Monday, February 04, 2008

Chad's Future has Direct Impact on Darfur Situation

Chad rebels raise stakes for Africa and the west
Published: February 4 2008 18:57 The Financial Times of London
Idriss Déby, Chad’s president, faced the gravest threat to his 17-year rule this weekend when rebels stormed the capital and fought their way to the gates of his palace. But within 24 hours the man dubbed the “cowboy of the sands” appeared to have regained the initiative, personally ordering counter-attacks as the guerrillas fell back.
Gunfire rattling through the capital N’Djamena on Monday showed that the battle for the city, and Chad, is not over. But the stakes for the region, and for western policy in Africa, will be huge whatever Mr Déby’s fate.
If he survives, he will emerge stronger, the crisis emphasising his importance to western strategy in containing the Darfur conflict across the border in Sudan.
“The rebels are giving it their best shot,” said Reed Brody, a lawyer at Human Rights Watch who follows Chad. “It’s not over, but if he does turn it back it will show that he has more staying power than many people think.”
But if Mr Déby falls, the conflict in Darfur could worsen, plans to deploy European Union troops in Chad may stall, and turmoil could spill into Central African Republic, potentially destabilising a swathe of Africa. Chad, a landlocked, arid country in the Sahelian belt straddling Arab and black Africa, has received scant outside attention compared with Sudan, where the US has described the conflict in Darfur as “genocide”.
Quietly though, Chad has co-operated with the US “war on terror”, allowing American forces to train its troops as part of a wider plan to stop extremists infiltrating the Sahel.
More overtly, Mr Déby has proved crucial to western strategy for Darfur, having agreed to host a 3,700-strong EU force to protect refugees and Chadian civilians.
Mr Déby is, however, a far from neutral bystander. Although he was originally installed with Khartoum’s help in 1990, his support for Darfur rebels from his Zaghawa community has angered his former friends. Observers say the Sudanese government has adopted Chadian rebels in the hope of ousting Mr Déby and cutting supply lines to fractious insurgents in Darfur.
Some analysts say this weekend’s attack was motivated in part by Sudan’s desire to block the deployment of the mainly French EU force, which Mr Déby’s opponents feared would act as a bulwark to defend him.
In fact, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, chose to break with his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, a long-time Déby ally, by denying direct military aid during the assault on the capital.
But should Mr Déby prove he can survive even without French support, he may end up looking more formidable.
Oil plays a big part. Revenues from crude flowing through a pipeline from Chad to Cameroon opened by a consortium led by ExxonMobil in 2003 have enriched his circle, and bought new weapons. Human rights groups say Mr Déby has used the crisis to eliminate opponents by rounding up civilian opposition leaders with no links to the rebels.
The crackdown has only underlined Mr Déby’s failure to solve a problem that has plagued Chad since independence: power struggles are waged not through the ballot box but by factions with guns. With the current coalition of rebels led by men such as Mahamat Nouri, Mr Déby’s former defence minister, and Timan Erdimi, a former member of Mr Déby’s ruling clan, observers treat their pledges to build democracy with extreme caution.
But the real winner if Mr Déby falls would be President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s Islamist government in Sudan, who might feel encouraged to try to smash the Darfur rebels and even challenge Mr Déby’s allies in CAR.
“Khartoum would be very emboldened,” said Suliman Baldo, of the International Center for Transitional Justice. “They would escalate their military campaign to try and settle the Darfur issue on the battlefield.”
Copyright the Financial Times Limited 2008

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