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Chad: A New Conflict Resolution Framework
Chad: A New Conflict Resolution Framework
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Rebel Incursion Exposes Chad’s Weaknesses
Rebel Incursion Exposes Chad’s Weaknesses
Report 144 / Africa

Chad: A New Conflict Resolution Framework

The political and security crisis Chad faces is internal, and has been exacerbated rather than caused by the meddling of its Sudanese neighbours. Power has been monopolised by a Zaghawa military clan with President Idriss Déby at the top since 1990, leading to increased violence in political and social relations, ethnic tensions and distribution of the spoils of government on the basis of clan favouritism.

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Executive Summary

The political and security crisis Chad faces is internal, and has been exacerbated rather than caused by the meddling of its Sudanese neighbours. Power has been monopolised by a Zaghawa military clan with President Idriss Déby at the top since 1990, leading to increased violence in political and social relations, ethnic tensions and distribution of the spoils of government on the basis of clan favouritism. Neither return to a multi-party system in 1990, enhanced government revenues from newly exploited oil reserves since 2004, nor elections backed by Chad’s Western allies have brought democracy or improved governance. The international community must press for an internal reconciliation process focused on reforming the Chadian state, particularly its administration and security sector, and ending the armed insurgency. At the same time, a regional process must be revived to address longstanding disputes between Chad and Sudan and eliminate the pattern of proxy war and support for each other’s rebels.

These steps require a new approach toward national reconciliation. The political agreement signed in August 2007 between the government and the political opposition focused narrowly on electoral reforms and is incapable of providing the basis for the fundamental shifts of governance required. Major rebel attacks on N’Djamena just six months later showed that the agreement, signed without inclusive national consultations, cannot offer the way out of deep political crisis and end the armed rebellion. The single-minded emphasis on implementing that agreement by the European Union (EU), and France in particular, must be reconsidered. Chadians and the international community must understand that without a credible political negotiation leading to a process of administrative, economic and security sector reform, Chad will continue to be condemned to the permanent crises, alienation and recurring threats of power seizures through force that have haunted the country for decades.

Sudan’s repeated attacks against refugee camps and Darfur rebels in Chad added a new and worrying dimension to the crisis. Déby found a new lease of life in portraying himself as a key asset in the West’s strategy of containment against the Khartoum regime. His decision to back Darfur’s Sudanese rebels became a central element to his political survival strategy. It calmed the discontent of members of his Zaghawa clan, the Darfuri branch of which was harassed by Khartoum, and helped strengthen him militarily against his armed opponents, supported by the National Congress Party in Khartoum. Further, the 250,000 Darfur refugees living since 2004 in a dozen camps along the border have brought in major international humanitarian and security stabilisation efforts. The UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) and the European stabilisation mission (EUFOR) have been deployed to protect and police the refugee camps and secure their immediate environment.

To address the political and security crises within Chad and the regional instability, a three-track process of dialogue and substantive action is needed. A first track should build on the August 2007 agreement by launching new political negotiations with broadened participation, including civil society. These should produce a political accord to address national revenue sharing, decentralisation of state authority, security sector reform, judicial reforms to ensure accountability and combat human rights abuses and corruption, and restructuring of the state administration. A second negotiation track should focus on the armed rebellion and lead to a genuine, permanent ceasefire, the cantonment of rebel forces before their possible integration into the army and a joint verification mechanism. Rebel groups adhering to this process would have a right to participate in the first track. The same prominent African could facilitate both tracks under a UN mandate. A peacekeeping force – MINURCAT strengthened and with a new political mandate – should assist implementation of the agreements.

The third track should focus on the regional dimension of the conflict. On the basis of the Dakar agreement, a regional conflict resolution mechanism should be established by its facilitator, the Senegalese government, under supervision of the African Union (AU). It should address and seek to eliminate the support provided by Sudan and Chad to armed groups in each other’s country, improve security and protection for civilians along their common borders, attempt to halt arms trafficking and address the negative ramifications of these regional disputes for the Central African Republic (CAR). Neigh­bours of the three countries should act as guarantors of the signed provisions, and MINURCAT and the hybrid UN/AU operation in Darfur (UNAMID) should monitor violations on the borders and be part of a joint verification mechanism.

24 September 2008

French mirage 2000-D from the Barkhane force lands after a tactical mission in N'Djamena on 22 December 2018. French president is on visit to meet with Chadian president and with soldiers from the Barkhane mission in Africa's Sahel region. Ludovic MARIN / AFP
Q&A / Africa

Rebel Incursion Exposes Chad’s Weaknesses

Une incursion de l’Union des forces de la résistance (UFR) en territoire tchadien depuis la Libye, début février, a été arrêtée par des frappes aériennes françaises, en coordination avec l’armée tchadienne. Cette menace sécuritaire inédite depuis plusieurs années met en relief les fragilités du Tchad et du pouvoir en place.   

What happened?

On 3-6 February 2019, at the request of N’Djamena, planes from the French Operation Barkhane proceeded with a series of strikes against a group of Chadian rebels in the north east of the country. According to rebels’ spokesperson Youssouf Hamid Ishagh, the Union of Resistance Forces (Union des forces de la résistance – UFR), a coalition based in Libya, intended to reach the capital N’Djamena in order to overthrow President Idriss Déby and “set up a transitional government uniting all of the country’s forces”. The plan was aborted following the French intervention. Composed mainly of Zaghawa fighters from Déby’s own ethnic community, this rebel movement is directed by Timan Erdimi, the president’s nephew, who lives in Qatar. He first tried to overthrow his uncle in 2008, and again in 2009 after forming the UFR.

According to a statement released by the Chadian army on 9 February 2019, “more than 250 terrorists, including four leaders” were captured, and over forty of their vehicles destroyed. These figures were refuted by Ishagh, who described them as fanciful.

The Chadian political opposition has criticised the French military intervention, the first in Chad since 2008, which it views as new proof of France’s unconditional support for Idriss Déby, while expressing its opposition to any takeover of power by force. These incursions took place as other Chadian armed groups are increasingly active at the country’s borders, and as the president is under pressure from an economic crisis and several years of social unrest.

By asking France’s military forces to intervene on his territory for the first time since 2008, President Déby showed that he took the risk very seriously.

Paris defended its intervention, conducted “in response to a request from Chadian authorities”, and justified it by the need to preserve stability in both Chad and the sub-region. The French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian declared in front of parliament on 12 February that “France intervened militarily to prevent a coup d’Etat”. French authorities added that Chad is a strategic ally whose army is deployed in operations against terrorism in the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin.

What is the link with Chad’s domestic context?

By asking France’s military forces to intervene on his territory for the first time since 2008, President Déby showed that he took the risk very seriously. This is due to a domestic situation marked by growing social upheaval, but also to burgeoning dissent within his own ethnic community, which the rebels hope to exploit.

The capture of state resources has long generated tension among the Zaghawa and even within the presidential family. When Déby came to power in 1990, Zaghawa military and political leaders, including the president’s nephews, Timan Erdimi and his brother Tom Erdimi, helped organise a strong autocratic system around a new political party, the Patriotic Salvation Movement (Mouvement patriotique du Salut – MPS). Timan and Tom both served as chief of staff to the president before taking up strategic positions – respectively director of Chad’s cotton parastatal company, at that time a public entity, and head of national oil projects. But in the early 2000s, Déby’s plan to revise the constitution in order to stand for re-election in 2006 led to a break with the Erdimi brothers, who saw themselves as his “natural” successors. This resulted in large-scale defections of Presidential Guard officers and senior administration officials, and the creation of rebel groups in Sudan. Later, the presidential family made unsuccessful attempts to reconcile Idriss Déby and Timan Erdimi.

Other events provoked clashes among the Zaghawa. In 2009, his rapprochement with Sudan caused tension between the president and some of his clan who supported the rebellion in Darfur. Finally, in recent years, the growing influence of Déby’s wife, Hinda, an ethnic Arab from the Ouaddaï region in the east of the country, and the appointment of her relatives to positions of responsibility, has generated new disputes among Idriss Déby’s family members.

The UFR’s recent incursion sought to take advantage of these tensions in order to encourage defections within the army, promote an internal uprising and provoke a reversal of alliances among the president’s entourage.

On 6 February 2019, Timan’s brother Tom Erdimi, living in exile in the U.S., addressed an audio message in Arabic to the Chadian military, calling them to join the UFR and overthrow Déby. “We call on you to join us. We are not far... We do not want to kill you; we do not wish to die either. The blood of Chadians has flowed too much already”, he said. A few days later, he echoed a complaint from soldiers’ families when he added in a further audio message: “[the government] sends Chadian soldiers to die abroad without honour and without money for their families”.

Aside from strong support from part of the Zaghawa, at one time the Erdimi brothers also had good relations with politicians and intellectuals from the rest of the country, including the south. Many Zaghawa fear that their influence and interests will be threatened and that they could be the target of violence once President Déby is replaced or dies. The Erdimi brothers promise, should they come to power, to safeguard their interests while also undertaking to open a transitional period involving non-Zaghawa. But most Chadians are opposed to yet another violent coup d’Etat, and the UFR’s attempts to attract a broader consortium of discontented citizens to their movement did not prove successful.

The incursion started out in Libya, and the UFR has support in the Darfur region of Sudan. How is the situation in these two countries related to recent events in Chad?

This crisis has come about in a particular geopolitical context. In Libya, Marshal Khalifa Haftar is trying to change the strategic picture by leading a major offensive on southern cities, putting pressure on Chadian rebel groups in the area. In Sudan, President Omar al-Bashir, who forged an alliance with Déby in 2009, appears weakened by months of popular uprisings.

Like other Chadian rebel groups, including the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (Front pour l’alternance et la concorde au Tchad – FACT), the Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic (Conseil de commandement militaire pour le salut de la République – CCMSR) and the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (Union des forces pour la démocratie et le développement – UFDD), the UFR shifted to southern Libya following its expulsion from Darfur in western Sudan by Khartoum in 2010. These groups do not agree on what strategies to adopt, they are divided along ethnic lines and by personal ambitions, and have even competed against each other. Their fighters engage in various forms of trafficking and sometimes work as mercenaries for Libyan militias.

Although Chad’s security situation seems to have stabilised, Déby’s call for help from France shows that the Chadian army, often portrayed as strong, also has its weaknesses.

The UFR’s incursion into Chad was likely precipitated by the offensive launched in mid-January by the Libyan National Army (LNA) of Khalifa Haftar, seeking to extend his hold over southern Libya. While the UFR spokesperson insists that the incursion of fighters into northern Chad was planned for a long time and has no connection with the LNA’s operation, other members of the group recognise that the pressure exerted by Haftar’s forces pushed them to promptly cross the border.

The LNA’s operation is officially aimed at combating terrorists, criminal gangs and foreign armed groups operating in the region. Although alliances in the Libyan civil war fluctuate constantly, the UFR was at one time close to the Misrata militia and the Benghazi defence brigades, Haftar’s rivals. Close to Paris, and an ally of N’Djamena in the region, Haftar often targeted the positions of Chadian rebels in southern Libya. It is possible that among other objectives, his advance aims to weaken them further.

In the 2000s, armed insurrections against Déby from Darfur, then in the grip of a civil war, twice reached N’Djamena and came close to overthrowing him. Since the signing of a peace agreement between N’Djamena and Khartoum at the end of 2009, al-Bashir ended his support to Chadian rebel groups, including Timan Erdimi’s UFR. Nevertheless, the UFR maintains close ties with Darfuri groups, including the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), and some of its fighters continue to move back and forth between Libya and Sudan. If al-Bashir’s power was to be threatened, so would be the agreement between the two countries, which ultimately relies on the good will of the two presidents. That said, although the situation remains unstable following months of demonstrations, al-Bashir still appears to have the support of his security forces.

What are the prospects and what risks can be identified?

As in 2008, France’s military intervention came in support of the Chadian authorities and President Déby. While most Chadians reject any attempt to grab power by force and condemn the incursions of rebel groups into their territory, many also criticise the support given by France and the international community in general to the country’s current leadership. It is true that international actors have thus far failed to exert enough pressure on Chadian authorities to push them to engage in a truly inclusive political dialogue.

Although Chad’s security situation seems to have stabilised, Déby’s call for help from France shows that the Chadian army, often portrayed as strong, also has its weaknesses. According to several officers interviewed by Crisis Group, the army, present in several theatres of operation (in Mali, in the countries of the Lake Chad region and on several home fronts including Tibesti, at the border with Libya), is overworked and some soldiers are demoralised. The situation is made worse by cuts in soldiers’ allowances implemented in recent years (up to December 2018) to cope with the financial crisis following a fall in oil prices. In this context, groups like the UFR will undoubtedly continue to encourage desertions. More generally, recent events call into question the strength of Déby’s rule, which largely relies on the army, and underline the fragility of a country led by the region’s “strongman”.

Contributors

Project Director, Central Africa
richmoncrieff
Consulting Senior Analyst, Central Africa