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.

Advertisements

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.

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.”

Global Observatory Piece on Chad and Its Western Allies

I’m up at Global Observatory with a piece on Chad. Here’s an excerpt:

The Chadian government is also asking Western and African donors for more development funding. Chad will hold a roundtable in Paris in September to seek contributions for its newly adopted national development plan. Potential partners have already shown a willingness to participate: Deby recently hosted the vice president of the African Development Bank, which is financing projects in Chad’s electricity sector; the Bank confirmed that it will attend the Paris roundtable. The adoption of the development plan was one factor in the IMF’s decision to grant a new loan. The IMF did not make any allusion to Chad’s role in regional security, but other actors are clearly aware of the bargaining power that Chad has with donors because of its security role. Meeting the committee organizing the roundtable, France’s ambassador to Chad asked the Chadian government—according to the paraphrase of a Chadian news site—“to avoid playing the security card.” But the card has already been played, and with effect.

I welcome any comments you may have.