“The Looming Chaos in Chad,” Boston Globe, April 26, 2006
IDRISS DEBY, the president of the central African country of Chad, may soon lose power to a group of variously motivated rebel movements. The deposing of Deby might not seem occasion for much regret: he is a cruel, tyrannical, and corrupt man who has squandered a great deal of Chad’s new-found oil wealth. But the rebels who would replace him have the deeply troubling support of the genocidal regime in Khartoum, Sudan. In recent months, as Human Rights Watch has authoritatively reported, the National Islamic Front in Khartoum has supported the Chadian rebels, even as it has loosed its own murderous Arab militia allies on the non-Arab tribal populations of eastern Chad. Indeed, Human Rights Watch reports that ”the Janjaweed militias have carried out attacks inside Chad accompanied by Sudanese army troops with helicopter gunship support.”
Chad’s capital, N’Djamena, is far to the west of the Chad/Sudan border; but as Deby has begun to feel more threatened, he has redeployed his military forces westward and into major garrisons in a desperate bid to retain power. In fact, N’Djamena itself was attacked by the rebels on April 13, and though the assault was repelled, military assets will be increasingly concentrated in the capital and larger towns. This is bad news not only for the Chadian civilians in the east, who now have almost no protection, but for the quarter-million Darfuri refugees who are increasingly threatened in camps up and down the very long Chad/Sudan border. Aid organizations have already begun to withdraw from some refugee camps, and after the April 13 attack, the UN’s World Food Program (the lead UN logistical organization in Chad) ordered the evacuation of all non-essential personnel from N’Djamena. Humanitarian access and security in eastern Chad continue to deteriorate badly as Khartoum turns the region into an extension of the Darfur killing fields.
And things will soon get worse. Heavy seasonal rains begin in late May or June, and these will sever the key east-west road arteries in Chad (as they do in Darfur). It will become impossible for humanitarian supplies to move overland. Moreover, a new government — beholden to Khartoum — may decide to obstruct humanitarian aid in the same way that Khartoum has in Darfur. Even air drops of food and medical supplies could be hindered.
This may in the end have more to do with the chaos that will ensue if Khartoum succeeds in its effort to topple Deby. There is little evidence of common cause among the various rebel groups fighting under the vague umbrella of the ”United Front for Change.” The end of Deby’s rule is likely to usher in a period of infighting and chaos. Neighboring Cameroon and the Central African Republic may also be destabilized.
None of this much matters to the genocidaires in Khartoum, who perceive Deby simply as a supporter of the Darfuri insurgency movements, which have two particularly prominent Zaghawa leaders. Deby is also a member of the non-Arab (or ”African”) Zaghawa tribe, which is found on both sides of the border, and he has traditionally drawn a good deal of political and military support from his fellow tribesmen. But while Deby has certainly supported the Darfuri insurgents, most Zaghawa fault Deby for not doing nearly enough to serve their cause in Darfur.
At this point in the crisis, however, it is fruitless for the international community to apportion blame. Humanitarian needs must be addressed, and anticipated, in the most urgent fashion. Plans must be made for the continuation of humanitarian assistance to the many hundreds of thousands of desperate civilians in eastern Chad who are faced with the total loss of protection and humanitarian access. Under international pressure, Deby has backed down from his threat to expel from Chad the large Darfuri refugee population; he must be told forcefully any further such threats will diminish his support within the international community. The UN, which has dithered unconscionably in providing security for humanitarians in Darfur, must begin emergency planning for a UN peacekeeping deployment to eastern Chad. Part of its mandate must be to staunch the flow of genocidal destruction from Darfur into Chad.
All this will be only a short-term solution; the crises in Chad and Darfur are inextricably linked. If the world wishes to end genocide in Darfur, and prevent massive human destruction in eastern Chad, it must exert immediate, concerted, and substantial pressure on Khartoum.
Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College.