious peace agreements and truces have tried to end.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Chadian civil society members, N’Djamena, Abéché, September 2019. “Rapport de mission du 10 au 16 juin 2019 dans les provinces du Ouaddaï et du Sila”, Convention tchadienne de défense des droits de l’Homme (CTDDH), Collectif des associations de défense des droits de l’Homme (CADH) and Droits de l’Homme sans frontières (DHSF), June 2019.Hide Footnote

Over the past several years, eastern Chad has seen occasional bouts of local violence. The trampling of crops by animals – for example, in the village of Tiré in December 2016, or in the sub-prefecture of Chokoyan in December 2017 – has been enough to spark clashes that have left several dozen dead and sometimes seen people come from cities such as Abéché to join the fighting. In October 2018, widespread hostilities broke out following a new and bloody intercommunal conflict between the Arabs from the Zakhawa canton (not to be confused with the Zaghawa) and the Ouaddaïans in Guerri, in the Ouara department.[fn]Ibid.Hide Footnote

A tipping point was reached in May 2019. On 14 May, a wildfire of unknown origin was reported on the Khichem mountain in the sub-prefecture of Marfa. The Arab and non-Arab communities blamed each other, quickly leading to intimidation, gunfire and animal theft, putting each group on the defensive. People living in the ferricks (Arab villages) started to fear for their safety and to seek the support of allies outside the zone. Attacks took place in the evening of 16 May and the morning of 17 May in the Ouaddaïan villages of Dressa and Agane, where six people were killed while leaving a mosque.[fn]Ibid.Hide Footnote These attacks began a spiral of intercommunal violence.

Three months later, in August 2019, a young Arab herder’s body was discovered in a village in the sub-prefecture of Wadi Hamra, triggering a fresh outbreak of violence between his community and the so-called Ouaddaïan populations.[fn]“Après des violences, le président Idriss Déby déclare l’état d’urgence dans l’est du Tchad”, Le Monde, 19 August 2019.Hide Footnote In parallel, other local problems in Sila intensified clashes in the east, where a latent conflict between the Dajo and Mouro communities near the Kerfi market escalated in August and several dozens of people were killed.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society members, traditional authorities from Sila, NGO, N’Djamena, September 2019. For details, see Appendix C.Hide Footnote This long-running dispute between two cantons over the control of certain strategic towns and markets has never been settled. Apparently distinct from other trouble-spots in the Ouaddaï and Sila provinces, these disputes could nevertheless aggravate them, should the various opposing groups in the east form new alliances, as some Janjaweed groups did a decade ago.[fn]See appendix C.Hide Footnote

Since 2019 these disputes have affected entire communities and spread far beyond the villages and regions directly involved.

Formerly small-scale and involving only a handful of actors, since 2019 these disputes have affected entire communities and spread far beyond the villages and regions directly involved. In N’Djamena, hundreds of kilometres away, officials originally from these regions express a desire to take revenge and to defend their brothers.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local government officials, politician, N’Djamena, September 2019.Hide Footnote Moreover, Arab groups from Sudan reportedly crossed the border in May 2019 to intervene in local conflicts in support of Arab communities.[fn]Ibid.Hide Footnote It is hard to confirm whether this intervention was simply an act of banditry or a more organised form of cross-border solidarity. Many ferrick chiefs have acknowledged the presence of these groups but have sworn on the Koran that they do not know them.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, traditional chiefs, Abéché, June 2019.Hide Footnote

In 2019, there have been signs of militia groups forming, though still at an embryonic stage: the organisation of some attacks indicates a degree of planning; a system appears to have been set up for the purchase of weapons; and fighters from former Ouaddaïan rebellions have allegedly helped recruit young people and train them in the use of weapons.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, members of civil society, N’Djamena, Abéché, September 2019.Hide Footnote These developments should be seen in perspective, however. Unlike in the past, no one has so far claimed to have set up a full-fledged militia or armed movement.

Social media networks are a factor, and the various WhatsApp groups consulted by Crisis Group show that every camp is either calling for mobilisation or spreading unfounded rumours about attacks and deaths.[fn]WhatsApp messages consulted by Crisis Group, August and September 2019. In Chad, people frequently use social media networks and WhatsApp to mobilise during conflicts. They did so in Miski and even more recently in eastern Chad. The Chadian rebellions’ leaders are aware of social media’s power. “The world has changed. Hyper-connected young people today don’t sit around passively waiting for their orders”, said Ali Mahadi Mahamat, leader of the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (Front pour l’alternance et la concorde au Tchad, FACT). “Mahamat Mahadi Ali, la rose et le glaive”, Libération, 29 May 2017.Hide Footnote It is worth pointing out, however, that the government’s suspension of social media from March 2018 until July 2019 – the world’s longest-ever ban – made little impact on the conflict’s evolution in eastern Chad because people simply used virtual private networks (VPNs).[fn]“Chad’s president could stay on until 2033 under proposed reforms”, Reuters, 28 March 2018; and “This African country has had a yearlong ban on social media. Here’s what’s behind the blackout”, Time, 28 March 2019.Hide Footnote

Apart from their effects on entire communities, these disputes are also becoming politicised. According to credible sources, senior government figures close to the president have tried to exert pressure on provincial authorities, who find themselves at the receiving end of contradictory orders. The Arab official Bichara Issa Djadallah – the president’s chief of staff, former defence minister and Ouaddaï’s ex-governor – apparently advised his successor as regional governor, Adoum Forteye, not to disarm Arab fighters.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society members, N’Djamena, September 2019.Hide Footnote Conversely, the Ouaddaïan Ahmat Bachir, a former minister, who notably has held the public security portfolio, is said to have criticised the governor for disarming farmers while leaving herders alone.[fn]Ibid.Hide Footnote The state of affairs in eastern Chad is dividing the state at the highest level, up to and including the president’s inner circle.

B. The Conflict’s Root Causes

1. Pastoral mobility altering the demographic balance

The severe droughts of the 1980s caused a major demographic shift in the country’s east, as well as mounting pressures over access to natural resources. The population of Biltine, in the Wadi Fira region, migrated southward to settle in the Ouara department (in the Ouaddaï province) but especially in the more fertile Sila.[fn]Crisis Group Report, Chad: Powder Keg in the East, op. cit.Hide Footnote Nomadic herders also began heading south in ever-greater numbers, with many settling in Ouaddaï and Sila after diversifying their activities. These regions have undergone a progressive transformation. Northern Ouaddaï has become a grazing area for animals belonging to Zaghawa, Arab and Gorane herders from the north. Reports suggest that Sila’s population has quadrupled in size between 1964 and 1993, continuing to grow with “villages [that] are swelling each year”.[fn]“Marginalité de l’Etat et violences sociales au Far Est (Tchad oriental)”, op. cit.Hide Footnote

In these traditionally mobile regions, relations between indigenous and recently settled populations have often been fraught.

In these traditionally mobile regions, relations between indigenous and recently settled populations have often been fraught. In the 1990s, clashes broke out between the Tama and Zaghawa groups in Biltine. After Idriss Déby took office, the Zaghawa began to dominate southern Biltine, despite being a minority in the area, and launched a series of humiliating attacks on the Tama, Gorane and Massalit populations.[fn]Crisis Group Report, Chad: Powder Keg in the East, op. cit.Hide Footnote In the Sila province, an influx of Ouaddaïan traders, particularly those from the Mimi and Maba ethnic groups, has also stirred up resentment among the Dajo, once the majority ethnic group, and among prominent members of their community. In this same area, the arrival of Arab herders and the growing size of herds have caused conflicts to spread, turning water sources into jealously guarded sites. Previously, these disputes were often limited in scope due to the mediating role of traditional chiefs as well as time-honoured social solidarity.

These local conflict resolution mechanisms have become less effective owing to growing herds, the spread of different crops and the ongoing settlement of herders. In recent months, tensions have peaked and these conflicts have pitted Arabs and non-Arabs against each other, echoing the violence of the 2000s following the Darfur crisis.

2. Growing identity-based tensions

The majority communities in the Ouaddaï region, including the Maba, at the head of the sultanate, fear that the settlement of these new groups of (mainly Arab) herders is altering the demographic balance and affecting land distribution. Even more significantly, they sense that their local political power is ebbing. For exam-ple, they complain about nomadic herders failing to respect the tradition of making contact with local traditional authorities ahead of their arrival. They also criticise the new settlers for seeking to establish independent traditional chieftaincies and for using water sources without permission.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, parliamentarian, civil society members, traditional chiefs, N’Djamena, Abéché, June and August 2019.Hide Footnote

Many people in the region perceive that an Arab elite is seeking to establish a more dominant presence in Chad by settling new Arab populations in the Ouaddaï and Sila provinces, as already happened in Sudan. According to this perspective, this elite wants to settle Arabs in order to create a social and political power base.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society members, traditional chiefs, politicians, economic actors, N’Djamena, Abéché, Tiré, Farchana, June and September 2019.Hide Footnote “When populations live a nomadic lifestyle, they have no political clout. They don’t vote. They have no established and stable traditional chiefs. They aren’t able to claim land ownership. Ultimately, they have little political power”, said a former minister and opposition member.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chadian politician, N’Djamena, September 2019.Hide Footnote

Citizens, traditional chiefs and Arab associations paint a very different picture. According to members of an NGO set up in 1999 to promote the settling of nomads, the settlement drive comes primarily in response to the nomadic populations’ need for access to social services and formally educate their children, including in Koranic schools: “we raised awareness and built a Koranic school in the south of Abéché, known locally as Mabrouka. This helped nomadic herders, who were primarily Arab, to settle”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chadian NGO member, Abéché, September 2019.Hide Footnote Arab members of Abéché’s civil society accuse Ouaddaïans of seeking to prevent them from participating in public affairs and excluding them from organisations such as political parties: “When they want to set up a branch of a political party, they only appoint their own people and designate Ouaddaïans as electoral candidates”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, civil society member, Abéché, September 2019.Hide Footnote

These intercommunal conflicts are coloured by preconceptions.

These intercommunal conflicts are coloured by preconceptions. Accusations of racism and the idea of an “Arab plot” to secure power in the Ouaddaï region were rife during Crisis Group’s interviews in eastern Chad but also in N’Djamena, echoing past events.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society members, traditional chiefs, politicians, economic actors, N’Djamena, Abéché, Tiré, Farchana, June and September 2019.Hide Footnote The pro-Arab doctrine once propounded by the former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi and his alliances with nomadic Chadian Arab groups such as the Democratic Revolutionary Council (Conseil démocratique révolutionnaire, CDR) in the 1980s, and the Janjaweed’s subsequent discourse of Arab supremacism, strengthened the idea that the Arabs wanted to consolidate a dominant role with external support. “The Arabs are intent on repeating in eastern Chad, and especially in Ouaddaï, what they did in Darfur: they want to get their hands on the land and make a clean sweep of Ouaddaï”, said one humanitarian aid worker.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chadian humanitarian actor, Abéché, September 2019.Hide Footnote The meteoric rise of the Janjaweed chief, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (alias Hemedti) – who worked closely with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir before playing a part in his downfall, and is now a powerful player in Sudan’s political and security apparatus in his own right – has strengthened these collective fears.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, parliamentarian, civil society members, traditional chiefs, N’Djamena, Abéché, June and August 2019. On Hemedti’s background, see “The man who terrorised Darfur is leading Sudan’s supposed transition”, Foreign Policy, 14 May 2019.Hide Footnote

Worryingly, these problems have escalated to the national level and become part of a public debate; people are convinced that power is tied to communities and ethnic groups. A member of the president’s inner circle told Crisis Group: “Power is like the seasons. The southerners once had access to power, and so did the Gorane and Zaghawa populations. Now the Arabs, the most populous group, are expecting their turn”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, member of Idriss Déby’s inner circle, N’Djamena, July 2019.Hide Footnote

Chad’s leaders have often referred to an “Arab threat” in the past. After taking office in 1982, former president Hissène Habré developed an anti-Arab discourse as part of his dispute with Tripoli, portraying Chad’s Arab population as Libyan proxies. Finding themselves victims of political persecution, many young Arabs left for Libya as well as Darfur, including members of the Awlad Mansour section of the Mahariya clan, led by Juma Dongolo, who left for Nyala in southern Darfur.[fn]“La guerre par procuration entre le Tchad et le Soudan et la ‘darfourisation’ du Tchad: mythes et réalité”, op. cit.Hide Footnote Dongolo is Hemedti’s uncle, and like his nephew he has also become a Janjaweed chief.[fn]For further information on the ouster of Omar al-Bashir and the challenge facing the figures of Sudan’s political transition, see Crisis Group Africa Report N°281, Safeguarding Sudan’s Revolution, 21 October 2019.Hide Footnote

The equation changed when Idriss Déby became head of state. The incoming president quickly appointed several Arab members of the Party for Liberty and Development (Parti pour les libertés et le développement, PLD) as government officials. This move earned him long-lasting support; when the PLD’s founder Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh (who has since gone missing) announced his candidacy for the country’s presidency in 2001, effectively ending the alliance between the PLD and Déby’s Patriotic Salvation Movement (Mouvement patriotique du salut, MPS), Arab officials broke with the party and opted to remain in government.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Chadian politicians, N’Djamena, September 2019.Hide Footnote The Darfur crisis cooled these relations, with the government hastily accusing eastern Chad’s Arab population of being Sudanese proxies. Since then, however, “water has passed under the bridge”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chadian politician, N’Djamena, September 2019. See also Marchal, “Tchad/Darfour: vers un système de conflits?”, op. cit.Hide Footnote

Déby continues to handle relationships with this Arab elite very carefully. He has appointed various Arab leaders to senior positions: a former foreign affairs minister, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, has been named head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA); Bichara Issa Djadallah, Hemedti’s cousin, became defence minister and later his personal chief of staff; Acheick Ibn Oumar, another former foreign minister, is now his diplomatic adviser; and Rakhis Manany, previously minister of communications, has become the director of a Chadian insurance company.[fn]“Mahamat Saleh Annadif: un Tchadien à la tête de l’ONU au Mali”, RFI, 15 January 2016. Crisis Group interview, economic and political actors, N’Djamena, August 2019.Hide Footnote

This climate of mistrust surrounding Arabs is palpable in N’Djamena and even more so in the country’s east.

The inclusion of Arab officials in Déby’s inner circle, along with their influence in an army often referred to simply as GAZ (after its Gorane, Arab and Zaghawa members) and their support across the region, has encouraged the view among the president’s inner circle as well as opposition figures that Arabs are positioning themselves for the “post-Déby” era.[fn]Among senior Arab army officers, the former chief of staff Brahim Saidi Mahamat and the president’s current chief of staff are familiar figures for Chadians. Crisis Group interviews, members of the president’s inner circle, N’Djamena, July and September 2019.Hide Footnote This climate of mistrust surrounding Arabs is palpable in N’Djamena and even more so in the country’s east. These concerns should be taken seriously because they could carry the seeds of future violence.

III. Regional Dynamics: Identifying the Risks

Ever since Omar al-Bashir was ousted in Sudan, N’Djamena has been warily observing its neighbour. Like Sudan’s former president, Chad’s leadership faces internal squabbles, the challenge of having been so long in power, and an economic environment conducive to a popular uprising. The 2020 elections have so far attracted little interest but they pose a potential threat to rulers if Chad’s civil society chooses to follow in the footsteps of its Sudanese neighbours.

Recent events in Sudan also raise questions about the viability of the non-aggression pact between Sudan and Chad, and of the 2010 agreement between Bashir and Déby, which brought an end to a proxy war, helped create a more secure border between the two countries, and defused tensions in eastern Chad.[fn]After relations improved between Sudan and Chad in the late 2000s, their leaders undertook a commitment not to support rebellions in each other’s countries and to agree to a non-aggression pact.Hide Footnote In the past few months, the relative weakening of the joint border force has undoubtedly facilitated gun smuggling from Sudan and a higher rate of crossings by Arabs come to support their brethren. The repatriation of several thousand Sudanese refugees in Chad, planned as part of the tripartite agreement between the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Chad and Sudan, has also been put on hold after Bashir’s overthrow.[fn]Crisis Group interview, humanitarian actor, N’Djamena, September 2019.Hide Footnote

The agreement signed in August 2019 in Khartoum, paving the way for Sudan’s transition and promising general elections in late 2022, represents a leap forward that has been welcomed and supported by most international and regional actors.[fn]Crisis Group interview, humanitarian actor, N’Djamena, September 2019.Hide Footnote From Chad’s perspective, however, so far it does not offer any guarantee of stability in the medium term.

A. An Uncertain Future for Chad-Sudan Relations

Omar al-Bashir and Idriss Déby enjoyed a strong relationship for many years, remaining in close contact until Sudan’s president was ousted on 11 April 2019. President Déby had visited Sudan often during the months preceding the overthrow and was there just one week previously, on 4 April. “Unlike others, Déby never abandoned Bashir”, one diplomat said.[fn]Crisis Group interview, diplomat, N’Djamena, September 2019.Hide Footnote During his last visit to Chad in December 2018, Bashir stayed at the presidential palace, an unusual privilege.

Eager to keep the Chad-Sudan agreement alive, Déby is working to maintain good relations with Sudan’s new leaders. Sudanese representatives have frequently visited in recent months and Chad’s president also went to Khartoum in August to witness the signing of the transition agreement. But an observer at the ceremony reported that many Sudanese civilians gave him a mixed reception there, whereas the official mediators of the Sudan crisis, including Ethiopia’s prime minister and representatives from the African Union, received warm rounds of applause. Moreover, Déby left for Abéché before the ceremony had finished.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chadian politician, N’Djamena, September 2019.Hide Footnote In December 2019, Déby received Sudan’s prime minister Abdalla Hamdok in N’Djamena to discuss the strengthening of the Chad-Sudan joint border force, which has weakened following the withdrawal of Sudanese soldiers.[fn]The two leaders also discussed their bilateral economic relationship and the Sudanese political process. “Communiqué de presse conjoint Tchad-Soudan”, N’Djamena, 16 December 2019. The joint force was weakened by the departure of several Sudanese soldiers but also by the redeployment of Chadian troops from the joint force in the Ouaddaï and Sila regions during a state of emergency. Crisis Group interview, military expert, N’Djamena, December 2019.Hide Footnote The Sudanese authorities have reportedly since deployed extra troops to reinforce the border, and the two countries have shared intelligence.[fn]Crisis Group interview, military expert, N’Djamena, December 2019.Hide Footnote

Chad’s president and some of its political class consider that only strongmen can guarantee stability in neighbouring countries.

Chad’s president and some of its political class consider that only strongmen can guarantee stability in neighbouring countries. This predilection explains their support for Khalifa Haftar in Libya and for Hemedti to be part of Sudan’s post-Bashir political settlement.[fn]Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar commands the Libyan National Army (LNA), a force originally based in eastern Libya and opposing Tripoli’s Government of National Accord, supported by the UN. After several years, the Chadian authorities displayed their support for Haftar, who responded by putting pressure on the armed Chadian groups in southern Libya. This relationship was strengthened in May 2017 after the attack on the LNA’s base in Brak Shati, in central Libya, by Misrata militia, supposedly aided by Libya-based Chadian rebels. Crisis Group interviews, Chadian political actor and diplomat, N’Djamena, September 2019.Hide Footnote This former warlord in Darfur, now occupying a prime position in Sudan’s Sovereign Council, which is steering the transition process, is indeed a very powerful military figure.[fn]This Council consists of generals and opposition figures in Sudan. For further information, see Crisis Group Report, Safeguarding Sudan’s Revolution, op. cit.Hide Footnote He commands tens of thousands of men and benefits from external (particularly Emirati) funding and political support.[fn]Many diplomats refer to the vast sums of money given by the United Arab Emirates to Hemedti after Bashir was ousted, helping him to consolidate his position on Sudan’s political scene before the transition in August 2019. Crisis Group interviews, diplomats, Nairobi, Washington, May and July 2019.Hide Footnote Idriss Déby has also received him on repeated occasions during meetings undoubtedly facilitated by Hemedti’s cousin, Djadallah, the Chadian president’s chief of staff.[fn]In 2006, Djadallah, who was Chad’s defence minister at the time, already invited his cousin Hemedti to N’Djamena to sign a non-aggression pact with Khalil Ibrahim from the MJE, a rebel group from Darfur, without Khartoum being informed. “The man who terrorised Darfur is leading Sudan’s supposed transition”, Foreign Policy, op. cit.; and “Tchad: qui informe Idriss Déby Itno sur la situation au Soudan?”, Jeune Afrique, 21 June 2019.Hide Footnote

N’Djamena has been busy behind the scenes on the Sudan file, once again taking a mediating role that Déby has played with varying degrees of success for many years in Darfur. In July 2019, the president organised a meeting between Minni Minnawi, leader of a rebel faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), Hemedti, and a representative of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), a rebel group from Darfur, in the presidential palace.[fn]Minni Minnawi is a rebel Zaghawa leader from Darfur who commands a faction of the SPLA. Most of these forces are active in Libya and fighting alongside Haftar. The JEM is a rebel group from Darfur established by a Zaghawa, Khalil Ibrahim. In 2008, the JEM launched an offensive, giving it temporary control over various Sudanese villages, and engaging in fierce fighting against soldiers in the west of the capital. The JEM lost much of its power after Ibrahim’s death in 2011. In addition to Darfur, the group is also present in South Sudan and some of its men are fighting today in Libya, particularly alongside the Benghazi defence forces and the Misrata militia. See “Letter from the Panel of Experts on the Sudan established pursuant to resolution 1591 (2005) addressed to the President of the Security Council”, UNSC, S/2019/35, 10 January 2019.Hide Footnote According to one of Déby’s inner circle, these discussions have given previously competing groups from Darfur a chance to find common ground: Minnawi sought to secure a place in Sudan’s new political landscape and Hemedti needed to speak in the name of a region (Darfur) to boost his political power.[fn]Crisis Group interview, member of Déby’s inner circle, N’Djamena, September 2019.Hide Footnote In early November, Déby also invited a JEM leader, Djibril Ibrahim, for a meeting in N’Djamena to discuss the peace process in Sudan.[fn]“JEM leader heads to Chad for talks on Sudan peace process”, Sudan Tribune, 2 November 2019.Hide Footnote When Hamdok met Déby in December, he praised Chad’s efforts to facilitate Sudan’s political process.[fn]“Communiqué de presse conjoint Tchad-Soudan”, op. cit.Hide Footnote

Despite the Chadian president’s repeated contacts with Hemedti, the dramatic rise of this Janjaweed chief has also given rise to genuine fears in eastern Chad and among Chad’s political class more generally. Those close to the president and to parliamentarians are wary of his unpredictability: “If for any reason he loses his position in Khartoum and returns to Darfur, he could form other alliances, including with Chadian rebels, and pose a threat to Chad”.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, member of the Déby’s inner circle and parliamentarian, N’Djamena, July and September 2019.Hide Footnote

B. Fears of Darfur Spinning Out of Control

The stabilisation of Darfur appears unrealistic in the short to medium term.

The stabilisation of Darfur, seen as one of the main challenges in Sudan’s political transition, appears unrealistic in the short to medium term. Although the conflict has considerably abated since the end of the war that ravaged the region in the 2000s, it has left many scars: a massive displaced population, latent intercommunal conflicts, and spikes of instability that the hybrid UN/AU operation in Darfur (UNAMID) can barely control.

In October 2019, in the South Sudanese capital of Juba, a new phase in the peace talks began between Sudan’s sovereign council and rebels from the Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions, with the objective of concluding peace agreements by the start of 2020. But many obstacles lie ahead. The most active rebel group in Darfur, Abdul-Wahid al-Nur’s ALS, has so far refused to participate in these talks, despite a meeting between al-Nur and Sudan’s prime minister Hamdok, in Paris in September 2019.[fn]“Rencontre à Paris entre le Premier ministre soudanais et l’un des chefs rebelles du Darfour”, La Croix, 30 September 2019; and “Implement Sudan’s revolution goals before peace talks: Abdel Wahid al-Nur”, Sudan Tribune, 21 September 2019.Hide Footnote To complicate matters further, Sudan’s Sovereign Council appointed Hemedti to supervise these negotiations. The armed groups sitting around the table, as well as the population at large, are critical of his past as commander of the Janjaweed under Bashir.

The Rapid Support Forces’ future remains a source of concern, both in Sudan and in Chad.[fn]The Rapid Support Forces, created in 2013, are paramilitary forces mainly consisting of Janjaweed fighters under the command of Hemedti. They fought for Bashir before taking part in his ouster.Hide Footnote Now a veritable transnational militia, deployed in Yemen, Libya and on the streets of Khartoum, these Forces maintain a strong base in Darfur. Hemedti’s men effectively control much of this region and derive most of their resources from it.[fn]“Letter from the Panel of Experts on the Sudan established pursuant to resolution 1591 (2005) addressed to the President of the Security Council”, op. cit.Hide Footnote From Chad’s perspective, it is a troubling presence. One concerned politician in N’Djamena said: “They may choose to sever ties with their leader and act independently”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Chadian politician, N’Djamena, September 2019.Hide Footnote

The Chadian authorities fear that, in the future, Chadian militiamen who have joined the Rapid Support Forces’ ranks in recent years may escalate intercommunal conflicts in the east.[fn]Ibid.Hide Footnote During the past fifteen years, many camel herders and young Arabs have left Chad for Sudan to seek better opportunities. The Sudanese government has generally encouraged them, giving them land and setting up welcoming committees for the new arrivals. Some have continued herding or farming, while others have sought financial gain by joining the ranks of the Janjaweed. Many Chadians have also enlisted in Sudan’s irregular forces, including one who holds the rank of general.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society member, Chadian politician, N’Djamena, September 2019; and Crisis Group telephone interview, researcher, September 2019.Hide Footnote In case of a resurgence of large-scale conflicts in eastern Chad between Ouaddaïans and Arabs, cross-border solidarity will undoubtedly be brought into play. “Our comrades will support us”, said one traditional Arab chief. “They won’t be able to sit on the sidelines”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, traditional chief, Abéché, N’Djamena, September 2019.Hide Footnote

IV. The Chadian Government’s Response to the Conflicts in the East

The head of state’s frequent visits to Abéché and Sila during recent years attest to official concerns about violence in the east. The government fears that violence could contaminate other provinces and cities in the country. It is afraid that malcontents of every description, including members of the president’s own ethnic group, could find common cause.

The Chadian government’s response to the crisis in the east changed over the course of 2019. It initially sought to pressure traditional authorities and reorganise the local administration. Meanwhile, the region’s deputies led mediation and awareness raising initiatives within the framework of the first mission of the High Council of Local Authorities and Traditional Chieftaincies (Haut conseil des collectivités autonomes et des chefferies traditionnelles, HCACT) and Arab and Ouaddaïan representatives signed peace agreements.[fn]Crisis Group interview, deputy, N’Djamena, July 2019.Hide Footnote But in the absence of monitoring, this initiative did not prevent renewed violence.

The upsurge of violence in August was a turning point and drove the authorities to adopt a strategy of restoring military control in the east.

The upsurge of violence in August was a turning point and drove the authorities to adopt a strategy of restoring military control in the east. On returning from Khartoum, the president convened an extraordinary Council of Ministers in mid-August and decreed a state of emergency in Ouaddaï, Sila and Tibesti.[fn]“Après des violences, le président Idriss Déby déclare l’état d’urgence dans l’est du Tchad”, op. cit.Hide Footnote The government then considerably strengthened its military presence with the deployment of additional troops. The authorities intensified their efforts to disarm locals, made many arrests and took a harder line in general.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society representatives, authorities, N’Djamena, Abéché, September 2019.Hide Footnote While visiting Abéché in August, the president said: “Anyone failing to respond after three warning shots will be killed”.[fn]“Tchad : Idriss Déby, adroit dans ses bottes”, Jeune Afrique, 27 August 2019.Hide Footnote After a visit to Goz Beïda a few days later, he added: “If there are any more conflicts between Arabs and Ouaddaïans […] kill ten from both sides in order to save the majority”.[fn]“Tchad : Idriss Déby, adroit dans ses bottes”, Jeune Afrique, 27 August 2019.Hide Footnote In response to what opponents and representatives of civil society described as a “license to kill”, the presidency qualified the head of state’s comments in a communiqué.[fn]Crisis Group interview, diplomat, N’Djamena, September 2019.Hide Footnote

The government’s tougher stance seems to have improved security and led to a significant reduction in intercommunal clashes. But it risks fuelling resentment of the state because it is accompanied by heavy burdens on the local population. Moreover, the state of emergency, which will stay in place at least until January, and the militarisation of the region compromise the holding of legislative elections and the election campaign, which are scheduled for 2020. In this context, discontent in the east could take a more political turn.

A. State of Emergency: A Reduction in Clashes but a Perceptible Increase in Discontent

The state of emergency introduced on 20 August and extended for four months by the National Assembly on 10 September covers the provinces of Ouaddaï and Sila in eastern Chad and Tibesti in northern Chad. It was accompanied by a series of measures, including an increase in controls, a curfew, a ban on rallies and restrictions on movement. The security forces set up checkpoints at the entrances to major towns, such as Abéché, and closed some roads. The authorities prohibited the use of motorbikes in rural areas and banned large meetings.[fn]Communiqué N°019/PR/MATCTD/POD/SG/19 on application of state of emergency measures in the province of Ouaddaï.Hide Footnote

In the short term, the strategy of containing intercommunal violence seems to have had some success. Many residents of Abéché, Farchana and Tiré feel that the state of emergency, frequent army checks and disarmament operations reduced intercommunal conflict and crime in September, October and November.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society representatives, traditional chiefs, politicians, economic actors, N’Djamena, Abéché, Tiré, Farchana, June and September 2019.Hide Footnote Some sectors of the local population therefore approve of these measures.

Eastern Chad remains a powder keg, however. The intercommunal fractures that appeared so dramatically in 2019 have not gone away, arousing fears of further violence. Moreover, many people are suffering the downside of the state of emergency and its overzealous application. In Goz Beïda and Abéché, the population has accused the Chadian army of abuses. “They enter our houses, take our motorbikes, force people out of their homes, make them lie on the ground, and commit acts of violence and intimidation”, reports one humanitarian actor.[fn]Crisis Group interview, humanitarian actor based in the east of the country, N’Djamena, September 2019.Hide Footnote Several human rights associations have denounced “arbitrary arrests, violence, and even thefts and extortion” by soldiers.[fn]“Tchad : une association dénonce des exactions sous couvert de l’état d'urgence”, RFI, 14 September 2019. In addition, on 3 December 2019, the human rights activist Mahamat Nour Ibedou, general secretary of the Chadian Human Rights Convention (Convention tchadienne de défense des Droits de l’Homme, CTDDH), who on several occasions denounced abuses by the security forces and arbitrary detentions in the east during the state of emergency, was arrested for “murder and being an accessory to murder” and is currently in detention. “Tchad : le militant Mahamat Nour Ibedou accusé de meurtre”, RFI, 6 December 2019.Hide Footnote The minister of defence and public security has rejected these accusations.[fn]Ibid.Hide Footnote

State of emergency measures also affect trade in Ouaddaï and Sila. Abéché’s most prominent traders complain about increased army harassment and inspections.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, shopkeepers, Abéché, September 2019.Hide Footnote The military demands that customs immediately clear products imported for sale in shops.[fn]Crisis Group interview, UN personnel, N’Djamena, September 2019.Hide Footnote This is especially true concerning the import of sugar, smuggling of which has increased rapidly in the last few months.[fn]Crisis Group interview, economic actor, N’Djamena, October 2019.Hide Footnote Moreover, closure of the Sudanese and Libyan borders (which nevertheless remain porous) is interfering with trade. Traders in Abéché expressed their dissatisfaction by going on strike in September, closing their shops for three days.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, shopkeepers, Abéché, September 2019.Hide Footnote Shopkeepers in Goz Beïda, Oum Hadjer and Adré followed suit. Shopkeepers went to the governor to plead their cause, asking him to apply the state of emergency more flexibly.[fn]Ibid.Hide Footnote He said no. In September, however, the government announced it would ensure safe passage for the import of essential goods from Sudan and Libya.[fn]“Tchad : prolongation de l’Etat d’urgence dans l’Est”, RFI, 11 September 2019.Hide Footnote

The state of emergency could also have humanitarian consequences for a country where the incidence of malnutrition is among the highest in the world.

The state of emergency could also have humanitarian consequences for a country where the incidence of malnutrition is among the highest in the world.[fn]“Tchad : la malnutrition dit tous les maux de notre société”, Libération, 30 July 2018.Hide Footnote The east is no better than the rest of the country. The nutritional status of Dar Sila, a relatively fertile area that was set to become the east’s breadbasket, has been deteriorating for several years and food insecurity affects thousands of people.[fn]“Tchad : Profil humanitaire de la province du Sila (décembre 2018)”, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 23 December 2018.Hide Footnote The state of emergency adds to the problems faced by these provinces by hindering access to services, weekly markets and humanitarian aid. The ban on motorbikes prevents some sectors of the population from moving around and interferes with NGO activities.[fn]Crisis Group interview, humanitarian actor, N’Djamena, September 2019.Hide Footnote

Many residents of Ouaddaï and Sila fear their young people will again rebel if the current situation continues.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Abéché, N’Djamena, September 2019.Hide Footnote

B. Risks and Limits of Disarmament Operations

Over the last ten years, many disarmament operations have been organised in eastern Chad. The authorities have regularly created, reactivated and/or strengthened disarmament commissions. Their latest initiative, the joint disarmament commission (police, gendarmerie, army) created several months ago, aims to slow the arms race that ensues from intercommunal conflicts.

Disarmament is a two-stage procedure. First, traditional chiefs travel around their territories asking communities to voluntarily surrender their arms. In their sermons, the imams help by encouraging the faithful to cooperate. Next, the army takes charge and forcibly disarms those who have not complied.

In July 2019, the disarmament commission said it had collected 297 weapons of various calibres in the east and seized lorries transporting arms.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, UN personnel, N’Djamena, July 2019.Hide Footnote Presented as a success, these results seemed modest in relation to the number of weapons in circulation. The deployment of additional troops intensified disarmament operations and, at the start of October, the authorities said they had collected 4,000 weapons.[fn]“Tchad : 4 000 armes de différents calibres et une centaine de munitions ont été récupérées à moins d’un mois d’opération”, Toumaï Web media, 3 October 2019.Hide Footnote In the same month, at a governors’ conference in Abéché, President Déby said he was satisfied with the progress made by disarmament operations and expressed a renewed ambition: “the disarmament of civilians must not be limited either in time or space and must be generalised throughout the country”.[fn]“Tchad : les instructions de Déby pour freiner la course à l’armement des civils”, op. cit.Hide Footnote In December, the authorities said they had recovered 11,000 weapons.[fn]Crisis Group correspondence, diplomat, December 2019.Hide Footnote

While most actors in the east understand the need for disarmament and many have surrendered their arms voluntarily, abuses have accompanied many army operations. Civil society has denounced degrading treatment, brutal searches and arbitrary arrests.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society representatives, humanitarian actors, N’Djamena, Abéché, Farchana, September 2019. Also see “Tchad : une association dénonce des exactions sous couvert de l’état d'urgence”, RFI, 14 September 2019.Hide Footnote There are limits to how far disarmament can go and these operations present risks. The region is militarised and the import of arms from Sudan has reduced the effectiveness of past disarmament campaigns in eastern Chad. Moreover, local people have little trust in the authorities and fear that selective disarmament will only affect sedentary agrarian populations.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society representatives, Abéché, September 2019.Hide Footnote Disarmament operations, however, have also taken place in several Arab villages, known as ferricks.[fn]Crisis Group interview, traditional chief, Abéché, September 2019.Hide Footnote Finally, it is not clear how confiscated weapons are stored and whether they are destroyed. Several sources, including government officials, say some confiscated weapons have been put on the market.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Chadian politician and civil society representatives, N’Djamena and Abéché, June and September 2019.Hide Footnote

V. Reduce the Factors Driving Instability in Eastern Chad

The crisis has led to the reappearance of deep fractures in eastern Chad, where tension remains palpable.

The crisis has led to the reappearance of deep fractures in eastern Chad, where tension remains palpable despite the lull since September 2019. The response of the government, which has legitimate concerns, has been short-term and guided by security considerations. It has not addressed the governance problems that also fuel the violence.

Political solutions for the region’s problems do exist, however. The authorities could regain the trust of local people and improve relations between communities in conflict by loosening the stranglehold imposed by the state of emergency, initi-ating a broad debate on managing nomadic pastoralism, and punishing civilian and military officials who abuse their power and take sides in herder-farmer con-flicts. Moreover, many actors, including traditional chiefs, politicians and civil soci-ety representatives are willing to undertake mediation and awareness raising ac-tivities in good faith. The government should work with international partners to support existing initiatives to promote dialogue and cooperation. It should also back the idea of holding an inclusive conference to promote peace in the east. 

A. Adopt a Comprehensive Approach to Nomadic Pastoralism and Regain Public Trust

The movement of herders toward the south, whether that takes the form of earlier transhumance or the trend toward adopting sedentary agriculture, is generating tension and strong identity anxieties in eastern Chad and other parts of the country. There is no doubt that this population movement is inevitable, due to climatic factors, the aspirations of younger generations of herders, and local political and social dynamics. “More and more nomads are going to settle here. We must live together, and we need to find a way of understanding each other”, said a deputy from the region.[fn]Crisis Group interview, deputy, N’Djamena, July 2019.Hide Footnote

At the governors’ conference in Abéché in October, President Déby emphasised the need to adapt to new patterns of nomadic pastoralism by demarcating new transhumance corridors and cattle resting areas.[fn]“Tchad : les instructions de Déby pour freiner la course à l’armement des civils”, op. cit.Hide Footnote Several international development actors are already working on such projects, some of which are longstanding.[fn]For example, the French Development Agency, Swiss Cooperation, the EU and the World Bank. On questions related to pastoralism in Chad and Central Africa, see Crisis Group Africa Report N°215, The Security Challenges of Pastoralism in Central Africa, 1 April 2014.Hide Footnote To promote understanding between new arrivals and so-called indigenous population groups, Déby also asked his ministers to “establish a national commission and local committees in cooperation with the High Council of Local Authorities and Traditional Chieftaincies, in order to create the local conditions for peaceful coexistence between herders and farmers”.[fn]“Tchad : les instructions de Déby pour freiner la course à l’armement des civils”, op. cit.Hide Footnote Recognition of the local dimension of conflict is useful, but the situation requires a broader discussion about overhauling land ownership policies and drawing up clear rules for the settlement of new populations.

Another issue is that members of the administrative and military elite have invested in cattle and therefore have a personal interest in siding with herders in conflicts with farmers. The phenomenon of “neo-herders” has done much to change the relationship between the authorities (mainly Gorans, Zaghawa and Arabs) and groups in conflict and has heightened political and social tensions. The sense of injustice is marked among the sedentary populations of eastern Chad, who believe that the authorities are biased against them or even intend them harm. To re-establish a healthy relationship with the people of Ouaddaï, the government should quickly replace, punish or prosecute officials who abuse their position when intervening in the resolution of farmer-herder conflicts. Moreover, to prevent such conflicts of interest, the authorities should not send officials to areas where they own cattle.

B. Create a Framework for an Inclusive Dialogue and Create Long-term Mediation Mechanisms

Traditional authorities, who are generally a force for stability, have been overtaken by the conflict. They are caught between government pressures and criticism from their own communities for allocating land to new arrivals. Public and military officials say traditional authorities are unable to ease tensions and tend to blame them for the region’s problems. In June and July, the government suspended several canton chiefs and replaced the sultan of Ouaddaï with a supporter of the president. The sultan’s dismissal caused a crisis in the east as some residents dispute the legitimacy of his successor, Cherif Abdelhadi Mahadi.[fn]“Tchad : le nouveau Sultan du Ouaddaï, Chérif Abdelhadi appelle à l’unité”, Alwihda, 10 August 2019. This appointment confirmed a recent trend for the head of state to appoint key supporters to strategic posts, probably out of fear of being betrayed. Crisis Group interviews, diplomats, N’Djamena, September 2019.Hide Footnote

In these circumstances, traditional conflict resolution mechanisms become ineffective, leading other actors to take mediation initiatives in Abéché and the surrounding area. In May, the High Council of Local Authorities and Traditional Chieftaincies sent a delegation comprising parliamentarians to broker peace agreements between the communities involved in the most recent violence. The mission subsequently submitted a report to parliament. But regardless of the agreements’ content, the capacity to put them into practice is lacking and they are rapidly losing impact on the ground. Several canton chiefs and religious authorities, notably the local branch of the High Council for Islamic Affairs, and other prominent figures have also taken mediation initiatives. For example, a mediation commission was established in Goz Beïda.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, deputy, traditional chief, official, N’Djamena, Abéché, September 2019.Hide Footnote

All these attempts at mediation suffer flaws, however. They are often limited in scope and not inclusive enough, ignoring entire sectors, notably traders. To address these inadequacies, the former mediator of the Republic, Ahmat Yacoub Dabio, now at the head of the Center for Development Studies and the Prevention of Extremism, suggested a broader framework for cooperation and in late 2019 proposed a peace conference in Abéché.[fn]Crisis Group interview, association member, N’Djamena, July 2019.Hide Footnote The government should support such a conference to bring together multiple actors in or from eastern Chad, such as traditional authorities, traders, deputies and economic and religious actors. Participants should debate the relations between farmers and herders, access to land, the diya, the role of traditional chieftaincies and the circulation of arms, and formulate a series of recommendations.[fn]The diya is a sum of money paid in compensation for a crime or accident. It aims to settle disputes between parties and avoid armed reprisals. In Chad, the amount varies depending on the victim’s age, social status and ethnic group. Often criticised for establishing a hierarchy between these groups and for replacing judicial proceedings, the diya has become a political issue. A ministerial circular was issued on 4 October 2019 to regulate the practice. “Le gouvernement s’attaque à la pratique de la diya”, RFI, 6 October 2019.Hide Footnote

To avoid creating initiatives that receive little or no follow-up, the conference should lead to the creation of a mediation committee.

To avoid creating initiatives that receive little or no follow-up, the conference should lead to the creation of a mediation committee. Selected by and among the conference participants, it should ensure implementation of its resolutions; with support from the government, it should become a permanent mediation body in the medium term. Moreover, the government should in general seek to support the work of traditional authorities rather than holding them responsible for the region’s problems.

In a tense context, it is also crucial to counter the spread of unfounded rumours. Many actors already help educate their communities. Imams preach conciliation in Friday sermons. Youth associations are also involved. In October 2019, the Youth Association for Development in Ouaddaï Province brought together administrative authorities, traditional chiefs, members of civil society and magistrates to discuss legal mechanisms for resolving intercommunal conflicts.[fn]Crisis Group interview, civil society representative, N’Djamena, October 2019Hide Footnote Community broadcast outlets like La Voix du Ouaddaï and Radio Sila also play a preventive role.

The authorities should increase their support for community radio so that these stations can broadcast reliable information and raise awareness. The judiciary should punish hate speech. In addition, civil society organisations working on these questions and social media platforms should discuss how to identify and stop appeals to violence on social media.

C. Apply the State of Emergency More Flexibly and Punish Security Force Abuses

The army’s strong presence and restrictions on the freedom of movement and commercial activities are having an impact on living conditions in Ouaddaï and Sila. This strategy, which aims to contain the spread of conflict, is untenable in the long term. The Chadian authorities must apply state of emergency measures more flexibly, in particular by allowing residents access to weekly markets. The authorities should stop harassing shopkeepers and start supporting their economic activities. They should move quickly to punish soldiers who commit abuses or act violently.

Although many actors, including canton and ferrick chiefs, seem to be cooperating with disarmament operations, the public is angry at the army’s brutal methods. Suspicions as to what becomes of confiscated weapons is fuelling distrust. The government and local authorities must ensure that confiscated weapons are destroyed as soon as possible and stop them from being resold or redistributed. They should keep the public informed of their progress.

Finally, the state of emergency has given rise to many arrests, including some arbitrary detentions. The courts have yet to try any of the accused and the authorities have already transferred many of the people questioned in May and August to Koro Toro, a desert prison near Faya Largeau nicknamed the Chadian Guantanamo.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society representatives, N’Djamena, Abéché, September 2019.Hide Footnote Given the major weaknesses of Chad’s judiciary, it would be naïve to believe that courts can deal with these cases in an independent and effective manner in the near future. Quickly scheduling trials in the most serious cases would represent progress, however, as would releasing prisoners arrested on unclear charges.

D. Prepare for a Deterioration in the Humanitarian Situation in the East

Much uncertainty surrounds the risk of renewed fighting in the east, the medium-term development of the situation in Darfur and the humanitarian impact of recent violence. Despite a reduction in resources and lack of investment in the area, repeatedly criticised by NGOs and some donors, humanitarian intervention strategies should include a rapid reaction capacity for the east in case the situation deteriorates significantly.

VI. Conclusion

The conflicts in eastern Chad have led communities to close ranks in order to protect themselves from external attack. In addition to its major impact on the people of Ouaddaï, this crisis also raises questions concerning the Chadian state’s capacity to govern the country’s outlying provinces by means other than force. A security response was certainly necessary to reduce the level of violence in a region often described as a powder keg. But significant risks of destabilisation in the east will remain until the authorities resolve the underlying problems described in this report.

Nairobi/Brussels, 30 December 2019

Appendix A: Map of Chad


Appendix B: Map of eastern Chad


Appendix C: Violence between the Dajo and the Mouro in Sila: An Overshadowed Conflict

The violence in eastern Chad is not restricted to conflicts between farmers and herders or between “northern” communities from Borkou, Ennedi and Tibesti provinces (Gorans, Zaghawa and Arabs) and the “Ouaddaïan” communities mentioned in this report. In August 2019, a latent conflict between Dajo and Mouro communities in the area of Kerfi, in Sila, the origins of which go back to when Chad became independent, suddenly intensified, leading to the deaths of several dozen people. Since then, the struggle to control strategic towns and markets has regularly degenerated into violence.

When Chad became independent, the Mouro, until then associated with Barh Azoum canton, obtained their own canton. At that time, the Dajo were the majority in the Kerfi area and Dajo families were at the head of Barh Azoum canton. The long droughts of the 1970s and 1980s forced many Dajo to leave the area.[fn]Crisis Group Report, Chad: Powder Keg in the East, op.cit.Hide Footnote At the same time, a rebel movement, the Chad National Liberation Front threatened the canton chiefs, whom they thought were too close to the central government, and forced them to move to the town of Goz Beida.[fn]For an account of the history of insurrections in eastern Chad and the biggest rebel group since independence, the Frolinat, see Le Frolinat et les guerres civiles du Tchad (1977-1984), op. cit.Hide Footnote Barh Azoum canton therefore lost part of its population and also its traditional chiefs. In the absence of a local traditional authority, the Mouro in the neighbouring canton occupied the land left vacant and began working it. When displaced Dajo populations returned years later, old and new occupants claimed authority over the village of Kerfi and the surrounding area. At the turn of the 1990s, Kerfi market began to generate more and more revenue, which aroused envy and added to the tension.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, traditional authority and civil society representative from Sila, N’Djamena, September 2019.Hide Footnote

In 2003, while war was breaking out in the Sudanese province of Darfur, violence exploded in eastern Chad, particularly in Sila, and community tensions blew up into open conflict.[fn]Since 2003, Dar Sila has been close to the Darfur conflict’s front line. The province hosts 50,000 Darfurian refugees. Many Chadians have themselves been forced to leave their villages to escape the violence. See Jérôme Tubiana, “The Small War in Eastern Chad: Letter from Dar Sila”, Foreign Affairs, 18 October 2016.Hide Footnote From 2004, emissaries originally from the province, sent by Chad’s central government, Chadian rebel groups and the Sudanese Janjaweed militia, manipulated the divisions between Dajo and Mouro to enlist members of these ethnic groups in their respective campaigns, promising to defend them against attack.[fn]Crisis Group Report, Chad: Powder Keg in the East, op.cit.Hide Footnote The Janjaweed looted many villages in Sila and even managed to control a small area of Chadian territory, from which they launched attacks upon the villages of Tiero and Marena, Dajo militia strongholds supported by the Chadian authorities, on 30 March 2007.[fn]Tubiana, “The Small War in Eastern Chad”, op. cit.Hide Footnote These massacres, some of Chad’s most lethal since independence, reportedly killed more than 400 civilians.[fn]See Jérôme Tubiana and Victor Tanner, “Au Tchad: un second Darfour”, Outre-Terre, no. 20 (2007).Hide Footnote Meanwhile, Dajo self-defence militias launched attacks on Arab and Mimi villages suspected of collaborating with the Janjaweed.[fn]Crisis Group Report, Chad: Powder Keg in the East, op. cit.Hide Footnote

Dajo-Mouro and Dajo-Arab relations were at their lowest level in this period. Despite several attempts at conciliation by leaders of these communities, the violence continued in 2007 and 2008. In October and November 2008, a dozen people were killed in intercommunal clashes near Kerfi, Dogdoré and Birak.[fn]See “Rapport sur la situation humanitaire au Tchad”, UN OCHA, 27 November 2008.Hide Footnote In July 2008, the Dajo killed the chief of the Mouro canton. The chief of the Dajo canton then fled to Goz Beida for fear of reprisals.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Goz Beida, November 2008.Hide Footnote

After a few years of calm, a new phase of the Dajo-Mouro conflict began in 2019. The young chief of the Mouro canton sought to assert his authority over the villages of Taidji and Kerfi. He tried to establish a presence there, but met resistance from the Dajo. The first clashes between these communities broke out in June 2019 in the villages of Taidji and Arata.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, traditional authority, civil society representatives from Sila, N’Djamena, September 2019.Hide Footnote Despite attempts by the authorities, including the governor, prefect and sub-prefect, to promote peace and conciliation, a series of disagreements persisted about land distribution, the discharge of arrested combatants and the amount of diya due to victims. Fighting resumed and the chief of the Mouro canton was arrested and briefly detained.[fn]Ibid.Hide Footnote In August, armed Mouro men attacked the village of Arata and dozens of people were killed in clashes with the Dajo.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, humanitarian actors, traditional chief, civil society representatives from Sila, N’Djamena, September 2019.Hide Footnote Since then, according to witnesses and rumours that are difficult to verify, some of the groups in conflict have established contacts with combatants from outside the region, including with ex-Seleka rebel coalition fighters in the Central African Republic.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society representatives from Sila and members of human rights association, N’Djamena, September 2019.Hide Footnote

The Dajo-Mouro conflict has been going on for decades. It illustrates the difficulties faced by national and local Chadian authorities when trying to resolve land and territorial disputes. Clashes have ceased for the moment but the problems are unresolved and there is a high risk that these conflicts will escalate.

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