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Chad: A Turn Toward the Bad

Prepared by: Michael Moran
April 24, 2006

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There are few places as inherently incapable of dealing with crises as Chad, a parched, landlocked Saharan republic whose neighbors include such pillars of stability as Niger, Libya, and Sudan. Now, along with crushing poverty, official corruption and a refugee crisis from the neighboring Sudanese region of Darfur, Chad is under pressure from rebels it alleges are backed by Khartoum, as well as the World Bank, which says scarce funds are being siphoned off a newly opened oil pipeline funded by international credits.

Given all this, one might wonder why anyone would want to be president of the place. Yet, on May 3, Chad's incumbent President Idriss Déby will stand in elections for a third five-year term as the country's leader. At least four other candidates are running, though Déby is heavily favored.

Whoever wins faces serious troubles. Two weeks ago, armed rebels attacked the capital city, N'Djamena, in an unsuccessful coup attempt that Déby blamed immediately on Sudan (LAT). U.S. officials says reports that Sudan was behind the attacks are "very troubling" (Star of Lebanon). Others say the unrest is more complicated (BBC), caused in part by internal Chadian unhappiness with Déby's decision to try to hold on to power.

The anger, critics say, stems from changes to Chad's 1996 constitution, largely written by Déby after he seized power in 1990, which will allow him to stand for a third term.

NGOs and development experts say Déby, in fact, ushered in something akin to multi-party democracy after winning Chad's first election in 1996. But the recent exploitation of Chad's oil reserves—once considered too remote to market—has led to rampant corruption. The Chad-Cameroon pipeline, funded by an innovative World Bank loan opened in 2003, was approved after Chad agreed to set aside a large percentage of revenues due for anti-poverty programs. But Déby, citing the eastern rebellions, abrogated the deal to fund national defense. World Bank negotiators (Reuters) are pressing Chad to honor its anti-poverty pledge. The complexities of the dispute are explored in this Background Q&A by Carin Zissis.

Meanwhile, the refugee crisis in eastern Chad and the anti-government rebellion it fuels continue to worsen (NPR). At the same time, Muslim tribal militias from Sudan now pursue civilians across the border. In February, the Africa director of Human Rights Watch alleged that Sudan's genocidal contractors—the "janjaweed"—"are doing in Chad what they have done in Darfur since 2003: killing civilians, burning villages and looting cattle in attacks that show signs of ethnic bias." The international response, meanwhile, has been mild. France, the former colonial power, sent 150 soldiers to N'Djamena to bolster the 1,200 already deployed there after a personal appeal from Déby to French President Jacques Chirac (LAT). But UN Security Council members appear to have little stomach for intervening in a neighborhood where U.S. accusations of genocide next door in Darfur have, eighteen months later, failed to produce a single UN military boot on the ground. A recent CFR Task Force report advocates a more strategic approach to the continent.

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