Chad’s chaos

Chadian children with their mothers in a displacement camp  Chadian children with their mothers in a displacement camp UNICEF/Tremeau

23 March 2020

Chad is facing several problems, which contribute to a deep crisis: the growing insecurity situation, with attacks by jihadist groups, clashes between rebel militias and government forces, unstable rule of Idriss Déby, the president of the country, and the growing humanitarian needs the population is facing because of drought, famine and the return of old epidemics. 

Chad has been the target of jihadist aims since for years, particularly with the birth of Boko Haram and its insurgence in Nigeria in 2009, which later expanded to neighbouring countries. It is fresh news that on March 23, Boko Haram militants killed 92 Chadian soldiers and wounded 47 more among reinforcements in the deadliest attack ever on the country’s military history, President Déby said on Tuesday. The soldiers were attacked on Monday night in the island village of Boma, in the swampy lake Chad zone in the west of the country, where the armies of Chad, Niger, and Nigeria have been fighting the Islamist militants for years. “It’s the first time we have lost so many men”, the President added, after visiting the site of the incident in Lac province, which borders Niger and Nigeria. The attack on soldiers in the Boma peninsula lasted at least seven hours and reinforcements sent to help out were also hit, one soldier told AFP news agency. He said that 24 army vehicles were destroyed, including armoured vehicles, and Boko Haram’s men stole weapons from the military in speedboats. The attack is part of an expanding armed campaign in Nigeria in 2009 before beginning incursions in its eastern neighbours. Boko Haram has also stepped up its attacks in recent months on the islands of the Lake Chad Basin, where since 2015, several countries have cooperated in the Multinational Joint Force, a regional coalition engaged around Lake Chad with the help of residents formed into vigilante groups. Furthermore, the country is effectively locked by a state of emergency, which covers three provinces, following an increase in inter-communal clashes in Ouaddai and Sila, in eastern Chad, and fighting between self-defence groups, rebel forces, and the national army around gold mines in the north. President Déby announced that 5000 troops would be deployed to the affected areas, effectively giving them the power to kill those deemed troublemakers - a plan rights groups say that this amounts to a “call to massacre civilians”. But why was a state of emergency declared?

Chad’s army is considered one of West Africa’s strongest, but Déby is struggling to contain spreading insecurity. Declaring a state of emergency effectively sends a signal “to international players to show that Chad is facing threats and needs support”, as said by Jérôme Tubiana, a Chad-Sudan analyst for the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey group. The provinces interested in this condition have seen skirmishes between herder and farmer communities (usually triggered when herders move livestock over a farmer's land), which have left more than 100 dead since January and displaced more than 5,000 people in August. Similarly, the northern province of Tibesti has seen an influx of miners, Chadian soldiers, and rebels since the discovery of gold deposits in 2012. Because of this, clashes between rival groups are more common. More than 3,000 migrants from Chad and further overseas have fled the vast desert area in recent weeks following military operations to close the mines, said Anne Schaefer, head of mission for the UN’s migration agency, IOM, in Chad. Many of those migrants will require medical support and help to return home. “IOM is providing voluntary return assistance on a very limited scale, due to absence of dedicated funding”, said Schaefer. Tensions over mines have been particularly high in the town of Miski, where the local Teda population feels N’Djamena has denied the community its share of the riches. Residents have formed a self-defence group that has clashed with Chadian troops and now resembles a “proto-rebellion”, according to Tubiana. The government has responded by imposing a months-long blockade on Miski, which aid workers say has impacted livelihoods in an area already facing “crisis” levels of food insecurity - the highest in Chad - according to US-funded famine monitor FEWS NET. Another reason for the state of emergency has been the presence of Boko Haram and a powerful breakaway faction, the Islamic State of West Africa Province, or ISWAP, which have made a dangerous comeback in recent months in the Lake Chad region, which is shared by four countries including Chad. Nigeria has been the worst affected, but a string of attacks has also rattled Chad’s western Lac province, as we’ve seen in recent days, displacing around 40,000 people since January 2019, according to the UN. At least 20 Chadian soldiers were killed in a cross-border raid in March - the deadliest of its kind last year - while the militants abducted more than 50 people in a single day in May and killed 13 civilians on another. Boko Haram’s resurgence shows that military efforts, led by the Multinational Joint Task Force - which brings together troops from four countries in the Lake Chad region - “have been insufficient”, said Remadji Hoinathy, a senior researcher for the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), an Africa-focused think tank. “There is a need for a holistic approach to the problem … addressing community grievances, governance problems … offering people possibilities to be resilient”, said Hoinathy. Assistance to affected areas has been sparse, with aid agencies receiving only 15 percent of what they requested for Lac province, said Belinda Holdsworth, head of the office for the UN’s emergency aid coordination agency, OCHA, in Chad. Newly displaced people lack shelters, clean water, and basic sanitation, she said.  “Even when we can access the people who need our help, we are very limited in what we can deliver”, said Holdsworth. 

Another problem Chad is currently facing is that the President Idriss Déby’s rule, which is ongoing from 1990, when he came to power by a coup, is effectively under threat on multiple sides, though he enjoys significant diplomatic support from the West for his role in combating Boko Haram and other extremist groups in northern Mali. Among the others, one of the threats Déby is currently facing is that of rebel groups, which came close to topple him in 2006 and 2008, when they reached N’Djamena before being pushed back. Currently, these groups have taken advantage of the situation in Libya to implant themselves in its southern desert. In February, the Union of Forces of Resistance (UFR) drove deep into Chadian territory before French warplanes stationed in its former colony and hit them at Déby’s request: notably, the rebels were led by the president’s disgruntled nephew, Timan Erdimi. The airstrikes destroyed 20 UFR pick-ups. Many of the rebels were later arrested and sentenced to hefty prison terms. This has “weakened the [UFR] threat for a while, but it has not definitely eliminated it”, said Hoinathy. “There are always possibilities for this group or others, to reconstitute and present a threat to power”, said the researcher, citing continued insecurity in Libya, and Déby’s lack of control over northern Chad. In late 2018, government forces clashed with the Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic, a relatively new rebel outfit also based in Libya and seeking to overthrow Déby’s regime. The president’s poor record on human rights and a severe economic crisis caused by falling oil prices are certainly at the roots of the several inspired protests and strikes that happened in recent years, notwithstanding the rebels’ insurgency and the internal threats coming from among members of Déby’s relatives and family. “Déby feels he is losing control … that he and his security forces are overwhelmed by problems”, said Richard Moncrieff, Central Africa project director for the International Crisis Group. 

Finally, another problem that has grasped Chad is an epidemic of measles that started in mid-2018 has continued through 2019, with more than 23,000 cases, while 51 cases of cholera have also been reported since July of last year. Erratic rainfall has impacted some farmers’ crops, Holdsworth said, adding that the state of emergency - and the subsequent border closures - could affect trade and livelihoods, as well as NGOs’ operations.  “We are responding to multiple crises, which are all growing in severity”, she said. Furthermore, with just 35 percent of the funds requested by the humanitarian community received as of August, Holdsworth said, aid groups will soon struggle to have an accurate picture of what the needs are - let alone respond to them. In a few weeks, IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM), which monitors the movement of internally displaced populations, will run out of funds. Losing the tool would hamper the ability of the team to provide response to those who have moved. 

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Author: Pasquale Candela; Editor: Shrabya Ghimire

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