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De Waal: Chad Rebellion Could 'Set Darfur Aflame'

Interviewee: Alex de Waal
Interviewer: Stephanie Hanson
February 5, 2008

On February 2, rebels attacked Chad’s capital in an attempt to unseat President Idriss Deby. Analysts fear the rebellion could delay a planned European Union peacekeeping force in eastern Chad and complicate the crisis in Sudan’s Darfur region. Alex de Waal, an Africa expert at the Social Science Research Council, says this rebel attack was backed by the Sudanese government, and was timed to precede the arrival of the European Union peacekeeping force on the ground in eastern Chad. Although this force is supposed to be politically neutral, it’s not viewed that way in the region. “Everyone believes it is there actually to politically and militarily protect Idriss Deby,” says de Waal, whom he calls a “ruthless tyrant.”

De Waal predicts urban warfare in N'Djamena. Deby has rounded up most of Chad’s civilian opposition and civil society leaders, and de Waal is “very concerned” that Deby might massacre these individuals. He says it’s possible the rebels will take the capital, and if they do, Khartoum will become even more powerful in the region. If Deby manages to prevail, which de Waal thinks is likely because he has the backing of Libya and France, he anticipates a short-term escalation of the crisis in Darfur. If that happens, there is a danger that Sudan will, in turn, escalate the war in Chad.

The French play a significant role in Chad. “It is important that a third way is recognized,” says de Waal. A Chadian government does not have to be either Deby or the rebels, but could be a civilian alternative. He argues that the French must protect these civil society leaders so that Chad has a chance at stability, security sector reform, and democratization.

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