Driving home from Boston late last night, I made an interesting discovery: Chad gets so little global media attention that the legendarily well-spoken BBC World Service anchors couldn’t agree on the pronunciation of N’Djamena. I’m guessing that an official, BBC-approved pronunciation went out this morning and we’ll hear a uniform “nja ME na” on the air today…
Chad leads the world in all sorts of unhappy statistics. It’s one of the poorest, most isolated, most corrupt, most unstable countries in the world. Like Sudan, its neighbor to the east, it’s had historical tensions between a Christian and animist South and a muslim North, exacerbated by a post-colonial history where it became a pawn in power struggles between France and Libya. Libya invaded the nation in 1980, turning a simmering civil war into an international struggle, where France and the US supported Hissène Habré against Muammar Qaddafi’s invading armies. Habré was later deposed by Idriss Déby, a Libyan-backed rebel leader who ruled as dictator for a decade, before being elected in somewhat democratic polls in the late 1990s.
Déby’s major presidential achievement – turning Chad into an oil exporting nation – may turn out to be his downfall. Chad now pumps oil through a World Bank-financed pipeline to Cameroon, where it is exported by Exxon Mobil. In an agreement that considered exemplary when signed, the vast majority of Chad’s oil profits are mandated to be spent on development (health, education, etc.) When Déby’s government defanged an oversight commission and changed the law to make it easier to spend oil monies on other “pressing issues” – including military spending – the World Bank froze large amounts of aid to Chad.
But it’s not hard to understand why Déby might have wanted a bit more military protection. He’s been the subject of countless coup attempts, and has been engaged in an increasingly nasty conflict with Sudan. Hundreds of thousands of Darfurian refugees are living in eastern Chad, fleeing Sudanese-backed Janjawid militias in Darfur. Sudan accuses Chad of supporting Darfurian militias which come across the border to clash with Janjawid – Chad accuses Sudan, in turn, of coming across the border to attack these militia camps. The nations have been in a “state of war” since early this year.
And now well-armed rebels – composed in part of military officers and troops from the Chadian army who’ve defected – are marching on N’Djamena. The rebels – the United Front for Change (FUC) – are widely believed to be backed by Khartoum… which Khartoum, of course, denies. Adding credibility to this claim is the report of BBC’s man in Chad, who notes that the rebels have brand new trucks, weapons and uniforms, suggesting that someone is providing some investment capital to back this rebellion.
150 French troops have been flown in from Gabon to back the force protecting the 1,500 French citizens in the country… and helping support the Déby government. The president got on French radio this morning and reassured his supporters that a few pre-dawn gunshots were nothing to worry about:
“There is nothing, nothing at all… There was some light-weapons fire near the National Assembly, that’s all… Three vehicles were spotted, they were destroyed on the spot.”
Déby may think there’s a way out of the current situation, negotiating with rebels and, perhaps, with their backers. Fontaine over at Yebo Gogo disagrees:
Deby, who has been in power since 1990, is standing for a fourth five-year term in next month’s elections. He’s already preaching a platform of reconciliation with the rebels. One thing his egotistical mind might not realize is that his iron-fisted rule is the reason there are rebel groups fighting. They don’t want reconciliation. They want Deby out.
Until the conflict’s resolved, enjoy the novelty of Chad in the news (currently the top story on Google News!) And the odd pleasure of seeing global newsanchors trying to say “N’Djamena”…