Chad has been pretty quiet for the past three years, but all that changed in January when France asked for some help in Mali and president Deby responded with two thousand experienced troops. In a way, this was Deby repaying a debt. It was French troops that helped defeat a rebel attempt to take the capital, and Deby’s life, five years ago. That worked so well that in the following year France withdrew over half the 1,650 troops it had in Chad. This was also part of a program whereby France cut the number of troops (then currently 13,000) it had deployed overseas, by 15 percent. But France also surmised that Deby was in control and owing France a favor. The force sent to Mali was paid for by France, with a large chunk of that cash going to Deby personally. Sending this force to Mali was popular in Chad because the troops were getting paid more as well and it was a show of respect for mighty France to call on Chad troops to help in northern Mali. The main thing Deby had to be careful about was Chadian casualties in Mali. If these got too high, the undertaking would become unpopular. Thus the decision last month to bring the troops home.
After more than two decades in power president
Idriss Deby is stronger than ever, and now the French owe him again. He's outsmarted, outfought, and outlasted all his enemies. The new oil wealth, and continued foreign aid, has provided the resources needed to reward friends and buy weapons to use against enemies. For dictator and president-for-life Deby, life is good.
But there are other problems in Chad, like an illiteracy rate of nearly 70 percent and 20 percent of the population who are chronically hungry and many who are still in refugee camps (who are at least fed). Chad is also one of the most corrupt nations in Africa (and, by definition, the world). Ethnic and tribal animosities have not all been tended to, and much anger remains. While the eastern and northern areas of the country, that produce most of the rebel groups and gunmen, are beaten down by years of defeats, the willingness to form new rebel groups remains. It's only a matter of time.
Relying on his new clout with France and popularity from the Mali operation, Deby has been cracking down on the opposition. In part this is the aftermath of the coup attempt earlier this month. It’s also a long-delayed attack on the growing number of Deby critics inside and outside the government. There have been several dozen arrests, including two members of parliament (who are supposed to be immune from arrest). Deby’s enemies include tribes who felt left-out and officials who worked for his predecessor (Hissene Habre, who ruled for eight years until Deby overthrew him in 1990).
Although there is peace with Sudan, there are still over 100,000 Sudanese refugees in the southeast. Many have been there for a decade, having fled the government sponsored violence against non-Arab tribes in Western Sudan (Darfur). Four years ago the Chad government began issuing ID cards to 110,000 adult Sudanese refugees living in UN administered camps. The ID cards made it easier to deal with crime and Darfur rebels living in the refugee camps (often with family members, who have ID cards).
May 22, 2013: A recent army offensive in northeast Nigeria against Boko Haram has sent some of the Islamic terrorists fleeing across the border into Chad. This is a dry and thinly populated area that is vast and difficult to monitor. Chad has sent more troops to the Nigerian border to make sure the area stays peaceful.
May 17, 2013: Rebels (against the Sudanese government) in Darfur accused Chad of sending its warplanes to bomb them recently. This was apparently in retaliation for the recent death of a pro-Chad Sudanese rebel leader inside Darfur. The many rebel factions in Darfur are split by politics and attitudes towards Chad.
May 13, 2013: A celebration was held in the capital to honor the first 700 troops to return from four months service in Mali. Some 2,000 Chadian troops went (by road) to northern Mali in January. Since then about a hundred have been killed or wounded, plus more than a hundred hospitalized by accidents or disease. France has provided medical care and covered other expenses (a portion of which was pocketed by Deby and associates). The rest of the Chad troops will return over the next month or so. There are about 30,000 troops in the Chad military, most of them in infantry units.
May 3, 2013: In the capital police arrested two retired generals and accused them of participating in the recent coup attempt.
May 1, 2013: A police raid on a meeting of politicians suspected of plotting a coup turned into a gun battle, in which at least eight people were killed and over a dozen wounded. There were several other subsequent gun battles in the capital as associates of the coup plotters were rounded up. This is the most serious attempt to overthrow Deby since 2006, when plotters planned to shoot down his aircraft but failed.
April 27, 2013: Chad has called on Libya to shut down training camps in Benghazi run by Chadian rebel groups. These outfits are seeking to use Libya as a sanctuary from which new attacks on pro-Deby forces can be made.
April 13, 2013: In Mali a suicide bomber killed three Chad troops. The Chad government reacted by ordering its 2,000 troops home. The Chad leadership believes that al Qaeda is defeated in northern Mali and the war is now against smaller groups of Islamic radicals that are operating like terrorists. Chad sent its troops to Mali because they were experienced fighting similarly armed and organized groups in desert environments. Dealing with terrorists is another matter. France talked to Chad and negotiated a more gradual withdrawal over the next few months. President Deby of Chad was probably offered promises and cash for going along with this. That’s how Deby (and France in Africa) usually operate.