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In Backing Chad, the West Faces Moral Hazards
In Backing Chad, the West Faces Moral Hazards
Report 180 / Africa

Africa without Qaddafi: The Case of Chad

The fall of Qaddafi’s regime, followed by his death on 20 October, could pave the way to promises of democracy in Libya but left neighbouring countries facing new potential problems that could threaten stability in the region.

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Executive Summary

The end of the long reign of Muammar Qaddafi, killed on 20 October in his hometown of Sirte, opens the way to democracy in Libya. His fall has also left the country and its neighbours facing a multitude of potential new problems that could threaten stability in the region. Chad is a case in point. Qaddafi made his presence felt in all the country’s conflicts, for good and ill, and he maintained a close relationship with President Déby. Because the latter supported his doomed benefactor politically at the start of the insurgency and only belatedly aligned with Libya’s National Tran­sitional Council (NTC), the new era of Chad-Libya relations has started on the wrong foot. The NTC’s accusations – denied by N’Djamena – that Chadian fighters supported Qaddafi militarily, racist attacks against black Af­ricans, refugees and related displacement issues, and the volatile situation on the border increase forthcoming challenges.

During his 42-year reign, Qaddafi was time and again an actor and mediator of Chad’s conflicts, while using his southern neighbour as a testing ground to achieve his regional ambitions. Under Déby, N’Djamena was a willing subject, and relations between Tripoli and N’Djamena improved significantly. The two leaders’ relationship had its ups and downs, but Déby allowed Qaddafi to increase his influence through patronage in return for political and economic support.

Qaddafi’s involvement in Chad became paradoxical. After initially playing an active role in destabilising the North, he contributed in recent years to bringing relative peace to that historically rebellious zone by mediating between armed groups. In view of this, Déby saw Qaddafi as essential to his own regional policy and was, therefore, reluctant to accept the possibility of his fall when the Libyan insurgency broke out and slow to realise its full consequences. When the crisis began, Déby tried to defend Qaddafi’s legitimacy by accusing the rebels of colluding with Islamists. Though his government denied it was providing any military support, the presence of Chadian fighters in Libya among Qaddafi’s troops stripped his statements of weight.

However, Déby’s accusations naturally made the NTC suspicious of N’Djamena, which it considered as favouring Qaddafi’s continued rule. This had serious consequences for the treatment of Chadian nationals in Libya in areas where the insurgents gained control. It was only when NATO intervened and power shifted away from Qaddafi, that the Chadian government took a more strategic and realistic stance, calling for negotiations and establishing preliminary contacts with the NTC.

Déby knows from recent history that hostile relations with Tripoli could quickly endanger the stability of northern Chad. The recent normalisation of relations with Sudan that he achieved with Qaddafi’s help is far from irreversible, so he would like to avoid tensions with the new authorities in Tripoli. N’Djamena is also concerned for the plight of Chadian nationals in Libya, who frequently have been perceived and treated as mercenaries, though at least the overwhelming majority have been in the country for years for purely economic reasons. It is likewise aware of the need to maintain economic relations, particularly trade and investments, between the two countries.

Given the security and economic interests at stake, the Chadian regime has now recognised the former rebels, and Déby has met with the NTC leader, Mustafa Abdul Jalil. But despite this rapprochement, uncertainty about the future of relations remains. Will the new rulers of Tripoli and Déby be able to win each other’s trust and put aside grievances born during the eight-month crisis? How will the volatile situation in southern Libya impact on these relations? What will be Libya’s new policy on the Chad-Sudan equation? More generally, what will be Libya’s new relationship with the rest of Africa?

Due to the length of his reign, his influence abroad and strong patronage politics, Qaddafi’s shadow will continue to be felt in Libya and neighbouring countries. The upheavals that preceded and followed his fall have created new and potential problems, including massive displacement of populations; tribal tensions within Libya and racist attacks against nationals of sub-Saharan countries; a possible resurgence of Islamism; and the proliferation of fighters and weapons. It is too early to say whether the changes will evolve into medium- and long-term factors of instability in the region, notably in the Sahel and Darfur. However the issues faced by Chad, a country bridging sub-Saharan and North Africa and east and west Sahel, highlight some of the dangers the region faces in the post-Qaddafi era.

N’Djamena/Nairobi/Brussels, 21 October 2011

Chadian President Idriss Déby acknowledges soldiers and military officers in the Chadian capital N'djamena, on 11 December, 2015 Brahim Adji/AFP
Commentary / Africa

In Backing Chad, the West Faces Moral Hazards

The West sees Chad as a reliable ally in the fight against extremists in the African Sahel. But it needs to take more care. Chad is breaking prior agreements by spending much of its oil revenue on the military, while social services and good governance have suffered.

Chad is facing a severe fiscal and social crisis. On 7-8 September, President Idriss Déby is in Paris for an International Donor Conference to seek much-needed funding for the country’s National Development Program. The government likes to portray the country’s problems as due to external shocks like the drop in oil prices and the cost of military intervention against Boko Haram and other extremists. Donors, under pressure from France, largely accept this narrative and support has recently been forthcoming from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But a closer look at the country’s recent history tells another story.

According to the Chadian economy minister, the conference aims to mobilise support “for the transformation of Chadian economy”. This is not the first time Chadians have been promised such a transformation. When Chad joined the club of oil-producing countries in 2003, the World Bank supported the building of the critical pipeline to get the oil to the coast on condition that the money generated would be put to good use. The Oil Governance Law was passed in 1999, stipulating that 80 per cent of revenues were to be allocated to pre-defined priority sectors – public health, social affairs, education, infrastructure, agriculture, livestock and water. Ten per cent of oil revenue was to be channelled into a fund for future generations, while another 5 per cent was earmarked for the oil-producing region. Only the remaining 5 per cent would flow directly into the state budget.

Soon thereafter, however, Déby started to dismantle these control mechanisms. In 2006, he amended the Oil Governance Law, dismantling the future generations fund and, crucially, adding defence to the list of priority sectors. He faced down donors and gradually rolled back all the control mechanisms so painstakingly negotiated by the World Bank, eventually gaining full discretion over spending of oil revenues.

This came about against the backdrop of mounting political and military opposition. The lack of political space, and in particular the constitutional changes in June 2005 that allowed Déby to run for a third term in 2006, led to the defection of senior political and military figures including his nephews Timane and Tom Erdimi. After a failed coup attempt on 14 March 2006, they established a rebel group, one of several rebellions to challenge Déby’s power with the support of neighbouring Sudan. Major rebel offensives on N’Djamena in 2006 and 2008 nearly overthrew the regime.

Oil money gave Déby a critical lifeline. Free from any obligations of transparency, he awarded his supporters import licenses or public contracts for numerous infrastructure projects. To ease social tensions, the regime also recruited workers into the public sector. Oil revenues likewise enabled Déby to confront the armed opposition, through heavy investments in the army. Military spending skyrocketed from $67 million in 2005 to $247 million in 2006. Military expenditures reached an all-time high in 2009, accounting for $670 million – a full 8 per cent of GDP. According to SIPRI data, between 2006 and 2016, the regime acquired 34 aircraft (attack and transport planes) and 372 armoured vehicles of different varieties, turning its armed forces into one of the best equipped on the continent. After this splurge, military spending declined, but still remains way above pre-oil money levels at 2.6 per cent of GDP.

As in other African countries that have received significant Western support for their militaries, Chad’s government is itself a product of a civil war and remains military at heart.

As in other African countries that have received significant Western support for their militaries, Chad’s government is itself a product of a civil war and remains military at heart. So diverting funds to the army fits seamlessly with the government’s own desire to reward its military and keep it loyal. Military spending has helped Chad intervene in the Central African Republic, Mali, in neighbouring countries threatened by Boko Haram and as far afield as the Saudi Arabia-led coalition to fight Huthi combatants in Yemen.

This engagement has strengthened relations with Western powers and brought substantial financial and political support. The EU, France and the U.S. in particular today consider Déby as their principal partner in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel. For Déby it is a win-win: tackle domestic armed opposition, pay his troops and gain significant leverage over donors.

But the rise in military spending along with mismanagement of oil revenues has come at a cost. Having failed to diversify the economy while the going was good, dependency on oil money has made the country highly vulnerable. Declining prices and production levels have led the country back to international donors. Partly as a requirement under the IMF financial and economic support program, the government has introduced drastic budget cuts, affecting allowances for civil servants, parliamentarians and police, student scholarships and the staffing size of state agencies. The government has accumulated arrears in payments of salaries, allowances and pensions.

This situation has caused waves of strikes by teachers and other public sector workers. Many feel that while they didn’t profit from the oil revenues in the first place, they are now, on top of this, paying the price for its mismanagement. Widespread corruption, high living costs, and the lack of political space and civil liberties have further fed the anger and the country’s growing number of protest movements.

The government has reacted [to strikes] with repression and a clampdown on civil liberties.

The government has reacted with repression and a clampdown on civil liberties. Reports of harassment, arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment and torture of journalists, civil society activists and political opponents have increased. Unsurprisingly, international partners have been reluctant to denounce such practices, let alone impose conditions for their support. So even as Chad’s economy nosedives in the context of corruption and authoritarianism, Déby’s international position appears untouchable. Europe’s increasing desire to get Sahelian countries to stop migrant flows from reaching the Mediterranean will likely give him a further opportunity to show how useful his country can be.

Chadian civil society activists and political opponents are increasingly frustrated with this unconditional international support for Déby, which they interpret as silent complicity. And understandably so: in backing Déby as he pours money into his military while the rest of the population suffers, Western powers are paying scant regard to the sustainability of their engagement, nor to what kind of state they are encouraging. The longer-term fight against extremism requires stronger and more legitimate public institutions, not “more strongmen”.

While financial support for the fight against extremists in the Sahel is certainly an immediate priority, Chad’s international partners should also extract real commitment to use part of international aid to support the country’s crumbling social sectors, as well as to build new monitoring mechanisms to guarantee greater transparency.

Eliane Giezendanner, Central Africa Project intern, assisted in the preparation of this commentary.

This text was changed on 12 September 2017 to rectify the original version that incorrectly stated, "Between 2006 and 2014, the regime purchased 139 aircraft and 153 armed vehicles". According to SIPRI data, the regime actually acquired 34 aircraft (attack and transport planes) and 372 armoured vehicles of different varieties between 2006 and 2016.