Events in Chad have postponed the deployment of the Irish-led EU force. Simon Roughneen explains why, if the troops ever are deployed, they will enter a hornet’s nest of competing and overlapping national, regional and international interests.
The UN-mandated European Union force due in Chad and the Central African Republic aims to protect refugees from Sudan’s scorched-earth Darfur region and displaced people within eastern Chad itself.
These are noble and necessary goals, but are easier said than done.
Best intentions aside, the EU force, known by its acronym Eufor, will be seen as a protagonist in a nasty and convoluted power-play, with Chad’s civil conflict dovetailing with that in Darfur, and an escalating Sudan-Chad war, where the two sides are backed by China and France respectively.
Last night, conflicting reports suggested rebels had entered Chad’s capital city, N’djamena, after their advance prevented the initial deployment of about 50 Irish Rangers and sparked the dispatching of an additional 150 French troops from their base in Gabon. Clearly the rebels’ new-found unity – they had disintegrated into an alphabet soup of squabbling factions – was spurred on by the imminent deployment of Eufor, which constitutes a major strategic impediment in their eyes, not to mention the ruling party in Sudan, which has strategic interests of its own at play in Chad.
Eufor is meant to complement the new UN and African Union hybrid force Unamid, operating in Darfur since January 1st. Unamid’s efforts will likely remain under-manned and under-equipped for the foreseeable future. It represents the culmination of years of failed diplomacy, after Khartoum’s ruling clique, ably backed by oil-thirsty China at the UN Security Council, time and again fobbed off half-hearted western and African attempts to negotiate conflict resolution in that region.
The National Congress Party has ruled Sudan since its Islamist coup in 1989. European troops in Chad represent a strategic challenge to this resolute cabal, which, above all, is concerned with staying in power.
Here’s what – and how – the NCP thinks.
On November 17th, 2007, at the height of the Zoe’s Ark orphan abduction case, party dignitary Nafi Ali Nafi told a rally at Wad Medani that “10,000 children were destined to be cut up and their livers and kidneys used for organ transplants for elderly Europeans”.
Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, took to the podium next, telling the crowd “that the elements [of the proposed Unamid force] from Sweden and Norway are in fact intelligence elements from Mossad and the CIA”.
Backing words with actions, not only were the Nordic contingents kept out, at about 10pm on January 7th a 20-truck Unamid convoy was attacked by the Sudanese army in western Darfur, close to the Chad border – an affront matched only by the subsequent appointment of Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal as adviser to al-Bashir.
Such brazen ploys are not popular with the majority of Sudanese, not even the Arab and Muslim tribes in the north. In 2009, the NCP will face a day of reckoning, if Sudan holds the elections as scheduled – mandated by a landmark 2005 peace deal between the NCP-controlled northern Sudan and the Christian southern third of the country. The agreement ended, for now, a 20-year war that killed two million people, before Darfur ever came to international consciousness and consciences.
After elections, the south may secede in 2011, taking with it much of the oil revenue the NCP uses to fund operations in Darfur.
Thus if Chadian rebels can take N’djamena on Khartoum’s behalf, new oil revenue vistas may well open up, something that Beijing would presumably not mind either.
This same black gold keeping Beijing and Khartoum hand-in-hand also finances Chadian rebels, Khartoum’s payback for Chadian president Idriss Déby’s support for insurgents in Darfur, particularly the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).
Déby is Zaghawa, and this tribe lives in Chad and Darfur. After initially stonewalling his kinsmen after the Darfur rebellion broke out in 2003, Déby buckled and continues to support the mainly Zaghawa JEM. As of last month, Chadian air support helped JEM overwhelm Sudanese army posts across western Darfur, upping the military ante.
The rebels have been fighting in eastern Chad for two years, with the two main groups led by Déby’s former chef de cabinet and defence minister respectively. The rebellion broke out not long after Chad’s oil began to flow, after an innovative World Bank-driven scheme was set up to ensure revenues would be spent on health and education. Déby reneged on that deal, at the behest of his 60+ generals, and commandeered the money to fight the rebels, who assuredly want their share of the new wealth.
Their grievances – corruption, misappropriation of revenues, clientelism – would seem more sincere were they not working with the Sudanese army and the Janjaweed to terrorise refugees in eastern Chad and Darfur, which does not suggest a rebel takeover would lead to better governance in N’djamena.
Ethnic ties aside, Chadian politics has often been decided from Darfur. Déby deposed former leader Hissene Habre after leading a 300-strong convoy of battle-readied pick-up trucks almost 1,000 miles from Darfur to Chad’s capital N’djamena – and Habre. In April 2006, he was nearly unseated after Khartoum- backed rebels emulated that desert rally, and now rebels have reached the capital again, after crossing the vast, arid country.
French military support was key to halting the rebels outside the capital in 2006, and preserving Déby’s corrupt autocracy. In Franceafrique, to cite Charles de Gaulle’s strategy for dealing with former colonies, French interests predominate. France has maintained clients in N’Djamena, fending off challengers backed by Libya and Sudan, and now China. To that end, since 1986, Paris has kept 1,200 troops in Chad, backed by Mirage fighter jets, and these will remain long after Eufor departs.
Chadian rebels and their Sudanese backers may see little difference between French troops deployed to protect Déby, and French and other Eufor troops working alongside Irish colleagues on a more benign mission.
But if the rebels pre-empt the European arrival by taking the capital, then Eufor might not get the chance to prove its impartiality.
Simon Roughneen has worked in Sudan with the Irish charity Goal and as a journalist. He is author of “Caught in a Power-Trap: Sudan’s Post-Agreement Institutions”, which will be published later this year in Beyond Settlement (Associated University Press).Show