1 July, 2021
By Mette Kaalby Vestergaard – Research Assistant
Recent events in Chad
Marshal Idriss Déby Itno (referred to in this article as Déby) has after more than 30 years as Chad’s leader passed away. According to Chadian government officials President Déby was killed by rebels from Chad’s Front for Alternation and Concord in Chad (FACT) on April 20 2021, when visiting the front line of a battle. Following this event the national military forces took over power and put in place Déby’s son Mahamat ibn Idriss Déby Itno as the leader of the so-called “Transitional Military Council (TMC).” A few weeks later at the beginning of May the TMC created the new government, initially also including people from the opposition, who then turned down the proposition to show objection to the continuation of the non-democratic order and management of the country. In general the opposition sees Déby’s management of the country more as a military regime prioritizing military capacity, rather than a government focusing on the well-being of the population, as expressed in the following quote:
“When Déby is gone, this puzzle will fall to pieces. It’s not a national army. Instead of developing the country, he’s super-equipped the army”
Due to the fact that Déby’s son has been put in place to be his successor, violent protests have spread throughout the country. After 30 years of repression FACT and the civil population, especially the youth, now see an option for a new and more democratic and inclusive political system in their country. The violence has continued in the country despite crackdowns from government forces, and due to Chad’s strategic position in the region there are potential spill-over effects following this change in the degree of internal stability in Chad which will affect the region as a whole.
Chad’s Front for Alternation and Concord in Chad (FACT)
The group FACT has existed since 2016 and has the aim of liberating Chad from Déby’s power. It has not affiliated with or associated itself with any religious group. This is an important point, when considering the regional security dynamics that might be affected following Déby’s death, as many other governments in the area are fighting Islamic terrorist groups trying to gain power. FACT has played an important role in the Libyan conflict where there have been rumors about them fighting for several different sides of the war as mercenaries. Additionally, FACT fighters have been deployed in the Darfur province of Sudan, utilizing this as a safe haven from the Chadian government forces. Earlier attempts similar to the attack that killed the now former President had been prevented with assistance from the French military, with the latest occurring in 2019. These fighters also crossed over from Libya to operate in Chad, which underlines the consistent and withholding patterns of movement by this group.
Why does it matter in a regional context?
Geographically, Chad not only holds a significant position when it comes to the spreading of violent extremism, but also in the context of ethnic conflicts in the surrounding countries. This is the case due to its placing in between the Sahel region to the west and the Horn of Africa to the east, and being neighbor to the war-plagued Sudanese Darfur province. Consequently, it possesses a central role in terms of upholding stability in the region, a position it supports by allowing Western states to operate from its territory when combating violent extremism. Sudanese media has also earlier blamed changes in the degree of violence in West Darfur on Déby’s arming of Masalit and Zaghawa tribesmen, which play a role in the local war in the area. Considering this information, there is also a scenario where a switch in the government in Chad can affect the situation in West Darfur. Elaborating on this, a change in the strategy and interests of the Chadian military can influence the conflict and hence the situation for the local population in the neighboring country of Sudan.
In considering Chad’s security situation, it is important to also look towards its Northern border, where the Libyan war since 2011 has contributed to both internal violence in Chad and also the spread of criminal activities throughout the region through Chad. As such, Chad struggles in the North due to the Libyan conflict, but also within its own territory due to a lack of security structures in that area and as a result an unstable environment highly affected by groups operating on and across the border to Libya.
Another country of relevance is Nigeria, which stands to lose a lot from instability in Chad. This will potentially give the terrorist group Boko Haram some room to gain strength. Creating a potential safe haven for Boko Haram fighters to the East will have devastating consequences for the Nigerian population and their government trying to fight the group in the North. Besides this, Boko Haram has recently carried out attacks in Niger, a country that has even less capacity to combat them than the Nigerian army. Hence, the potential lack of support from Chad will also have huge consequences for security in Niger.
Chad has also been and is currently one of the biggest contributors to the war on terror in the Sahel region, especially through its military forces deployed in Mali. Getting another government that potentially does not have the same mindset towards collaboration with Western states on this matter or the conflict in general, will have vast consequences. This scenario is very unlikely though, due to Chad’s own interest in stabilizing the region. Besides this interest being rooted in obvious security matters, Chad’s economy also depends on regional stability due to its position as a landlocked country depending on overseas trade passing through its neighbors’ territories.
The regional humanitarian consequences of instability in Chad will be very serious as the country has a role as refugee host for both conflicts in the Sahel, the Lake Chad Basin, Western Darfur and the Central African Republic. Related to this, Chad also plays a role for European countries in minimizing the flow of refugees coming through Chad going to Libya and finally Europe. Generally, instability and less capacity to handle refugee flows will harm the population groups fleeing neighboring countries, as there will be less resources to care for those people.
France – another player to consider
Déby has throughout the years gained from the significant relations with Western countries such as France, and vice versa – something that has also been critiqued a lot in the protests. Western states, especially US and France, have for decades overlooked gross violations of human and political rights in Chad committed by the government against its own population, due to this collaboration. It is in the fighting of violent extremism, notably in Mali and around lake Chad, where the collaboration has been significant. With French President Macron now announcing the withdrawal of French forces from Mali related to counter-terrorism, the role of Chad in running France’s errands might be even more important. Related to this, France can also be said to be in an awkward situation having supported Commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) Khalifa Haftar due to his fight against Islamic extremists amongst other things. Mercenaries fighting on Haftar’s side in the past years that has killed Déby – hence France find themselves in a position where a potential ally is fighting against another ally.
Macron has spoken in public of a peaceful, democratic and inclusive political process in Chad. Here it should also be noted that he does not say a civil process. This is very important as this specific wording would be opposing the current regime and the process or lack thereof put in place. This indicate that the French President does still choose his words very consciously when it comes to relations with Chad. How all this together will play out in terms of France operating in the role and affecting both politics and security is therefore also something to follow.
If Chad doesn’t win – they (almost) all loose
When it comes to violent extremism both with regards to Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) it is crucial to regain stability internally in Chad, as it would otherwise draw on security – and military capacity till now utilized to contribute to regional stability.
Besides the consequences within Chad’s boarders, destabilizing the border areas around the country will as already noted also be very risky due to an increase in criminal cross-border activities such as smuggling of weapons, drugs and people which all lead to more violence amongst populations.
A relevant question to pose is, if it is for the United Nations (UN) to insure civil transition. While peacekeeping forces by default require consent by the host state, it is with the current state of affairs very unlikely that this will be an option any time soon. Regardless of what will come, some of the points taken forward in this article illustrates that there are potential significant effects from the change of government in Chad, especially if this leads to continuous instability in the country. On the basis of this, states and international organizations should continue to encourage a civil transition that can ensure a more lasting and stable government and minimize the risk of future coup d’états which would retain the current problems.