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Oil in Chad: The Fragile State’s Easy Victory over International Institutions
Oil in Chad: The Fragile State’s Easy Victory over International Institutions
Behind the Jihadist Attack in Chad
Behind the Jihadist Attack in Chad
Commentary / Africa

Oil in Chad: The Fragile State’s Easy Victory over International Institutions

In numerous countries, the exploitation of oil has generated debate about its economic, social and geopolitical consequences. For several years, research has shown a negative correlation between oil exploitation and socioeconomic development, governance and the revival of conflicts in oil-producing countries. Management of oil financial windfall is often opaque and enriches elites who enter into partnerships with oil companies. The economic problem associated with oil exploitation (known as the “Dutch disease”) is coupled with the political problem of the development of a “rentier” state—a rich but fragile entity that despite its growing wealth has socioeconomic disparities. Norway seems to be the only country that has been able to avoid the black gold curse, and its management of oil revenues has been used as a model for economic growth and sustainable development.

Chad’s petroleum project has faced a number of controversies. International observers were concerned with the potential creation of a “rentier” state and its negative impact on governance when the fragile state began oil development in 2003.[fn]The Fund for Peace 2010 rating (www.fundforpeace.orf) listed Chad next to last (before Somalia) in the failed state index.Hide Footnote In response to the international community’s call for sustainable development and alleviation of poverty with oil revenues, the government of Chad agreed to prioritise those objectives and worked with the two main international donors, the World Bank and the European Union, and oil companies to enact strict mechanisms for managing future oil revenues. The World Bank and the European Union were delegated the task of supervising implementation and adherence to the mechanisms. Chadian civil society was also expected to check that the use of the oil revenues was strictly for the alleviation of poverty. Due to the apparent consensus on the management of oil revenues, the various participants in the Chadian oil project tried to comply with the mechanisms based on the Norwegian model in a Sahelian country.

After a public show of accepting the oil revenue management mechanisms, however, the Chadian government radically veered away from compliance. The Chadian government’s noncompliance was made possible through the complicity of the oil companies who feared replacement by Chinese competitors. The Chadian government easily and strategically dismantled the agreed-upon governance system to take complete control of oil revenues.

A short-term consensus: From partnership to interference

The World Bank and the European Union’s financial involvement (via the European Investment Bank) was initially seen, not just as a guarantee, but also as a mandatory moral caution to dispel doubts about the nature of the partnership between the Chadian government and the oil consortium that was to exploit the Doba oilfield (ExxonMobil represented by its Esso filial, Petronas Malaysia and Chevron Texaco). In return for their investments, particularly in pipeline construction, the two international organisations required good governance of oil revenues. An oil governance law inspired by the Norwegian model was adopted on 11 January 1999 by the Chadian parliament stipulating the principle of fair and transparent allocation of oil revenues. A part would be saved for future generations, a part would go to an effective fight against poverty, and five percent of the oil revenues would go to the state’s budget. A financial agreement between the World Bank and the Chadian government required the transfer of the revenues to a Citibank account in London to ensure that the money would be spent for the benefit of the impoverished population and future generations.

The European Union lent around €150 million for pipeline construction. It imposed clauses to prevent the Chadian government from directly selling its petrol on the international market and tasked the oil consortium with preventing the Chadian government from bypassing them as a control on the oil revenues. The European Union feared public moral censure if Chadian crude oil profits were used for purposes other than fighting poverty.

Confronted with a growing armed opposition supported by Sudan, the Chadian government suddenly brandished the principle of national sovereignty to challenge the agreed-upon control system. Chadian authorities invoked “the current threats on future generations” (referring to the Eastern rebellion) and demanded the immediate use of oil revenues that were to be reserved for future generations and the addition of defense to the priority sectors originally listed. After amending the oil governance law, the shifting of oil money to the military effort had the expected outcome of defeating the rebellion in 2009.

In reaction to the changes in the original system for oil revenue management, the World Bank announced, on 12 of January 2006, the suspension of all its aid programs in the country and a freeze on oil revenue payments to Chad. Far from forcing the Chadian government to backtrack, the World Bank’s action motivated the government to threaten the oil consortium. Immediately after the World Bank’s decision, the Chadian government ordered the oil companies to directly pay oil revenues to the state or face suspension of their activities. The government also issued an ultimatum to the World Bank that it would close Doba oil production if the sanctions were not revoked. Concurrently, Chad restored diplomatic relations with Beijing and brought Chinese players to the oil game. In January 2007, the China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) bought the assets of Encana, a Canadian company, which allowed it to obtain exploration permits in the Bongor region of southeastern Chad. Capitalising on this opportunity, Chadian authorities gave the CNPC a building permit for a second pipeline to link the Mougo oil site to the future Djemaya oil refinery.

Using nationalist rhetoric, Chadian authorities removed the international institutions’ control over the management of oil revenues. The Chadian Minister of Economy and Planning declared on 7 January 2006: “The World Bank talks about the originality of this law (…), as if Chadian people were ’cobaye‘ for its experimentation of a new type of management or governance[.]”[fn]Chadian minister of economy and plan press release, 7 January 2007. AFP, 8 January 2006.Hide Footnote After taking back control over oil revenues, Chadian authorities now had total control over the resources to carry out their own policies. They ended their partnership with the international institutions and offered to pay in full before the due date the loans forthe pipeline construction. Faced with either accepting full repaymentor a long and uncertain dispute with the Chadian state, the World Bank accepted the loan repayment in 2008 and thus withdrew from a contentious and potentially reputation-damaging investment. The World Bank reactivated its aid programs in 2009. After unsuccessfully trying to leverage political pressure on Chad and given the lack of cooperation from the oil consortium, the European Union, in 2010, abandoned further attempts to convince Chad not to make a deal on crude oil commercialisation. Unlike the European Union, the oil consortium quickly accepted Chad’s commercialisation of part of its crude oil. Meanwhile, the Chadian government initiated arbitration against the European Union. Following the example of the World Bank, the European Union accepted the repayment of the loans and ended the quarrel.

Since then, the World Bank has been completely unwanted in the oil sector. In April 2010, the Chadian government prevented a civil society workshop in Doba in thesouth of Chad, to which the World Bank’s representatives had been invited. The authorities didn’t appreciate this initiative and Doba’s governor justified the decision by saying that the World Bank “is not anymore a Chad partner in the oil sector”.[fn]According to the press release published by the workshop organizers, this quote was made by Doba’s governor who was expressing the views of the internal and territorial affairs’ minister. See press release on the local oil permanent Commission, 22 March 2010.Hide Footnote

The easy dismantling of the internal control mechanisms

The initial transparent management of oil revenues requires that the Comité de contrôle et de suivi des resources pétrolières(CCSRP) endorses the expenditure of oil revenues. The CCSRP was created as a Chadian independent entity composed of state representatives, civil society members and representative bodies. Before authorising the expenditures, the CCSRP has to check if the requests submitted by the government were in conformity with the priority sectors listed by the oil governance law. The committee is composed of a Supreme Court magistrate, a member of parliament, a senator, the National Treasury Director, the National Director of the Bank of Central African States (BEAC), and four civil society representatives. They were appointed for three-year terms and are eligible for a second term. They were all appointed by their peers, except for the National Treasury Director and the BEAC national director who were appointed by presidential decree.

In 2007, invoking the periodic rotation within the CCSRP, the Chadian government removed the Chadian labour representative and two of the civil society representatives, and substituted them with more compliant peers. Other modifications were brought to the CCSRP’s mechanism through decree. Initially, the Chadian government had fifteen days to examine the CCSRP’s reports before their publication. Now, the report examination period was extended to thirty days without any official explanation. The government now has plenty of time to modify the reports to make them conform to its interests. These changes in the CCSRP composition and functioning have neutralised all rigorous internal control, and rendered the CCSRP’s reports and recommendations a simple matter of formality.

What can we learn from the Chadian David’s victory against the international Goliaths?

The failure of the Chad oil governance system was strictly political. The system was applauded as a role model of development when it was created. Created through a consensus of the World Bank, the European Union, the private sector and the Chadian government, it quickly imploded after the unilateral about face of one of the “partners.”

The ease with which a poor and fragile state like Chad disowned the oil governance arrangement and imposed its views on the great powers of the private sector, oil companies, and development aid, the World Bank and the European Union, is perplexing. The World Bank and the European Union seriously underestimated the political risk of the Chad petroleum project. Understandably, the international institutions did not want to deprive a developing country of its revenues. They also neglected the possibility of a reconfiguration of interests to the benefit of the Chadian government and overestimated the commitment of the oil companies to good governance. In the end, the oil companies were the weak link. They did not want to risk denial of new concessions, and, moreover, the Chadian government threatened that it would work with Chinese competitors. This was enough to make them radically change their strategy, taking Chad’s side against the multilateral institutions concerning the commercialisation of crude oil.

More generally, the World Bank and the European Union did not understand the regional and international dynamics. They failed to anticipate the new opportunities created by the rebellion and rising competition amongst Western states for oil resources which allowed Chad to advance its interests outside of the oil governance system. These two factors were enough to obtain the acquiescence of Western countries, namely under the auspices of the World Bank and European Union. They did not hesitate to sacrifice the good governance principle to maintain regional geopolitical balances and control over crude oil. The easy victory of the Chadian David against the international institutions Goliath reveals the post-Cold War realpolitik: democracy and good governance are no longer sacrificed to fight against communism but for the “containment” of radical Islam and control over crude oil. However, this new version of the old policy still leaves the same victims: the population, who are condemned to long-term poverty.[fn]Chad is one of the least developed countries in the world, with a life expectancy of only 51 years-old, a poverty rate of 59% and a literacy rate of 25%.Hide Footnote

A Chadian soldier shields his face from dust kicked up by a helicopter in the recently retaken town of Damasak, Nigeria, 18 March 2015. REUTERS/Emmanuel Braun
Commentary / Africa

Behind the Jihadist Attack in Chad

Des combattants jihadistes ont tué une centaine de soldats tchadiens au Lac Tchad dans l’attaque la plus meurtrière de l’histoire récente du Tchad. Alors que l’armée a lancé une contre-offensive, il est vital d’améliorer la coopération militaire dans la région et de protéger les civils.

A Deadly Attack

The attack carried out on 23 March by a faction of Boko Haram on Lake Chad’s Bohoma Peninsula is the deadliest attributed to the organisation outside Nigerian territory in recent years. An estimated force of roughly 400 fighters reportedly arrived at daybreak aboard at least five motor boats. After seven hours of combat, the attackers defeated the Chadian garrison before retreating with captured weaponry. According to Chad’s authorities, nearly 100 soldiers lost their lives, around 50 others were injured and a few were taken prisoner. The jihadists also allegedly destroyed 24 military vehicles which they could not take with them. A credible claim of responsibility appeared the following day on the Telegram messaging app, posted by one of the two Boko Haram factions, Jama’tu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (JAS).

The Bohoma attack is the group’s largest and most successful operation to date.

Boko Haram’s split occurred in 2016. At the time, due to the counter-offensive launched by Nigeria and its neighbours, Boko Haram – which in 2015 had become a branch of ISIS known as the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) – split in two. One group led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi and Mamman Nur left Boko Haram’s headquarters in the Sambisa forest and reached Lake Chad. There, they successfully rallied the bulk of the jihadist fighters and obtained recognition from ISIS, thereby keeping the name ISWAP. The second group, led by Abubakar Shekau, former supreme commander of Boko Haram, retained control of the remaining combatants, and went back to using an old name, JAS.

In the Lake Chad area, a small group had chosen to maintain its allegiance to Shekau. Led by a certain Bakura “Doron” (since he hails from the Nigerian town of Baga Doron by Lake Chad), the group was formed in the part of the lake belonging to Niger, opposite Nguigmi; it survives by looting and carrying out small attacks, especially in Niger and including against ISWAP. This group has clearly grown more powerful. In 2018, it began to strike further east, conducting operations against military bases and convoys in Cameroon and Chad. The Bohoma attack is the group’s largest and most successful operation to date.

Dans la zone du Lac, un petit groupe avait choisi de maintenir son allégeance à Shekau. Dirigé par un certain Bakura « Doron » (car il est originaire de la ville nigériane de Baga Doron, au bord du Lac), il s’est établi dans la partie nigérienne du Lac, en face de Nguigmi, vivant de pillages et menant des petites attaques, surtout au Niger, y compris contre l’EIAO. Ce groupe a visiblement gagné en puissance. A partir de 2018, il a commencé à frapper plus à l’est, menant des opérations contre des bases militaires et des convois au Cameroun et au Tchad. L’attaque de Bohoma est son opération la plus importante et la plus aboutie à ce jour.

A Growing Threat in the Lake Chad Area

The fact that the groups (JAS and ISWAP) are divided does not make the task of the region’s security forces much easier. Of the two, ISWAP is certainly the most dangerous because of its links to ISIS. ISWAP also has ties in the region with the group formerly known as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), which operates between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso; ISIS has in fact placed ISGS under the banner of ISWAP. While this mainly consists of a communication strategy for the time being, the links between the two West African groups appear to be strengthening.

The rise of JAS in the north of Lake Chad is probably related to the fact that in recent years Nigeria’s military response has focused on the lake’s southern shores – the Nigerian side where the hub of ISWAP is located. This would have left ample space for Bakura’s group, which likely also benefited from ongoing tensions within ISWAP that led to the violent deaths of several of its senior officials in the first months of 2020. Some sources claim that certain ISWAP commanders have joined JAS; they may thus have supported Bakura in the attack on Bohoma. In other words, the interrelated nature of the groups likely allows some commanders to change their allegiance in response to internal disputes.

The Bohoma attack confirms that despite the rivalry between ISWAP and JAS, both groups are resilient, aggressive, innovative and mobile. The two jihadist factions have previously faced defeat and withdrawal; this will have forced them to rethink their strategy and adopt more professional methods. They have learned on the ground and all of them received advice and training from ISIS in 2015-2016, although only ISWAP still benefits from this since the 2016 split. They are able to change their area of operation in search of more fragile targets and appear to be well informed. Bakura’s men no doubt knew that the Bohoma garrison had been relieved shortly before the attack by a smaller contingent of less experienced troops.

An area like Lake Chad is fertile ground for jihadist groups.

The Bohoma attack also testifies to the essentially subregional nature of the jihadist groups operating around Lake Chad. Created in Nigeria, Boko Haram recruited combatants from neighbouring countries from the very beginning. An area like Lake Chad is fertile ground for jihadist groups: it is difficult to access; state presence is scant and inefficient; it is covered in vegetation and rich in agricultural resources; and it borders on four countries. The movement procured much of its initial armaments from Chad, buying up weapons circulating widely in a country that has been the scene of several civil wars since 1965. Some of the organisation’s first military leaders were also former Chadian rebels in search of new combat opportunities. Today, much like ISWAP, JAS is not constrained by national borders and has launched attacks in several states.

Scope and Limits of the Chadian Response

In the days immediately following the attack, the authorities in N’Djamena made several major decisions. They adjusted the military presence on the lake; launched Operation “Colère de Bohoma” (Wrath of Bohoma); declared the Lake Chad region a “war zone”; decreed a state of emergency in the departments of Fouli and Kaya; and ordered civilians to leave the islands and villages in the lake’s northern basin and move to its shores, further from the areas under jihadist control. In addition, the presidential decree signed on 26 March outlines a framework of measures – typical for a state of emergency in Chad – that include restricting movement and assembly, legal measures to facilitate searches, and prohibiting access to certain areas of the Lake.

“We are going to war, some will die and others will be wounded. This is the price to pay to protect ourselves and maintain our stability”, President Idriss Déby declared. By going to Lake Chad on 24 March, the day after the attack, and by taking command of the counter-offensive himself, he sought to demonstrate how seriously he viewed the event. Déby, who is officially Minister of Defence and still an army general, is presenting himself as a military leader and, by extension, a guarantor of the country’s stability; once again embodying a role he likes. Being on the ground and heading operations allows him to send a message of support to troops at a complicated time, when part of the army is experiencing doubt and when some soldiers may feel demotivated.

We are going to war, some will die and others will be wounded. This is the price to pay to protect ourselves and maintain our stability.

By reaffirming “his commitment to defeating the terrorist peril”, Déby is also trying to rally the population around his troops. From the benches of the national assembly to social networks, many Chadians have demanded a strong riposte to the attack. While the authorities spoke very little about the soldiers recently killed in Miski – in the north of the country in 2018-2019 – during largely unpopular operations against self-defence groups, the fight against Boko Haram, on the contrary, enjoys a broad popular consensus. Messages of support for the army are frequent on social media. The president is also sending a message to international partners, whose financial support is more vital than ever due to the major economic crisis looming in the wake of the disastrous effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and falling oil prices.

The announcement of Déby’s military response was quickly followed by regional consultations and troop movements. The Nigerian General Ibrahim Manu Youssouf, commander of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) – a regional force fighting Boko Haram with troops from Benin and the four countries bordering Lake Chad – went to the Chadian town of Baga Sola on the shores of Lake Chad on Tuesday, 24 March, for a lengthy meeting with the Chadian president. Two days later, Mahamat Abali Salah, Chadian minister delegate for Defence, visited his counterpart in Niamey to coordinate the response with Niger. Straight afterward, Déby travelled to Nguigmi, a town in Niger also on the shores of Lake Chad, to oversee the deployment of the logistics base for the new Chadian military campaign, “Wrath of Bohoma”.

Chadian troops then quickly initiated operations in the lake area. The president made several trips to Kaiga-Kindjiria, an island in the lake’s northern basin not far from the Bakura bases, for meetings with military top brass. At the same time, the first videos circulated on social networks and on Télé Tchad, the country’s main television channel, showing Chadian helicopters flying over this section of the lake, fighting and triumphs over jihadists on the islands, as well as images of corpses and prisoners from Bakura’s group. After several days of combat, Déby stated that he had pushed jihadist troops out of Chadian territory, taken back command posts on the lake from Boko Haram factions, and deployed his men into Niger and Nigeria to hunt down fighters who had fled and to “clean up” the border areas with those countries. On 3 April, the Chadian president announced that operations would continue in neighbouring countries and called on them to provide troops in order to prevent jihadists from regaining lost ground on the border areas of Niger and Nigeria. Nigerian authorities have since confirmed that they are participating in military efforts and conducting air strikes on the Tumbun Fulani camp not far from the shores of Lake Chad in Borno State.

The authorities in N’Djamena are aware of the significant risk of reprisals by jihadist groups on home ground.

While Chad’s military actions have been successful thus far, the authorities in N’Djamena are aware of the significant risk of reprisals by jihadist groups on home ground. Beyond the current operation, there also remains the issue of strengthening the military presence on Lake Chad in the medium-term. Until Bakura’s recent attack, 6,000 Chadian soldiers were deployed on the lake, of which 3,000 for the MNJTF and 3,000 for the Chadian National Army. There is only limited scope for the Chadian authorities to increase this contingent. Although the Chadian army is highly mobile, the challenges it faces are manifold and its capacities cannot be stretched further. It is currently massively deployed across the country’s borders to deal with various threats to stability, as well as in the Central Sahel to combat jihadist movements. It will also be increasingly mobilised by authorities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, with a new economic crisis looming, it is increasingly unclear for how long this war effort can be financed.

Faced with these challenges, N’Djamena decided to postpone the fulfilment of the commitments made at the Pau Summit in January 2020 (devoted to the security situation and military cooperation in the Sahel) by temporarily suspending its troop deployment to the so-called “tri-border area” located between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, in order to integrate these troops into the Lake Chad counter-attack.

Beyond the limited troop numbers, army morale is not at its highest. The Chadian army has recently suffered a series of setbacks on its own territory. In February 2019, the incursion of a group of Chadian rebels, the Union des forces de la résistance (UFR), from Libya, and the request for air support from France exposed weaknesses within this army, with some officers refusing to fight their “rebel kinsmen”.   Bakura’s group also stepped up its attacks around the lake in 2019, resulting in the deaths of dozens of Chadian soldiers. Furthermore, in Miski, a gold-mining area in the north of the country, Chad’s army was defeated by self-defence groups, forcing the Chadian executive to open negotiations in late 2019. The recent attack on Bohoma is a further blow to an army which is held up as the strongest in the region and called on to hold the peace in a Sahel in crisis.

The Immediate Risks and Priorities of the Chadian Intervention

While jihadist violence has not abated in Nigeria, the attack that took place on 23 March tragically highlights the regional dimension of the threat. Far from reducing their overall potential to inflict harm, Boko Haram’s split into several rival factions in 2016 seems to have had the opposite effect, sparking a violent competition between these groups. While Borno State in north-eastern Nigeria continues to be the epicentre of violence, the jihadist groups are highly mobile and occupy border areas to evade national authorities and extend their territorial grasp. Their attacks beyond Nigeria, particularly in Chad, also send a message to governments in the region that any action taken against them will be met with reprisals. Shekau was quick to respond to Déby’s decision to counter-attack with the following words: “Do not think that because you have fought in several conventional wars you can face off against those of us who have decided to fight for the honour of religion”.

Since 2015, the Chadian army has frequently intervened in neighbouring countries to fight Boko Haram. This was recently the case of Operation Yancin Tafki conducted by the MNJTF, with Chadian troops remaining in Borno State, in north-eastern Nigeria, for almost a year. During this operation, coordination problems with the poorly prepared and unresponsive Nigerian troops hampered operations and frustrated Chadian soldiers.

While the Chadian army is currently launching a new offensive against jihadists on the lake and deployed its soldiers into Nigeria and Niger, uncertainties remain as to what role its neighbours will play. Although Chad’s Operation “Wrath of Bohoma” was not organised in the framework of the MNJTF, Déby once again met with the MNJTF commander in early April to request that the joint force take over and that neighbouring countries commit troops within the territories currently controlled by the Chadian army in these states. Chad’s authorities have openly expressed their frustration at the tardiness of their neighbours’ military involvement, and have called for improved coordination to prevent jihadists from regaining territory. As Nigeria confirms its participation in ongoing military actions, soldiers from countries in the region must differentiate between civilians and combatants in the areas where they operate; if they fail to do so, they will be helping jihadists in their recruitment efforts and harming the potential for future civilian engagement.

Jihadist groups pose a very serious danger to civilians and soldiers in the four countries bordering Lake Chad.

The struggle that began a decade ago against jihadists in the Lake Chad Basin is far from over. These agile and mobile groups, now split into rival factions, pose a very serious danger to civilians and soldiers in the four countries bordering Lake Chad. In the coming years, better cooperation between the states in the region will be essential to reduce this threat.