After the Crackdowns, is Chad’s Transition Unravelling?
After the Crackdowns, is Chad’s Transition Unravelling?
Report 149 / Africa 3 minutes

Chad: Powder Keg in the East

Eastern Chad is a powder keg with potential to destabilise the entire country as well as neighbouring states and worsen the already dire humanitarian situation. Local conflicts based on resource scarcity have been exacerbated by national and regional political manipulation.

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Executive Summary

Eastern Chad is a powder keg with potential to destabilise the entire country as well as neighbouring states and worsen the already dire humanitarian situation. Local conflicts based on resource scarcity have been exacerbated by national and regional political manipulation. The population has already suffered enormously, from the domestic Chadian disputes, the Darfur crisis and the proxy war between Chad and Sudan alike. The two governments, with support from their international partners, should resume implementation of the Dakar Agreement, but a conference specifically dedicated to the conflict in eastern Chad should also be organised in order to allow local and national actors to find solutions to the domestic causes of the crisis. This conference should be integrated into the existing structures of the peace process in Chad.

Chad’s successive regimes have failed to ensure the well-being and security of the population in the East, thereby fuelling mistrust of the central government. In order to counter armed opposition groups, the regimes first of Hissène Habré and now of President Idriss Déby have used a divide-and-conquer strategy, pitting ethnic groups against one another. Nevertheless, eastern Chad was relatively stable until 2003, despite a tense political climate and sporadic bloody clashes. The humanitarian and security problems that have shaken it since then are unprecedented, with spillover from the Darfur crisis aggravating pre-existing inter-ethnic confrontations and strengthening cross-border intercommunal loyalties.

Large-scale internal displacement and a massive influx of Sudanese refugees have upset eastern Chad’s demographic balance and intensified the struggle for resources. Both the Chadian government and rebel groups have armed their supporters, leading to bloodier banditry and bloodier inter-ethnic conflicts that often pit farmers against cattle breeders and making the work of humanitarian workers increasingly difficult. The central government has systematically co-opted for its own political purposes traditional mediation and conflict management mechanisms, such as diyah, the compensation due for shedding blood.

For more than five years, the Déby regime has instrumentalised the troubles in eastern Chad in order to perpetuate itself. Déby has been able not only to divide his political opponents at the local level in the East, but also to limit the political space for his adversaries at the national level. His strategy has had two phases. During the first, in 2004-2005, the government tried and failed to consolidate the support of its Zaghawa ethnic base. Following splits among the Zaghawa, Déby stoked the historical mistrust between the Zaghawa and Tama ethnic groups in Dar Tama. He claimed that the Front uni pour le changement (United Front for Change, FUC), the main coalition of rebel groups at the time, was an alliance between the Tama and the Janjawid of Darfur ill-repute and had been armed by Khartoum to eliminate the Zaghawa on both sides of the border.  To the international community, he depicted the FUC as the “Chadian-armed right hand of the Sudanese Islamist regime”, a characterisation that was widely accepted, given the many Janjaweed attacks against Sudanese refugees in Chad.

During the second phase, from 2006 to the present, the government has tried with limited success to win the allegiance of the Dadjo ethnic group in Dar Sila by providing support both for existing Dadjo self-defence groups and for the creation of new, mostly Dadjo militias. This support is supposed to protect civilians from Janjawid attacks, but its real purpose is to enlist the Dadjo in fighting Chadian rebel groups. In turn, rebel leaders have used the crisis as a convenient political justification for settling scores with Déby. Sudan has exacerbated the instability in the East by supporting virtually all the rebel groups, even though they are strongly divided along ethnic lines.

The international community has had a pair of peacekeeping missions on the scene since February 2008 to alleviate spillover effects of the Sudanese conflict into eastern Chad: a European Union force (EUFOR) and the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT). However, neither significantly improved the security situation. On 15 March 2009 MINURCAT took over the responsibilities of EUFOR but with a mandate that, like those of its predecessors, is limited to reducing insecurity in camps for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) and the surrounding areas and does not include, as it needs to, promoting a political process that treats the Chadian roots of the crisis.

The international community should end its head-in-the-sand attitude and deal with the root causes of the crisis by putting pressure on the Chadian government to organise the conference on the conflict in eastern Chad cited above. That conference should include representatives of the central government, rebel groups, customary leaders and opposition political parties. It should examine the fundamental political causes of the instability in the East and put in place an adequate framework for dealing with them. MINURCAT should be mandated to organise the conference and act as a neutral body for selecting many of its participants. France, which has reinforced Déby without helping the Chadians to find a durable solution to the crisis, should pressure the government to engage with the communities in the East for the organisation of such a conference.

Nairobi/Brussels, 15 April 2009


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