France’s Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly in Chad

Yesterday French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly visited Chad. She met President Idriss Deby and Defense Minister Bichara Issa Djadallah, and she visited military bases connected with the G5 Sahel Joint Force and the Multi-National Joint Task Force.

The visited seems meant as a vote of French confidence in Chad and as a further demonstration of French support for these two African-led regional counterterrorism forces. It is hard not to think that the visit is also at least partly in response to recent flickers of insecurity in Chad, including the CCMSR rebellion in the north and a recent Boko Haram attack near Lake Chad. RFI predicted that issues of financing and strengthening the G5 Sahel Joint Force “will be at the center of the discussions.” RFI adds that French President Emmanuel Macron may visit Chad around Christmas to see French troops there.

Finally, a quick note on Djadallah – he’s something of a fixture in the defense ministry, having been in his current role since August 2016 (making him something of a survivor amid repeated cabinet reshuffles) and he previously served in the role in 2008.

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Updates on the Chadian Government’s Fight with the CCMSR Rebels

Late last month, I wrote about the Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic (French acronym CCMSR) and its recent activities, including the 11 August attack on Kouri Bougri, Tibesti region. Here are some key developments since late August:

  • 21 August: CCMSR reportedly attacks Tarbou, in the area of Kouri Bougri, and seizes weapons and documents. The government denies it.
  • 1 September: The Chadian military conducts aerial bombings in the Tibesti region, targeting “a site between Miski and Yebibou.” (Map of Miski)
  • 3 September: Chadian rebel alliance the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) releases statement denouncing the military’s attacks in Tibesti, as well as the installation of a G5 Sahel joint force post in Zouar, Chad (map) – or perhaps we should say that the post will instead be north of Zouar at Wour (see here for some background from a French government perspective).

See also below, from MENASTREAM:

Some Background on Chad’s CCMSR Rebel Movement

In Chad, a northern rebel movement is getting more attention, particularly after its recent attack on Kouri Bougri* – enough attention that President Idriss Deby referenced them in his 20 August Eid al-Adha/Tabaski speech, although they quickly rejected his call for them to lay down arms.

The movement is called the Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic (French acronym CCMSR). RFI says it is “the best armed” of Chad’s rebel movements, and quite possibly also the largest. Formed in 2016 in southern Libya, it includes a number of rebels who previously fought with other groups.

The CCMSR’s secretary-general is Mahamat Hassan Boulmaye. In October 2017, Boulmaye, his spokesman Ahmat Yacoub Adam, and external affairs secretary Abdraman Issa Youssouf, were arrested in Niger (reports conflict as to whether it was near Agadez or in Niamey; Niamey is the version the CCMSR gave). They may have been extradited to Chad – specifically to the Koro Toro prison – but as of May 2018 both Chadian and Nigerien authorities refused to confirm that. The interim secretary-general is Mahamat Tahir Acheick, about whom I could find very little information. You can listen to a French audio message from Boulmaye here, and David Kampmann has more background on the movement here.

The CCMSR’s activities have affected Libya as well. In March 2018, Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army conducted “air raids [that] targeted a rebel-held roadblock 400km southeast of Sebha, as well as other positions in an oasis in the Terbu region 400km farther south.”

The history of rebellions in Chad is too complex to summarize here, but a good place to start for background is Marielle Debos’ Living by the Gun in Chad.

*Kouri Bougri does not show up on Google Maps, but here is a map of the Tibesti Region, where Kouri Bougri is located.

Oath-Swearing and Laïcité in Chad

In May, Chad embarked on its Fourth Republic. Its new constitution, approved by parliament in April, effectively allows the president (Idriss Deby) to serve two more, six-year terms past his current term – i.e., to remain in office until 2033.

The constitution also contains a new article (105) requiring new cabinet ministers to swear an oath in front of the President and “following the confessional formula sanctioned by the law.” I haven’t been able to track down the precise wording that the Supreme Court requires, but essentially it seems that ministers at the swearing-in ceremony on 10 May had to swear either on a Qur’an or a Bible, and had to invoke the name of God (using the word Allah, although apparently Deby intervened in one case to allow one minister to use the French word “Dieu” or “God”).*

A bigger deal was the situation of Rosine Amane Djibergui, the minister-designate for civil aviation. She refused to swear to God under any name, stating that she felt the demand contradicted the secularity (laïcité) of the Chadian state. She was effectively fired on the spot and replaced by a general. You can watch video of the incident here. Several other sub-cabinet officials were also fired for refusing to swear, in their case because they were Christians who hold that swearing contradicts their faith (a position some Christians took in early America, which is why you sometimes see the phrase “swear or affirm,” for example in the presidential oath of office).

Several Christian pastors have since publicly taken up the issue, arguing that the oath-swearing violates principles of laïcité.

It’s possible that all this bespeaks a nefarious intention on Deby’s part to undermine laïcité or even to “Islamize” Chad, but I actually wonder whether it’s not just about a certain sloppiness and aversion to dissent – in other words, perhaps the authorities didn’t really think through the idea of a new swearing-in formula, or perhaps they adopted it under pressure from one particular lobby group. In either case, the authorities likely didn’t expect any dissent and were probably caught off guard by Djibergui’s stance. In the moment, their reflexive urge was to shut her down, so they just followed that instinct. Deby’s people, I think, are not used to being challenged, especially to their faces.

This is not to say that there was no consultation on the formula. The day before the incident with Djibergui, Deby met with the head of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, the vicar-general of the diocese of N’Djamena, and the deputy secretary-general of the Coalition of Evangelical Churches and Missions in Chad. Presumably they signed off on the new formula, which may also help explain why authorities may have felt caught off guard (and been instinctively defensive) when they started getting objections to the oaths.

On a related note, the head of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs died in January, but the succession involved almost pure continuity: his deputy took over, preserving the power of the Tijaniyya Sufi order within the Council, and two other major religious figures associated with the Council basically moved up one level in the hierarchy.

*Practitioners of other religions also apparently have an option to swear on their “ancestral rite.”

A Police Census in Chad, With Encouragement from the World Bank and the IMF

Chad is conducting a census (French) of its police. Every officer must present himself or herself to be physically counted – otherwise, they will not receive their salaries.

The move makes sense on its face – who wants ghost workers, especially ghost police? – but it may provoke some real discontent. Viewed in context, this census seems like the latest in a wave of state measures that have upset public employees. Different groups of employees have been striking over the past few years, often over issues of pay but sometimes over broader complaints alleging a lack of basic fairness in the country. If the police do not see the census as fair or as fairly executed, further strikes may be in the cards. The police census, moreover, is apparently a kind of test exercise for a full census of all public employees.

Another part of the context is that according to RFI (see link above), this move comes with the encouragement of the World Bank, while according to VOA (French) it comes with the encouragement of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The World Bank pledged $1.1 billion in loans to Chad back in September 2017, which will support the implementation of Chad’s three-year National Development Plan (.pdf, French). The IMF pledged $312 million back in June 2017 under a three-year Extended Credit Facility. (Chad also obtained other large pledges from various donors and investors at a September 2017 roundtable in Paris.)

I could not find any language about the census in World Bank documents, but here is one brief mention in an IMF document (see .pdf available through this link, p. 3).

On the expenditure side, a key priority for the authorities has been to exercise stricter control over current spending. As part of these efforts, the authorities are committed to reducing the wage bill to a sustainable level in line with staff recommendations. In this regard, they have implemented several measures to contain the wage bill, including by introducing a hiring freeze in civil services, limiting wage increases, and reducing bonuses and benefits. Partly, as a result of these moves, social tensions have exacerbated, but have subsequently weakened following agreements reached between the government and unions that helped preserve positive prospects for reducing the wage bill. Going forward, they are planning a civil service census, while exploring avenues for modernizing the payroll management system and reforming the civil service to achieve increased cost efficiency and transparency.

Am I missing something, or is this just another round of structural adjustment?

The New Mauritanian G5 Joint Force Commander and His Chadian Deputy

Late last week French and Mauritanian media that the new G5 Sahel Joint Force commander will be Mauritanian General Hanena Ould Sidi. He replaces Malian General Didier Dacko, whose removal was one outcome of the 2 July meeting of Sahelian and French heads of state in Nouakchott, Mauritania.

Ould Sidi is Mauritania’s Vice Chief of Army Staff. He is mentioned in a few brief news items at the Mauritanian Army’s website (example), but other than that I can’t find much information about him, either in French or in Arabic (here is the Arabic spelling of his name, for those curious).

La Tribune reports that at the G5 Sahel Joint Force, Ould Sidi’s deputy will be Chadian General Oumar Bikimo Jean, whose French-language Wikipedia page (which is pretty well sourced) is here.

Chad: The End of the Judicial Strike(?)

RFI (French) reports that as of yesterday, Chadian judicial personnel (lawyers, magistrates, bailiffs, etc.) halted their month-long strike, which I wrote a little about earlier this month. The strikers won some major political victories, including the sacking and arrest of the governor of Doba (French). The strike has raised fundamental issues of accountability – the immediate trigger was an incident in Doba where gendarmes reportedly attacked a lawyer. Given that these are systemic issues, RFI wisely notes that “clouds remain.” RFI quotes the head of the magistrates’ union: “There have been similar cases in the past. We continue to ask, to demand that the security and protection of magistrates really be a reality. This question is fundamental.”

The University of Florida’s Sahel Research Group, in their weekly roundup, has a few more items related to the strike and other judicial matters.