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Chad in the Eye of the Storm | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Chadian President Idriss Deby addresses a news conference at the close of the 26th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU) at the AU headquarters in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, January 31, 2016. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

N’Djamena-After decades of civil wars, armed rebellions and divisions between the Christian south and the Muslim north, Chad began to witness several years ago a cautious stability after General Idriss Deby toppled president Hissen Habre.

But despite the stability reigning in Chad, observers believe that the country is witnessing the calm before the storm, and that it has entered an unstable phase as a result of bold policies adopted by the Deby regime.

Achieving Stability
“Government officials in Chad have succeeded in achieving stability,” the country’s foreign minister, Moussa Faki, said in 2013 when Chad was elected to become a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

Yet several international reports issued in the past years have spoken about silent crises shaking Chad.

The last report was issued in March by the International Crisis Group, carrying the headline “Chad: Between Ambition and Fragility.”

It said: “The regime faces growing public protest that is rallying the population, especially the youth. The lack of robust structures through which to manage or channel social discontent, the regime’s strategy of co-opting opposition and civil society leaders, and the fear of opposing the government and its military apparatus have long inhibited collective resistance. However, public anger remains widespread and is becoming politicized.”

“The country faces a political crisis resulting from 26 years without a democratic change in leadership, the government’s failure to keep its promises to fight corruption and impunity, a major economic and financial crisis that has hit employment and finally, the new security challenge posed by the jihadist group Boko Haram’s attacks since January 2015,” the report added.

Regional Turmoil
A review of Chad’s geographic location shows that the country falls in the eye of the violence that is invading Africa.

Chad is surrounded by areas of instability. To the east, the crisis in Darfur continues to rage, as shown by the displacement of tens of thousands of Sudanese in February 2016; to the south, despite a lull during the presidential and legislative elections, the conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) is far from over and has highlighted strong identity-based tensions; to the north, the Libyan civil war continues; and to the west, Boko Haram which, though weakened in terms of fire-power, still poses a major threat. In the north of neighboring Niger, Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have exploited the state’s absence in desert areas to conduct all kinds of illegal cross-border activities. To the west, Boko Haram is firmly established in northern Nigeria and in Cameroon.

Chad began to position itself as the “regional policeman” after the collapse of the regime of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. At first, Deby rejected foreign interference to bring down his longtime ally Gaddafi. But when he felt that trade in northern Chad was severely affected after the dictator’s downfall, Chad’s president began in 2014 to call for a military intervention in Libya.

In 2013, Chad also participated in the war against terrorist groups in northern Mali alongside French troops and sent troops to take part in the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic.

Its actions on Libya, Mali and CAR were a sign that Chad wanted to consolidate its regional strength and cover up its internal problems.

Deby formed the strongest and most organized army in the region. Yet, his gains risk being frustrated by the country’s political and economic vulnerabilities, the absence of a social contract and the divisive effects of growing fragility in its religious model, said the International Crisis Group report.

West’s Ally
The war that Deby launched on Mali’s extremists in cooperation with France silenced French criticisms to Deby about violations of human rights, lack of freedoms and rotation of power. It also doubled military cooperation with the United States, mainly in the intelligence field.

However, Chad receives warnings from time to time. The West urges Deby not to consider himself the standard-bearer of the country’s security and stability, the same way Habre did.

Internal Situation
Chad’s new stature in the region does not hide its internal fragility. The country still ranks among the poorest in the world. It has a 75 per cent illiteracy rate and a rapidly growing population that could double in the next 20 to 30 years.

Many Chadians believe that this situation could lead to a violent crisis.

When he came to power in 1990, Deby said: “I do not promise you either gold or money, but I do promise you freedom.”

However, social and political discontent is intensifying and it is uncertain whether the government can maintain the current war expenditure.