The murder of Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno threatens stability in the region


The sudden death of Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno on April 19, 2021 created a very dangerous void in Central Africa and the Sahel. Déby, who had ruled Chad for 30 years, was killed while fighting rebels trying to overthrow his government.

Few sub-Saharan African countries have regional influence for Chad, and this is mainly due to its army – Déby’s army was visiting him when he was killed in a gun battle, while Chadian forces were fighting rebels from Libya. Chad has one of the most effective militaries in sub-Saharan Africa, and over the past 20 years it has appeared on all fronts of the war against jihadist groups in the Sahel. It also participated in some neighboring civil wars, especially those that were fought in Sudan and the Central African Republic, and indirectly in Libya.

The powerful Chadian army gives it an enormous footprint in the region

Déby built the powerful Chadian army for several reasons: to protect his regime from constant ethnic rivalries and the ambitions of various warlords from the north of the country; As well as to achieve international recognition, credibility and pressure to manage internal policy and use economic resources without interference. Déby has always received strong support from the West, especially France and the United States, despite his authoritarian rule and rampant government corruption.

Chad is the strongest supporter of the French military operation to fight jihadist groups in the Sahel Barkhane region. It has repeatedly sent reconnaissance forces to the area It was just laid More than 1,000 soldiers are in the tripartite border area of ​​Liptako-Jurma, where a bloody jihadist insurgency is wreaking havoc on the population and national armies. Chad is also widely known as a key pillar of the G5 Sahel – a military alliance between Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, and strongly supported by France and the United States – to fight the powerful jihadist insurgency in the region. The Chadian military is well aware of the terrain, as its forces participated decisively in the 2013 French-led military operation to defend Mali from the takeover of well-organized armed Islamist groups. Chad is also one of the largest troop contributors to The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in MaliPeacekeeping operation established in 2013 in Mali in response to the insurgency.

The Chadian military presence in the region is not limited to the Sahel. In 2015, along with forces from neighboring Niger, it played a major role in expelling Boko Haram from northern Nigeria. It liberated some of the great Nigerian cities that were Under the control of the terrorist organization For months, he dealt an almost fatal blow to the organization. In doing so, he disgraced the Nigerian army – one of the largest in Africa – which had been crippled by Boko Haram for years. Chad continues to fight Boko Haram in and around Lake Chad. Recently, about 100 men were lost in clashes with Boko Haram and one of its splinter groups, the Islamic State of West Africa (ISWAP). In response, it was installed Massive attack They destroyed the camps of these organizations, killing more than 1,000 fighters. At the time, Déby complained bitterly that his army was the only one standing up to the militants in this region, and threatened to stop all support for the war against terrorist groups outside his country. These threats were a recurring strategy to remind the world of Chad’s centrality and to gain support and recognition from Western countries.

Chad has also played a role in the conflict in the Central African Republic. A few years ago, it became involved with armed groups in northeastern CAR, gathering under a loose association called SILICA that occupied part of the country. Chad played a role in ending the conflict. In the aftermath of the civil war in the Central African Republic in 2013, Chad participated in the UN peacekeeping operation, contributing 850 soldiers, but left after being accused of human rights violations and bias towards the Muslim population. The situation was further complicated by the presence of commercial interests of Chadian army personnel in the Central African Republic linked to livestock breeding and trafficking. The role of the Chadian army in the Central African Republic differs: sometimes it plays a role in stabilizing, and at other times it clearly contributes to violence and extortion.

Déby has always had an eye on Darfur, and more broadly over Sudan – often for reasons of internal security, but Chad has also had a strong influence on its neighbor at times. Its ethnic group, the Zaghawa (and some of its most trusted generals), account for less than 5% of the Chadian population, but it is among the most densely populated in Darfur. Some of the Chadian Zaghawa stationed in Darfur have long been the most powerful armed opposition group in Déby. In order to manage his opponents, he made efforts to please Khartoum, while always showing that he could influence the civil war that was ravaging the west of the country through his ethnic and familial connections. He did so with the Justice and Equality Movement, one of the main armed groups opposed to President Omar al-Bashir. In 2005, tensions escalated between the two countries, with armed clashes on the border. Twice, the armed groups coming from Sudan to topple Deby arrived in the capital, N’Djamena. In response, Déby sent his forces to track down the rebels and reached the outskirts of Khartoum, It clearly shows It could bring military strength to Chad.

With the same logic, Déby tried to manage his relations with the Libyan groups, and it is understood that he had a good relationship with General Khalifa Haftar. Today, the most active military opposition to the Déby regime comes from southern Libya (Fezzan), where some Chadian rebels have helped General Haftar and where the Goran tribe – which makes up the majority of the rebels – is engaged in illegal commercial activities. The group that entered Chad and It ended up killing Debbie Last week he came from southern Libya. They built an impressive arsenal, perhaps through their participation in the Libyan Civil War.

An unusually well-funded, strong and organized army

Debbie’s strong army is an interesting mix of rebel groups and the modern army, which makes it very powerful but also relies heavily on Deby’s personal involvement. Most of the high-ranking officers and elite forces are recruited from the northern tribes – mainly the Zaghawa, but also the Qur’an and other groups more widely known as the Tabus. They have very old and solid fighting traditions, excellent knowledge of the desert, amazing physical endurance and a lot of courage. Elite units often consist of family and clan members who know each other well. At the same time, the military uses well-trained technicians such as helicopters and combat aircraft pilots who are benefiting from extensive support from France and other Western countries. Oil revenues fund generous salaries for officers and elite forces, as well as an impressive arsenal of relatively advanced equipment, including combat aircraft and helicopters. International Crisis Group It is estimated 40% to 50% of Chad’s budget goes to the country’s defense and security expenditures.

In 2000, Chad began tapping the relatively important oil reserves located in the south of the country. Fearing corruption, the World Bank and a number of development partners have put in place a complex mechanism through which they finance a basic oil export pipeline to the coast, provided that revenues are transferred to a special fund that is monitored by donors. . This mechanism was established to ensure the use of resources for development and poverty alleviation. At the time, this mechanism was hailed as a great innovation in good governance. But starting in 2006, Déby was able to alter the original system to direct substantial oil revenues to his army and to the large public action programs of his choice, which do not always benefit the poor. Given the regional geopolitics, however, the Western donors Avoid their eyes I accepted the situation.

Several instability risks that need careful management

Despite its strength, the Chadian army also suffers from significant weaknesses that could fuel instability. First, the way the military deals with the civilian population, with its frequent extortion operations, limits its ability to build confidence in ways necessary for stability. Second, the army was marred by internal rivalry between leaders. Family feuds or clan-based rivalries often extend within the military. The fact that many of the elite soldiers are northerners means that they also tend to have strong connections to some rebel movements centered in Sudan or Libya, which often consist of former soldiers in the Chadian army. And Déby’s strong involvement in the military – which he often led directly in the field – is perhaps the biggest danger. He maintained the internal cohesion of the army through personal negotiation, which meant that many of his loyalties were to him and not to other high-ranking officers.

An additional source of instability is the tense and fragmented political landscape in Chad. A few days before his death, Déby was re-elected to a sixth straight term, with 80% of the vote. However, his grip was on power Seen to a large extent As a parody of democracy. His regime was authoritarian, and while a decade ago he had made efforts to accommodate opponents and had some pretense of totalitarianism, his system is now opaque, with most decisions made by a small group of friends and relatives. Immediately after his death, the Transitional Military Council was established, with 15 generals very close to Déby; It is headed by his son, a 37-year-old general.

These are very difficult times for Chad and the entire region. The personalization of Deby’s regime left the country with very weak institutions.

The Council suspended the constitution and declared an 18-month transitional period. One of the main reasons for this move is definitely the fear that the army might disintegrate, but it is also to ensure the Deby clan controls the army and the country. The political opposition and civil society have called for this step Military coup He called for protests, as did the African Union. Neither France nor the United States said anything right away, but after the protesters died during the demonstrations, they condemned the killings.

These are very difficult times for Chad and the entire region. The personalization of Deby’s regime left the country with very weak institutions. There is a real risk of dangerous internal conflict within the army and circles of power, even within the Debbie family. Tensions with the political opposition are also increasing rapidly. It is clear that suspending the constitution will only make matters worse. France, the European Union, and the United States – the main donors to Chad – should put strong pressure on the Transitional Military Council to engage in a more substantive dialogue with political factions and civil society than it has so far. The council must also show that it is serious about organizing elections, he said, much earlier than 18 months ago, he announced. Under pressure, the council just appointed a civilian prime minister. This is a good step. It should also nominate a government that adequately represents the country’s various social groups, particularly the southern and central ethnic groups that have been marginalized. It will also be important for Western countries to pressure the new Libyan authorities, particularly General Haftar, to rapidly improve their control over the various militias and armed groups in Libya. The ceasefire in this country created opportunities for highly armed groups to look for opportunities abroad, As was the case When the Gaddafi regime fell.

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