Chad: In the Wake of November 10 Clashes, A Media War Between the Government and the CCMSR

Here at the blog I’ve followed the conflict in northern Chad between the government and the Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic (French acronym CCMSR). The last time I wrote about it was in late October; since then there was another round of clashes in or around Miski during the days before November 18, when the government announced it had reasserted full control. A good overview of the conflict can also be found here.

One core problem in making sense of the violence is that it is frequently unclear who is fighting whom. The Chadian government sometimes refers vaguely to “the enemy,” rather than to a specific entity like the CCMSR, and news reports speak variously of the CCMSR, local community self-defense groups, and gold miners. The CCMSR has even accused the Chadian military of disguising themselves as gold miners to attack the CCMSR. The miners are relevant in part because the government has tried to expel them from the far north, and so their presence there is quasi-legal at best. Meanwhile, something called the Miski Self-Defense Committee has flatly contradicted the CCMSR’s accounts, asserting that “the CCMSR has never participated, from near or far, in the conflict in Miski and has no base in the Tibesti. Moreover, the Self-Defense Committee has no contact, official or unofficial, with the CCMSR.”

All of this difficulty in getting clear information adds to a media war between the government and the CCMSR. In fact, the CCMSR appears to me to be the more active side when it comes to internet communications, with a fairly active Facebook page and a brand-new Arabic-language website that aims to “spread the facts that the dictatorial institutions are intent on hiding.”

To give a sense of the CCMSR’s rhetoric, I thought it would be useful to translate an excerpt from one of their recent statements:

Chad, our country, is deeply divided today and the cleavages there are more pronounced than in the past and in the majority of other African countries, notably those of the sub-region. This is because, in twenty-eight years of rule, Idriss Deby has transformed our beautiful basin into a vast shooting range, graciously put at the disposal of the world powers who come to test the new inventions among their armaments.

In internal policy, the fragile embryo of national unity that we inherited from colonization has been completely wrecked. No political culture has been imagined for developing and forging the Chadian national identity and giving, so to speak, to the Chadian male and female citizens the feeling of belonging to a community of destiny.

[…]

We are also aware, if not more aware today than ever, that the departure of Idriss Deby from power, by himself, will not suffice, even if it is an absolute necessity for Chad…The return to calm, the political settlement of our conflict and the installation of a definitive peace founded on justice in our country – all that demands more than a change of regime. That demands of male and female Chadians a national awakening, to outdo themselves and pose some fundamental questions.

Now, I’m honestly in no position to really evaluate how widely this rhetoric resonates and whether opponents of Deby in other parts of the country are at all sympathetic to the CCMSR (perhaps not) or whether they see it as a sectional affair – or as a paper tiger that claims credit for others’ actions. But I will say that the CCMSR is making a fairly ambitious effort to own the media narrative and to offer a far-reaching critique of Deby and of Chadian political culture. I can envision a few scenarios going forward, including (a) a cycle of conflict in and around Miski, as we’ve seen since approximately August, (b) success by the Chadian military in extinguishing the rebellion, (c) expansion of support for the CCMSR, and (d) a multi-sided conflict in the Tibesti. But, once again, the problem of low-quality and contradictory information makes all this very hard to assess and even harder to predict.

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Chad: Recent Military Clashes with the CCMSR in Miski

I’m a week late to this,* but it’s worth flagging a recent clash in northern Chad between the military and the rebel group the Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic (French acronym CCMSR), which I’ve been blogging about from time to time.

On 24 October, a clash occurred in Miski, in the Tibesti Borkou (see below) region of far northern Chad. As RFI relates, the Chadian military and the CCMSR each say that the other side was the aggressor. RFI adds that according to the Chadian government, all civilians have left Miski.

The government is experimenting with different ways to characterize the violence. RFI cites the government labeling the rebels “drug traffickers and human traffickers.” A military communiqué (via Jeune Afrique) makes no mention of the CCMSR, but rather says:

The Chadian defense and security forces deployed on an inspection and security operation in the new department of Miski were attacked Wednesday by a small group of terrorists. The armed forces assure [the public] that the assailants were neutralized and that the situation is currently under control.

In short, the government seems keen to characterize this as the work of malefactors rather than as a politically-motivated rebellion.

The reference to the “new department of Miski” takes us back to the Jeune Afrique article linked above, which gives a bit of context. In March, Miski was detached, administratively, from the Tibesti region and attached to the Borkou region. The move has been criticized by some northern Chadians as an affront to “historical and cultural norms.” There is a long and multi-layered history surrounding these issues, notably the intersection of (a) government authority in Miski, (b) gold mining, and (c) rebellion. For deeper background, see this report from Small Arms Survey, which discusses past conflicts in Miski starting on p. 96.

For their part, the CCMSR also seeks to delegitimize the other side, namely the Chadian government. The CCMSR’s statement on the Miski incident portrays it as a genocidal campaign aimed at northern populations and undertaken by the “mercenaries and clan militia of Idriss Deby.” Note that the CCMSR characterizes the Chadian government forces as President Deby’s personal militia and to characterize Deby’s government as “mafia criminals.”

Put differently, alongside the violence there is also a war of words going on between the government and the rebels, and simultaneously there is a campaign to control and shape the flow of information. This is particularly crucial in an ultra-remote zone such as Miski where even basic facts – are there civilians there or not? – can be disputed by the two sides. Each side seems keen to argue, for an international audience as much as for a domestic Chadian one, that they are fighting illegitimate predators.

*My new motto is “Sahel Blog: Bringing You Last Week’s News”

Chad: An Example of How the State/Military Describes the Anti-Boko Haram Campaign

Following up on my post earlier this week about a Nigerian colonel’s analysis of Boko Haram, I want to highlight an official Chadian readout of the military’s efforts to secure the Lake Chad region, and specifically Chad’s Lac Province.

The readout, from earlier this month, describes President Idriss Deby’s 17 October visit to Kaïga-Kindji (or Kinjiria), the site of a Boko Haram attack on 9 or 10 October (the official readout says 9 October, but most news reports give the date as 10 October). The official readout also gives the figure of six soldiers killed, in contrast with news reports saying eight dead. The attack followed one in late September on Moussarom and Ngueleya, as well as one on 22 July near Daboua.

Not unusually for official military/security press releases, it strikes a triumphalist note and emphasizes ‘s role not must as head of state, but also as commander-in-chief. The readout notes that Deby came to “review the troops and shake the hands of all the general officers deployed on the ground.” The readout repeatedly uses words connected to valor and glory to describe and hail Chadian soldiers, and emphasizes the theme of vigilance in the midst of an asymmetric conflict. Deby’s visit seems to have been calculated to boost morale and to showcase his own willingness to travel to the frontlines. The visit also showcased the wider political and national security team. One aim seems to have been to project an image of integration and coordination at the national and sub-national levels – Deby was met at Kaïga-Kindji by the governor of Lac Province, Mahamat Abali Salah, and the president was accompanied by a host of officials and commanders including Defense Minister Bichara Issa Djadallah and Deputy Chief of Army Staff Hamada Youssouf Mahamat Itno (who, as you might deduce from the name, is a relative of the president – a nephew, from the sources I’ve seen).

I would not say that Deby is worried, either about Boko Haram or about the prospect of mutiny, but I do find it significant that he would make and publicize such a trip. The authorities seem keen to make the soldiers feel seen and supported.

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.

Notes on the Outcome Statement of the Lake Chad Conference in Berlin

On 3-4 September, the governments of Germany, Nigeria, and Norway, together with the United Nations, hosted a “High-Level Conference on the Lake Chad Region.” The primary aim of the conference was to close the funding shortfall for humanitarian operations in the region affected by Boko Haram – namely, northeastern Nigeria, southeastern Nigeria, northern Cameroon, the islands of Lake Chad, as well as some parts of western Chad. The conference generated some $2.17 billion in pledges, more than the organizers had hoped.

This post offers a few notes on the outcome statement, but first, here is the program, which is also worth a glance. The panel I would have most liked to see was on the afternoon of 3 September, and entitled “Regional cross-border cooperation: Interventions of the Lake Chad Basin Commission and Governors from the region.” The speakers were Mamman Nuhu, Executive Secretary, Lake Chad Basin Commission; Kashim Shettima, Governor of Borno State, Nigeria; Abali Salah Mahamat, Governor of Lac Chad Province, Chad; Midjiyawa Bakary, Governor of the Extreme North Region, Cameroon; and Mahamadou Bakabe, Governor of Diffa, Niger.

Turning to the outcome statement, a lot of the language is pretty banal and predictable. So here I’m only highlighting points that struck me as unusually substantive or noteworthy:

  • It is worth reading the statement in conjunction with UN Security Council Resolution 2349 (2017), which is referenced on p. 1. That resolution, among other matters, “Calls upon relevant United Nations entities, including UNOCA, UNOWAS, and the United Nations Office to the African Union (UNOAU) to redouble their support for Governments in the Region, as well as sub-regional and regional organizations, to address the impact of Boko Haram and ISIL violence on the peace and stability of the Region, including by addressing the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, and violent extremism that can be conducive to terrorism, in line with the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, and to conduct and gather gender-sensitive research and data collection on the drivers of radicalization for women, and the impacts of counter-terrorism strategies on women’s human rights and women’s organizations, in order to develop targeted and evidence-based policy and programming responses” (p. 4).
  • Laudably, the statement repeatedly emphasizes the need for programming that specifically addresses the needs of women and girls.
  • In the three main pages of the Outcome Statement’s text, the word “resilience” appears eight times and seems to me to have been the buzzword of the conference (as it is in various other development and humanitarian settings these days). Here is some sample language: “Strengthening resilience for sustainable development is essential for reducing vulnerabilities in the long term and efforts are already under way. We highlighted the leadership of governments in the region and the centrality of resilience-building measures at all levels.” Honestly, I have troubling telling what this means concretely. There is a section on p. 3 that clarifies things a bit: “Resilience means going beyond simply restoring the status quo ante, which contributed to giving rise to the crisis: it means building a better standard of living than before. There is an urgent need for governments and partners to continue to scale up efforts for transformational change.” But the language is so vague, even here, that I don’t quite know what the authors meant. I understand “resilience” as the capacity to withstand and even thrive amid setbacks; I suppose the real subtext here is that the donors are worried about either a real worsening of the conflict, or a future conflict, and so “resilience” becomes a code word for saying that governments need to prevent something like this from happening again.
  • Here is some more language that I found odd, from p. 2: “The conference highlighted that stabilization in the Lake Chad region is understood as supporting political processes on the ground and supporting security efforts in order to reduce violence. Stabilization seeks to enable first steps towards reconciliation between parties to the conflict and to establish social and political consensus as a foundation for legitimate political structures and long-term development. The conference underlined the importance of joint efforts to prevent further outbreaks of violent conflict and an escalation of conflicts into crises. The conference further underscored that supporting political processes to develop a common regional approach on stabilization is pivotal. The conference welcomed the establishment of the Governors’ Forum in Maiduguri in May 2018 as an important tool for cross-border cooperation. In this regard, we welcomed enhanced cooperation by the Governors of the riparian provinces and states and the consultation processes which increased civil society participation at the local level, especially of traditional and religious leaders, youth and women movements, and community health workers.” One could read “political processes” here as referring to the possibility of negotiations with Boko Haram (“reconciliation between parties to the conflict”), but one could also read it as coordination between different governments and different levels of government (“a common regional approach on stabilization”). Perhaps both senses are meant or implied.
  • The notes of criticism toward the Lake Chad governments are subtle, but they are there. From p. 3: “The conference stressed that reforms are needed to pursue more effective decentralization, and reach greater geographical equity in the allocation of public resources based on national realities. This would help building the capacity of public institutions to deliver key public services and serve their citizens to build resilience.” And from p. 2: “The conference called upon all parties to uphold their obligation to allow and facilitate timely and unhindered passage of impartial humanitarian relief for civilians in need. We expressed concern about the dangers faced by aid workers and reminded all parties that humanitarian personnel and assets must be respected and protected.” I’m sure the text of the statement was carefully negotiated, but reading between the lines suggests – to me, at least – that donors are concerned about how hierarchy, corruption, and authoritarianism are impeding humanitarian responses.
  • p. 4 of the statement breaks down the pledges made.

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.