Why Idriss Déby's Chad must be defended



For the last several days, the latent crisis that has pitted a lawful government– that of Mr Idriss Déby – against an armed “opposition” (thus, naturally within the context of a transitional regime, unlawful) in Chad has taken on a new dimension. After several short-lived offensives in the spring and late summer, this past weekend we learned that one of the components of the guerrilla movement the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) attacked and briefly occupied the city of Abéché, which, 700 kilometres from the capital, serves as a “lock” on the road to N’Djamena.  Moreover, although information about this second “front” is contradictory, a column of Rally of Democratic Forces (RAFD, led by two of Déby’s former close associates, brothers Tom and Timan Erdimi who had been involved in the coup attempt uncovered in mid-May 2004) troops headed towards N’Djamena.  As of this past Monday, lawful forces have positioned themselves around the capital and around major public buildings in order to protect them. 

Let there be no mistakes about it: this is not, as is the case all too often in Africa, of an umpteenth quarrel between military leaders who are fighting for a piece of the pie.  In Chad, there is a clash between two models for society.

Having come to power to December 1990 after a very long civil war (lasting three decades), President Idriss Déby has spent the past decade embarking on a real transition towards democracy. Of course, Chad is not perfect, but when we objectively consider the country’s former situation and the difficulties that Chad has had to overcome (the traditional North-South rivalry, clanism, endemic corruption, a culture of violence fuelled and maintained by the Civil War, regional dangers), we have to face the facts: there has been undeniable “improvement.”

How many countries in the region can be proud of having stated in their constitutions that they are a “secular” Republic, “founded on the principles of democracy, the rule of law and justice “?  In how many countries in the region do the same constitutions state that (article 27): “The freedoms of opinion and of expression, communication, conscience, religion, the press, association, assembly, circulation, demonstration, and parade are guaranteed to all”?  And this is not hollow rhetoric.   In N’Djamena, there is a private, free press, a lively civilian society, and tens of political parties (of which a half-dozen actually have real influence), which are sometimes very hostile to the powers that be. Of course, Déby could do better, and, of course, the state of emergency announced on 13th November and extended for six months on the night of 23rd November has left a bitter aftertaste and threatens this fragile democracy.  But must we remember that for the last several months it has been open to invasions and aggressions from armed movements? And can we really feel that those who currently intend to seize power by force would do a better job than the current president?

Must we really remember that these movements are ultimately largely supported, armed, and financed by the Islamist Sudan?  The genocidal regime in Khartoum is thus trying to expand what is euphemistically called the “Darfur Crisis” in order to dissuade the world from intervening and to neutralise a country that would be in a good position to be the rear base of a large-scale operation intended to save Darfur’s black populations from the savagery of the Janjawid Arab militias.

It is precisely because Chad is secular in a region threatened by the spread of Islamism, because it is democratic (even if it is an imperfect democracy) in a zone where democracy is a luxury, because it is lawful on a continent whose elected governments can be counted on the fingers of one hand that President Déby’s administration should be supported.

But words are not enough. The much-needed solidarity of the international community should take the form of decisive military assistance. And, of course, all eyes are on France, which has been a key political player in Chad for a long time.    



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