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 Chad - Coronation /  Mark Knobil via flickr

Conflicts connected and disconnected: where do we place the problem of governance in Chad?

From the Democratic Republic of Congo to Congo Brazzaville to the Central African Republic (CAR), political conflicts and civil wars are ongoing. In the Sahel Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon undergo constant attacks by Islamist extremists. However in the midst of this turmoil, the nation of Chad has been actively involved. Through conflict resolution and peace maintenance by military engagement, Chad has helped its neighbors in sending troops to fight Islamist extremists in the Sahel.  Chad’s approach of engagement in regional governance for peace however stands in stark contrast to its approach to governance at home.

With major military means that has been accumulating since 2008, the now distinguished Chadian army has joined the AU and UN peacekeeping missions (MINUSCA in CAR and MINUSMA in Mali, respectively). In February 2013, the army intervened against Islamist extremists in Mali and with this move came international legitimacy for the Chadian army and President Idriss Déby.  The country of Chad and its army can now be seen at the heart of the fight against Islamist extremists in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Within a few years, President Déby has ironically become a key speaker with international bodies in maintaining peace and security in the larger region. In recent international summits the Chadian president had made a firm commitment to contribute in fighting Islamist extremist groups that plagued the region. Today, Chadian troops are in combat against Boko Haram in Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon. In addition, Chad was admitted as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2014. Something that seemed unlikely only a few years ago when Chad requested a UN mission (MINCURAT II) to leave the country.

A troubled role in Central Africa

The international community has largely been ignoring Chad’s troubled role in the Central African crisis however. The United States and France rely heavily on Chad for their military bases while accusations concerning the violations of human rights by the Chadian army are ignored. Additionally, President Déby did not keep neutrality in the conflict in the CAR as his troops were active in all rebellions throughout the country. In 2003, Déby supported Bozizé to take political reign and in 2013, Déby helped Djotodia to power. Déby later forced Djotodia to step down in favor of Catherine Samba Panza.

The position of the international community is becoming more ambiguous because President Déby, like Denis Sassou Nguesso (Republic of the Congo), Paul Bia (Cameroon), and Joseph Kabila (DRC), has exhausted their stay in political power and therefore must leave according to the norms of the international community. Due to of the constant victories of the Chadian army against Islamist extremists (nowadays against Boko Haram) the debate on length of term seems to have been forgotten. Regional security and access to a strong military power outshines the norms of the international community as Chad is embraced in their fight and victories against terrorism.

Internal governance and “security” challenges

Chad’s image is changing as the country’s role expands in regional security, with their successes in regional and international governance adding up. Chad can be seen as a well-connected state and political leader that is able to exert enormous power and influence beyond national borders. However, Chad’s image “at home” is considerably different with the presence of "decentralized control over the instruments of coercion". Local authorities are able to impose their own personal interests, their visions of justice, use violent governance and not be held accountable for it.

Additionally, the administration is failing on a large-scale. State agents are appointed based on ethnic affiliation rather than merit, which has ruined the capacity of decentralized governance in Chad. Not to mention the profound discontentment amongst the people.   Meanwhile, Parliament has very little say in matters of governance and are often informed after a decision has been made by the President (including sending troops abroad). Moreso, there is no oversight into the spending of resource money since 2003 when Chad started exporting petrol. With this style of governance, the result has brought underdevelopment despite high state incomes, high levels of injustice and fear amongst the people. Opposition members either live under intense pressure or fall into the trap of co-optation. As a result, armed actors with fluid loyalties and increasingly informal authority play a major role in the insecurity people perceive (Debos 2013).

Citizens of Chad have lived under exploitation and repression caused by current and former security forces. These issues of governance within Chad are not disconnected from the international connections. As Debos states, "In Chad, as in many countries considered 'fragile', international interventions promote a violent stability and a fraudulent democratization; they sustain the very political developments they attempt to curb." In other words, President Déby and his engagement in international security interventions only reinforces his leadership status and his continuation of power for international security interest, despite his troubled approach of governance at home. 

Divisive leader kept in place for broader strategic interest

On the international scale, Chad is a connecting actor in military interventions in peacekeeping missions in Sub-Saharan Africa. By remaining connected to influential international players, President Déby established himself as a powerful regional actor. However at the internal level of governance, which is characterized by communal conflict, clientelism and impunity, the country is completely disconnected from any form of good governance. President Déby gets away with it mainly because of France's and United States' counterterrorism efforts, general economic and security interests and military means that has accumulated through oil-exploitation. Major powers predict regional chaos and loss of control in the region when Déby goes out of power. Yet internal chaos, injustice and generally poor governance is a daily reality for the approximately 11.5 million inhabitants of Chad that continue to become disconnected from their state.

Photo credit main picture: Chad - Coronation / Mark Knobil via flickr

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About the author

Souleymane Abdoulaye Adoum

Souleymane Abdoulaye Adoum is a PhD candidate at Leiden University at the Institute of History.

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Jonna Both

Jonna Both is a postdoctoral researcher at Leiden University.

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