DON'T MISS : Talking Africa Podcast - Gates Foundation CEO: 'Stop stockpiling & deploy vaccines to Africa to avoid costly new variants'

Chad’s Déby takes on Boko Haram

By Roland Marchal
Posted on Monday, 4 May 2015 14:53

“We will destroy Boko Haram […] and [Boko Haram leader Abubakar] Shekau should surrender, as we know where he stays,” Idriss Déby Itno said in March.

A leadership position on the AU mission would give Déby the regional leverage he wants

The Chadian president was justifying his decision to launch a war against the Nigeria-based Islamist rebels on two fronts: in northern Cameroon and southern Niger.

In statements full of bravado Déby has claimed he can get rid of Boko Haram in a matter of weeks, while Nigeria’s army has been unable to win on its own for several years.

Chad has been quick to celebrate unconfirmed military victories.

In a matter of a few weeks, government sources reported that hundreds of Boko Haram militants were killed and cities freed.

There is hardly any mention of the col- lateral damage, which left some towns in ruins when the fighting was over.

Chad has one of the most capable armies in Francophone Africa, but its intervention could also bring unwelcome consequences.

In Mali and Somalia, military defeats pushed jihadist groups to adopt asymmetrical tactics: ambushes and skirmishes more than front-line battles; improvised explosive devices and suicide bombings instead of conventional warfare.

In Nigeria, Boko Haram has already proved that it can transform itself to strike in that way, although no one knows whether it has been able to recruit as easily as before.

The well-advertised bay’ah (oath of allegiance) to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria rebels in early March may not have much concrete impact right now except as an aid to recruiting youth to join Boko Haram at a time of hardship.

For now, there is no sign that any state in the region is willing to tackle the reasons why so many youths have joined the jihadist movement.

Déby has taken a leadership role since the African Union (AU) meeting in Addis Ababa in late January 2015. He was in a hurry to take the lead in the regional force to be set up against the Nigerian jihadist group.

Such a move reflects President Déby’s regional strategy far more than the urgency of a particular threat.

Déby’s transformation from troubled autocrat to regional strongman has been rapid.

In February 2008, his government was fighting off rebels who had swept across the country and reached N’Djamena.

His regime was weakened by rivalry and conflict with the governments of Sudan and Libya.

The death of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and the overthrow of Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaoré, who played a role as regional mediator, laid the foundation for a stronger role for Chad in the Sahel.

What’s behind the decision?

At least four motivating factors can be identified as being behind the Chadian leader’s decision to fight Boko Haram: the declining price of oil, which threatens the country’s economic plans; the risk of diminished and more expensive imports from Cameroon; the diplomatic and economic rewards associated with playing the role of the regional leader; and a desire to reduce risks for the 2016 Chadian elections.

Déby has eschewed saving money for future generations. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been highly critical of his high spending backed by Chinese loans and grants.

The declining oil price has dramatically affected Chad’s economic forecasts too. Exploiting Chadian oil is indeed costly, not least because of the price of transporting it to the port of Kribi in Cameroon.

Public funds are evaporating by the day to the extent that Déby had to stop preparations for the AU summit to be held in N’Djamena in June of this year.

Paying civil service salaries and day-to-day expenses may become increasingly difficult as the year goes on.

While Boko Haram had not undertaken military operations in Chad other than an initial and brief skirmish in Ngouboua in February, it was clearly threatening the main supply route to N’Djamena.

Even in Kousséri, a town on the border between Cameroon and Chad across from N’Djamena, the authorities found weapons, hand grenades and ammunition in houses.

This helped Chad’s government to argue that acting pre-emptively was the best option, and it sent troops to Cameroon in January.

Had Boko Haram launched further military operations after taking over the Cameroonian border town of Fotokol, imports to Chad would have become more expensive and scarcer.

Regional and international politics are a major concern for Déby.

His decision to support Cameroonian forces also helped him regain sympathy in Yaoundé, where President Paul Biya had never accepted his policy of supporting the Séléka armed group that overthrew the Central African Republic’s (CAR) President François Bozizé in March 2013.

In January 2013, Déby had moved decisively to support France’s military intervention in Mali.

He did so for many reasons, including the need to improve relations with Paris at a time when President François Hollande was still reluctant to greet a good friend of his presidential predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Many of France’s Parti Socialiste parliamentarians also argue that Déby was responsible for the killing of the opposition leader Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh.

By filling the Sahelian power vacuum, Déby saw that that he could be rewarded elsewhere.

France and the US, Déby’s two main backers, indeed paid back most of his government’s expenses for its expedition in Mali.

Bigger rewards

The United Nations was not as kind, as its diplomats had the bitter memory of Déby having kicked out its CAR peacekeeping mission from Chad after he reconciled with the regime in Sudan in June 2009.

With the UN, the Chadian contingent played a crucial role in fighting jihadist and other armed groups in northern Mali but Déby was not rewarded with the role of force commander.

This time around, President Déby expects bigger rewards, and he needs them more than before.

The visit of France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, to N’Djamena in early March 2015 showed that Déby’s strategy is paying off.

The IMF is becoming much more flexible in its analysis of Chad’s public finances and may throw its support behind attempts to get more loans from international donors, especially the World Bank and the EU.

Déby may also want his role in setting up the force and giving it an immediate credibility recognised by getting the leadership position on the AU regional mission.

This will help him to an improved position in the Sahel and Central African region. Adult PC and Mac site hentai games download best, premium hentai, roly play games download free!

Taking a leadership role may also provide him with better leverage to discuss the situation in Libya and to defend his own interests in the south of the country.

That could help to improve his support at home since people from the Tubu and Gorane ethnic groups are increasingly expressing their dissatisfaction with the preponderant role Déby’s family members play in the economy.

After the upheaval that led Burkina Faso’s long-serving President Compaoré to step down in October 2014, rulers across Africa are unsure how to manage their electoral agendas.

President Déby, in power since 1991, does not need to change the constitution to run for an additional mandate in 2016, yet people say they would like to see new faces in positions of power.

By launching this war against Boko Haram, Déby seeks to be indispensable in 2016, at least for his international interlocutors, if not at home.

As already proved in Libya, Mali, Somalia, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, wars against jihadist movements are more Sisyphean challenges than blitzkriegs, so Chad’s engagement could last for quite some time. ●

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options