Scroll to top

Chad’s Domestic Crisis: The Achilles heel for Peacemaking in Darfur

No comments

Chad’s Domestic Crisis: The Achilles heel for Peacemaking in Darfur

Posted by Enough Team on July 27, 2009

Chad's Domestic Crisis: The Achilles heel for Peacemaking in Darfur

Listen to the Podcast >>

Less than a week after Chad and Sudan inked a formal agreement to set aside their differences this past May, the Sudanese government gave Chadian rebels the green light to launch a cross-border attack from their rear bases inside Darfur. Having repelled Sudan-backed rebel offensives that reached the capital N’Djamena in 2006 and 2008, the Chadian military was well prepared. Chadian forces routed the rebels near the border, chased them back into Sudan, and launched cross-border airstrikes against those who tried to regroup.

This latest bloody bout of proxy conflict should not have surprised anyone. Multiple attempts to mediate an agreement between the two capitals have failed to address the primary source of the crisis: the internal rot at the center of each country.[2] Twenty years after coming to power in a coup d’état in Sudan, the National Congress Party in Khartoum shows no signs of loosening its grip on power. Across the border in N’Djamena, Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno pays lip service to political reforms and cracks down violently on legitimate political opposition.  
While international efforts to address Sudan’s internal crisis are ongoing, parallel efforts in Chad are virtually nonexistent. A comprehensive approach to peace in the region by definition must deal aggressively with the persistent internal turmoil in Chad, where the precedent of armed rebellion as the sole vehicle for political opposition has been established through decades of brutal governance and violent regime change. Ad hoc efforts by the European Union and others to drive a process of political reform have not made effective use of significant available leverage. The United States has largely steered clear of Chad’s internal crisis, opting to focus on counterterrorism cooperation and humanitarian assistance. But the inadequacies of crisis management in Chad will continue to negatively impact the situation in Sudan, where the United States has invested heavily in peace. For example, short-term humanitarian efforts absent a political process to end the Chadian crisis can institutionalize long-term displacement and can inadvertently support armed groups. In eastern Chad, Sudanese rebels systematically divert food aid from refugee camps in support of the war effort.[3]
It’s time to get serious about Chad, and the Obama administration is in a unique position to forge partnerships with key actors—particularly France and Libya—to coordinate pressure on President Déby to enact genuine political reforms, including overhauling its justice and security sectors and decentralization of power from elites in N’Djamena to Chad’s politically marginalized periphery. Indeed, diplomacy will continue to bear rotten fruit until the international community adopts a regional approach that includes credible efforts to address the internal crises in Sudan and Chad. This requires strategic vision and leadership, which the United States can provide.

Lost in the Sahel
Despite Chad’s relevance to long-term stability in Sudan, Washington’s approach toward N’Djamena remains uninspired. Absent the vision or resources to address the root causes of Chad’s crisis, the U.S. policy is driven by two primary interests: fighting terrorism and supporting humanitarian operations. Through a regional counterterrorism initiative called the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership, or TSCTP, the United States trains Chadian soldiers to fight Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists who may traverse across Chad’s isolated northern region. Although this initiative holds the promise of linking counterterrorism efforts with much-needed development programs in the Sahel, TSCTP has yet to strike a balance that could succeed in addressing the root causes of instability and extremism in the region.[4] Meanwhile, in eastern Chad, American taxpayers have spent nearly $112 million so far in 2009 to underwrite a sprawling humanitarian operation to feed and shelter 250,000 Darfuri refugees and 167,000 internally displaced Chadians.[5] But until the United States puts more muscle and critical thinking behind longer-term efforts to build democratic institutions in Chad, the violent and repressive status quo will grind on.
Chad’s domestic troubles
Sustainable regional peace is simply not possible without a radical change to a coercive Chadian political system that has long been dominated by the rule of the gun. Rather than negotiate with rebel groups, President Déby’s government consistently opts for military confrontation or simply buys off the most venal rebel leaders. Focused exclusively on thwarting the next coup attempt, the Chadian government marginalizes the so-called “unarmed” political opposition and avoids efforts to address a root cause of the conflict—its own authoritarianism. [6]
Political negotiations have thus far amounted to doling out ministries to rebel leaders and political strongmen, a strategy that only entrenches Chad’s factionalist political system. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2008 democracy index ranks Chad 166 out of 167 countries, ahead of only North Korea.  A European Union-led effort to establish meaningful dialogue with the unarmed opposition has failed to gain momentum, and the government continues to rely on strong-arm tactics.[7] Rather than invest resources into much-needed development, the Chadian government channels disproportionate funds into a seemingly never-ending military build-up. For several weeks following an attempted coup in February 2008, bodies were found floating down the Chari River, which runs alongside the capital city of N’Djamena, some of them decapitated and many having been executed with their hands bound. Members of President Déby’s Presidential Guard and of the ANS, the domestic intelligence agency, rounded up opposition politicians, one of whom, Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh, is still missing and presumed to have been killed while in government custody. It is no wonder that most Chadians—80 percent of whom survive on less than a dollar a day—remain disenfranchised and fearful of their government.
France: Charting a new course?
Chad was France’s colony from 1900 to 1960 and Paris traditionally maintains good relations with N’Djamena as an anchor within a sphere of political influence in French-speaking Africa. The French military has some 1,100 soldiers on the ground in Chad under Opération Epervier (Sparrowhawk), and the French armed forces provided decisive support to the Chadian government during Sudan-backed rebel attacks in April 2006 and February 2008. French military sources told Enough that the French armed forces share intelligence on rebel movements with their Chadian government counterparts such that the Chadian army does practically no reconnaissance of its own.
France has lent this support despite Chad’s woeful human rights record and wanton and well-documented state corruption, and in the face of the French public’s increasing criticism of its government’s Africa policy. Support for corrupt and undemocratic leaders like Déby is increasingly regarded in French political circles as financially untenable and morally suspect.
French President Nicholas Sarkozy could represent a break from the past. He is the seventh French president to intervene militarily in Chad, but he does not have the same close personal relationships with African strongmen as his predecessors and seems less willing to use his own political capital to support them. And while some within the French political and military establishment do not want France’s sphere of influence to diminish in sub-Saharan Africa, a June 2008 government white paper on military policy proposed abandoning France’s bases in Chad and reducing its military footprint on the continent. France did little to assist the Chadian government during the most recent Chadian rebel invasion in May, and it sent a strong message of the changing state of Franco-Chadian relations by sending its Breguet Atlantique surveillance aircraft out of the country, denying the government a source of intelligence on Chadian rebel movements.
The French government’s attention to the crisis in Darfur is also a break from past practice: Sudan is neither French speaking nor a former French colony. While France’s concern over Sudan is in part a reaction to its threatened interests in Chad, French policy in Darfur is also shaped by the prerogatives of foreign minister Bernard Kouchner. Kouchner, a dedicated humanitarian who helped found the well-respected relief organization Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), remains involved in conflict resolution efforts in Darfur due in part to his relationship with Darfur rebel leader Abdul Wahid al-Nur.[8] Indeed, France’s role in pushing for multinational forces in eastern Chad had as much to do with stabilizing Darfur as with protecting Chadian civilians.[9]
Sarkozy has said he wants to bring about a “healthier relationship” with Africa.[10] Whether or not the French government is willing to press for real change in how Chad is governed is an early test of his resolve.
Libya: Striving for influence
Constantly striving to maintain Libya’s regional influence and international relevance, head of state Muamar Quaddafi has engaged in territorial disputes and meddled in Chad’s internal politics since seizing power in Libya in a 1969 coup d’etat. Quaddafi supported Chadian rebel groups in the 1970s and 1980s, and thus has a complicated relationship with President Déby. For his part, Déby led the Chadian armed forces against Libyan-backed rebels in the mid-1980s, but then fled to Libya after falling out with his boss, former President Hissène Habré. Libya and Sudan then backed Déby’s rebel group, the Patriotic Salvation Movement, which took power from Habréin 1990. Both countries jockeyed for influence in N’Djamena until Déby fell out of favor with the Sudanese government in 2005 over his support for Darfuri rebels. Libya has sided with Chad against its regional rival Sudan, and currently strives for influence over events in Darfur and Chad through support for the Justice and Equality Movement, or JEM, as well as certain factions of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army, or SLM/A.[11]
Yet despite thinly veiled support for belligerents on both sides of the border, Quaddafi also considers himself a regional peacemaker. Libya has presided over multiple negotiations between Chad and Sudan, was a “facilitator” at the 2006 African Union mediation that led to the Darfur Peace Agreement, and hosted a subsequent round of Darfur peace talks in 2007. As current chair of the African Union—to which he provides considerable financial support and over which he thus has considerable leverage—Quaddafi continues to pursue grander international ambitions, including the creation of a “United States of Africa.” The only certainty with Libya’s engagement in Chad and Sudan is Quaddafi’s desire to maintain influence over the outcome. If he does not feel adequately involved in the solution, he can easily become a spoiler.
The United States: A case for leadership
The United States has traditionally taken a back seat to France in Francophone Africa, but France’s changing posture and Libya’s contradicting policies open the door for the United States to adopt a leadership role. And although France and Libya have influence over Déby, the Obama administration is not without carrots and sticks of its own. As is the case in Sudan, Chadian officials want a close relationship with the United States, and the Obama administration must be clear about the necessary steps to get there. Chad is a U.S. ally on counterterrorism, and U.S. Special Forces instructors have trained anti-terrorist commandos in Chad through the TSCTP.[12] The United States holds additional leverage because Chad is eager to purchase C-130 aircraft that could provide strategic lift capacity for Chad’s armed forces that competing arms merchants such as France and China cannot match. The expectation of strong U.S. leadership to resolve the crisis in Sudan coupled with Washington’s traditional hard line toward Khartoum adds to U.S. clout in N’Djamena. The Obama administration’s moves to engage with the Sudanese government have raised eyebrows in Chad, but the United States is still considered an essential guarantor of regional peace.
Chadian officials are also eager for access to U.S. development funding. However, Chad is not eligible for some of the biggest pots of money, and rightly so. Chad is ineligible for grants through the Millennium Challenge Corporation, or MCC, because of its abysmal track record on human rights and governance. Additionally, legislation adopted by the U.S. Congress last year restricts the provision of U.S. International Military Education and Training, or IMET, foreign military financing, and other defence-related assistance to countries identified in the State Department’s annual human rights country reports as recruiting or using child soldiers. The Chadian government has long been notorious for conscripting child soldiers, and thankfully the Chadian armed forces should soon be ineligible for American military support. In June, State Department’s Trafficking in Persons office dropped Chad down to Tier III status, the worst possible classification in America’s system of identifying human trafficking hot spots. This may obligate the United States to withhold all aid save for humanitarian assistance, and would make it compulsory for the United states to vote against Chad in international foray. Chad now has 90 days to comply with a set of benchmarks for improved accountability on prevention of trafficking before tough penalties kick in.[13] The United States is thus in a strong position to press N’Djamena on human rights and governance concerns and should lay out concrete steps Chad must take to prevent a downgrading of relations.

Toward a diplomatic strategy for Chad
Peacemaking efforts in the region have moved on multiple tracks. There have been numerous attempts to mediate the conflict between Chad and Sudan, an African Union and then joint AU-U.N. mediation effort for Darfur, an EU-backed effort to broaden the limited political space for Chadian opposition parties, and haphazard talks between N’Djamena and Chadian rebel groups. The tangible impact of these efforts on the ground for civilians in Darfur and Chad is negligible, and in at least one instance—the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement—international mediation actually made the situation worse.
Although unsuccessful, previous mediation attempts have laid a partial foundation for a re-vamped diplomatic push. The Tripoli Agreement of February 2006 called for a joint security force to police Chad and Sudan’s common border and the Dakar Agreement of 2008 created the Dakar Agreement Contact Group to oversee the process of normalizing relations. The Qatari mediation of May 2009 adds another crucial element: financing to establish the border force, courtesy of the Emir of Qatar.[14] Plans for border security and coordinated regional pressure on Khartoum and N’Djamena are necessary but insufficient. The joint Chad-Sudan border patrols agreed to in Tripoli in 2006 are impossible to realize until the countries resolve their political differences. 
Likewise, regional pressure is inadequate to achieve a lasting détente. Key actors in the region are in fact waiting for the United States to reinvigorate multiple peace processes that have been shot through with cynicism. To its credit, the Obama administration has begun to demonstrate more leadership on Sudan: President Obama’s special envoy to Sudan, retired Air Force General J. Scott Gration, convened a major conference last month to focus international efforts on implementing the faltering Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA.[15]  As part of U.S. attempts to kick-start a peace process for Darfur, General Gration has traveled to Chad to meet with Chadian officials and Darfuri rebels.
Yet while the international approach to Sudan will necessarily include steps to deal with the problems in Chad as they relate to Darfur, efforts to bring peace to the region will not succeed without a concurrent multilateral effort to end Chad’s chronic internal crisis once and for all.  Political reforms are critical in this regard, but ending armed conflict in Chad requires policymakers to abandon the faulty logic that progress on political reform obviates the need for political talks with armed opposition groups.
Key steps toward a comprehensive approach include the following:
Forge diplomatic partnerships with France and Libya
As discussed above, France and Libya have each sought to keep Chad within their respective spheres of influence and in doing so have frequently pursued counterproductive and contradictory policies. France has pursued stability through the misguided support of a political system that is inherently destabilizing, and Libya seeks control in the region by backing insurgent groups with independent agendas. Yet when Déby is under threat, mutual interest has led to cooperation.[16] For example, when Chadian rebels appeared to be on the verge of toppling Déby’s government on the night of February 2, 2008, France asked Libya to transport tank ammunition to beleaguered government forces.[17]
Developing a close working relationship with France and Libya is essential to diplomatic efforts in Chad. And while Chad is certainly not at the top of the Washington’s bilateral agenda with Paris and Tripoli, an agreement between the three countries on a joint approach to Chad’s internal crisis would pay dividends to the Obama administration’s efforts to stabilize the region. Moreover, there are direct openings for engagement. Quaddafi wants access to U.S. oil technology and the United States is in the midst of negotiating a Military Memorandum of Understanding with Libya. [18] It would not be unreasonable for the United States to ask for Libya’s cooperation on Chad, including greater pressure on Déby to negotiate in good faith with armed opposition groups. It makes less sense to work with Libya to press for political reform inside Chad, as Qaddafi’s four-decade rule has hardly embodied representative government. However, U.S. diplomats can and should place issues of political reform in Chad high on the agenda with France, framing progress on this front as central to resolving the interlocking conflicts in the region.[19]

Prioritize political reform
Political reform will require structural changes, starting with the reversal of the amendments to Chad’s constitution in June 2005 that enabled President Déby to stay in power indefinitely and prompted most opposition groups to boycott the following year’s elections. Unfortunately, the agreement on elections brokered by the European Union in 2007 hones in on highly desirable credible elections, but it unfortunately ignores the profound political reforms needed for elections to be meaningful.
Many observers have called for an inclusive dialogue that brings together the armed and unarmed opposition in talks with the Chadian government. Déby refuses to engage in genuine dialogue with armed groups, but political talks with all opposition groups are central to a lasting solution. Further, while dialogue is surely the way forward, power sharing deals with warlords will only perpetuate the conflict.  Talks must be inclusive. This means bringing the South into the equation, where 90 percent of the population resides and watches a few northern nomadic tribes take turns pillaging the state. Civil society needs to be brought up from the grassroots, restrictions on the media must be rolled back, the wobbly justice system must be bolstered, and the notorious security sector is badly in need of reform.[20]
Déby’s long-standing policy of decentralizing the state administration, which has previously been used as a divide-and-conquer instrument, could be used to devolve genuine power, as well as money, to the periphery as a way to eliminate the incentive to rock the boat. Money now spent on weapons could conceivably be spent on poverty reduction. However, not everyone will welcome an end to chronic warfare. One member of President Déby’s inner circle told Enough that senior government officials purchasing weapons in Ukraine and China insist on standardized kickbacks. “They don’t want this war to end,” he said. Make no mistake: Genuine reform will not come easily, and it will require hard-nosed diplomacy from the U.S. that is strategically coordinated with France and Libya.
Use the United Nations more effectively
The U.N. Security Council authorized a peacekeeping force to train Chadian police and protect civilians in the East, but the United Nations has shied away from engaging with the Chadian government on political issues. France in particular is reluctant to cede its influence with President Déby to the United Nations, preferring bilateral and European Union channels. However, as discussed above, French interests in Africa are shifting. France can protect its longstanding interests in Chad by working with emerging stakeholders such as the United States and China to define a more robust role for the U.N. peacekeeping force in Chad, called MINURCAT, in addressing the internal political dynamics that fuel recurrent warfare in Chad. Toward that end, the Security Council should give MINURCAT a mandate to work with Chadian authorities to promote human rights and the rule of law in eastern Chad and begin putting structures in place to support disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, or DDR, of ex-combatants.[21] In addition, the U.N. Department of Political Affairs should establish a strong presence in Chad and work with the European Union to prepare for presidential elections in 2011.
To build leverage for peace efforts, the Security Council should also impose targeted sanctions against individuals who provide arms and other material support to Chadian and Darfuri armed groups. This is not difficult: Several individuals already named by the U.N. Panel of Experts for breaching the arms embargo have not been held accountable.[22] As a further demonstration of renewed intent, the Security Council should authorize dedicated arms embargo cells within MINURCAT and the U.N. Mission in Sudan, or UNMIS.

Conclusion: an integrated, regional approach
Enough believes that the lack of a viable peace process for Darfur remains the single largest obstacle to a more effective diplomatic approach to ending the Chad-Sudan proxy war and forging regional stability.[23] Yet while building a credible Darfur peace process is a necessary first step, a lasting regional peace also requires a strategy to deal with the authoritarian governance and state weakness that render Chad inherently predatory and unstable. Concurrent multilateral support for negotiations between Chad and Sudan should seek to build confidence slowly between the parties rather than force another quick-fix peace accord. So long as their respective internal conflicts smolder, domestic calculations will drive the agenda in N’Djamena and Khartoum and stoke cross-border antagonisms.

[1] This report was drafted by a consultant who travels frequently to the region.
[2] Despite an abundance of international peacemakers, warmongers prevail in both capitals. In February 2006, Chad and Sudan signed a peace accord in Tripoli, brokered by the Libyan government. In March 2007, Chadian and Sudanese representatives met in Tehran to continue talks to normalize bilateral relations. With Saudi Arabia’s facilitation, Sudan and Chad signed yet another agreement in May 2007. Qatar helped broker goodwill agreement between the Sudanese government and the Chad-backed Justice and Equality Movement, or JEM, in February 2008. March 2008 brought the signature of the Dakar Agreement.
[3] Sudanese rebel groups manipulate registration drives wherein refugees are counted for the purpose of determining levels of humanitarian assistance. Manipulating figures upward can result in food surpluses that are diverted to the war effort. A statistical analysis commissioned by UNHCR in 2006 concluded that two of the 12 camps in eastern Chad had unusually high reported populations when measured against indices such as birth and death rates. While underreporting of deaths could have accounted for such anomalies, it is probable that populations in the two camps in question, Oure Cassoni and Am Nabak, had been artificially inflated. Both are JEM strongholds.
[4]See “Foreign Assistance Follies in Niger”, by Colin Thomas-Jensen and Maggie Fick, CSIS Online Africa Policy Forum, September 2007.
[5]Figures are for fiscal year 2009 and also include funding for Central African refugees in southern Chad. For an overview of U.S. humanitarian assistance to Chad see the U.S. Agency for International Development fact sheet at
[6] For an analysis of Chad’s internal crisis, see Enough’s strategy paper “Is Anyone Serious About Ending the Political Crisis in Chad?” by Colin Thomas-Jensen, February 2008.
[7]The European Union brokered a political agreement between the government and the majority of Chad’s opposition parties in 2007. The August 13 Agreement paves the way for competitive parliamentary elections later this year, and mandates an independent national electoral commission, revised electoral lists, and a place for the opposition in government that speak to many of the concerns that prompted the opposition to boycott the 2006 presidential election.
[8] See “Understanding French policy toward Chad and Sudan? A difficult task,” by Roland Marchal, June 7, 2009. Available at
[9]A French diplomat told Enough that Kouchner proposed a “humanitarian corridor” to Darfur his first day on the job, only to learn from advisors that the security conditions that would have made that idea relevant no longer existed. (The humanitarian corridor is a well-established French foreign policy principal, starting in Biafra during the civil war in 1967-68 and continuing after a 1988 earthquake in Armenia and more recently in Bosnia.) French officials were then forced to work within the framework of Kouchner’s comments in devising a European Union-led civilian protection force that eventually became the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad, known as MINURCAT. For more on EUFOR and MINURCAT, see “Toward Effective Peacekeeping in Chad,” by Omer Ismail and Maggie Fick, CSIS Online Africa Policy Forum, November 17, 2008
[10] The New York Times France to overhaul policies toward Africa,” February 28, 2008
[11]Libya backs a faction of SLA-Unity led by Ousman Bushra and Abdallah Yahya, Zaghawa from the North Darfur towns of Hashaba and Amarai, respectively.
[12]A Defense Department source told Enough that the U.S. military deployed Army civil affairs and psychological operations teams to Chad as part of TSCPT in 2006 and 2007, though they were ultimately withdrawn as a result of turf wars inside the State Department over how to allocate a limited number of U.S. Special Operations forces in Africa.
[13] For more information on American classifications of countries with human trafficking problems, see
[14] The seventh meeting to finalize the establishment of the Observation Mission and the mechanism of troops’ deployment was scheduled to be held in Khartoum in January but never took place. The border force budget amounts to $21 million.
[15]It remains to be seen, however, whether the meeting leads to greater coordinated diplomacy to overcome the significant challenges to the agreement’s implementation. To learn more, see Enough’s recent strategy papers on the Sudan.
[16] France and Libya have forged a closer partnership in recent years, signing arms deals and agreements on nuclear energy that France considers part of Libya’s reward for renouncing weapons of mass destruction.France and Libya Sign Arms Deal,” BBC News, August 3, 2007; “France, Libya sign agreements on arms, reactor,” Elaine Ganley, The Associated Press, December 10, 2007.
[17] Libya did so reluctantly, frustrated with President Déby’s refusal to take its peace initiatives seriously.
[18] Current State of U.S.-Libya Bilateral Relationship Fact Sheet, Office of the Spokesman, Washington, DC, September 2, 2008, available at
[19]Sudanese government strongmen Nafi’e Ali Nafi’e, Mustafa Osman Ismail and Salah Abdul Mohamed Gosh visited Paris in May to ask France to use its influence in Chad to contain the JEM in Chad. Though France demurred, Khartoum showed its cards by sending such a high-level delegation: France has something that Khartoum wants, and the United States should make every effort to ensure that French and American pressure is applied in concert, rather than as counterpoints. See “Who Shoots First?” Africa Confidential, volume 50, number 9.
[20]The Chadian government empanelled a Commission of Inquiry in the wake of the February 2008 coup attempt. It concluded that senior government officials had been implicated in serious crimes, including the disappearance of opposition leader Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh. The Commission of Inquiry, which included officials from the European Union as well as Chadian civil society, called on the government to continue investigations until specific perpetrators could be identified and brought to justice. The follow-up body, established by decree in September 2008, was packed with cabinet ministers, however, and it included neither international observers nor members of civil society. Pressure from France was instrumental in compelling Chad to set up the initial investigation, but when it came time to push for prosecutions, Chad opted not to take the process seriously and Paris said nothing.
[21]Neither N’Djamena nor Khartoum has yet agreed to carry out comprehensive disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration programs, or DDR, encompassing paramilitary groups on both sides of the border, including Chadian and Sudanese rebel groups, Janjaweed militias and so-called “Tora Bora” self-defense groups.
[22]Suliman Bishara, a JEM spokesman, has been named by the U.N. Panel of Experts as one such embargo-buster. See U.N. Security Council, “Report of the Panel of Experts established pursuant to resolution 1591 (2005) concerning the Sudan,” S/2008/647, November 11, 2008, p.48. President Déby himself has also been implicated in embargo violations, and contacts in the JEM have informed Enough that former Chadian Defense Minister Mahamat Saleh Abdullah provided weapons and vehicles that were used in JEM’s May 2008 attack on Omdurman, adjacent to Khartoum.
[23]See “President Obama and Darfur: A Blueprint for Peace” Enough Strategy Paper, April 30, 2009