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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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.

An Economy-Focused Cabinet Reshuffle in Chad

Recently, Chadian President Idriss Deby reshuffled his cabinet. Part of the reshuffle was prompted by the departure of Foreign Affairs Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat, who is going (with Deby’s blessing) to become the new chair of the African Union Commission.

Another factor in the reshuffle, however, was the less amicable firing of Finance and Budget Minister Mbogo Ngabo Seli (French), who had only been in his post since August 2016. Seli, it seems, had been unable to maintain a good relationship with Deby’s inner circle and had been equally unable to manage a crisis resulting from the “non-payment of salaries” to civil servants and other key personnel. That “non-payment” is a core part of the budget/austerity crisis that has evoked recurring protests in Chad in recent months, an issue I discuss here (.pdf, p. 13).

In December, there was another firing: Mines Minister Gomdigué Baïdi Lomey (French). In that case, no reasons were given.

The new government promotes Hissein Brahim Taha, the Chadian ambassador to France and a veteran diplomat, to the post of Foreign Affairs Minister. Other new and key appointments include the promotion of three senior technocrats, Christian Georges Diguibaye, Ngueto Yambaye, and Ahmat Mahamat Hassan, to the posts of Finance Minister, Minister of the Economy, and Minister of Justice, respectively. The new government also includes the famous Chadian filmmaker Mahamat Saleh Haroun to the post of Minister of Touristic, Artisanal, and Cultural Development.

The reshuffle did not affect ministers in the security and defense sphere, suggesting that the move was more about dealing with the country’s economic crisis than anything else.

Some Details on Moussa Faki Mahamat’s Election as AU Commission Chair

On January 30, Chadian Foreign Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat was elected the new chair of the African Union Commission (a position distinct from that of AU chair, which is always a head of state and is currently Guinean President Alpha Conde). Here are some key points about how and why he was elected:

  • The election (French) initially involved five candidates: Senegal’s Abdoulaye Bathily, Botswana’s Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, Equatorial Guinea’s Agapito Mba Moku, Kenya’s Amina Mohammed, and Mahamat. After four rounds of voting, the race narrowed to Mohammed and Mahamat. After Mahamat began to pass Mohammed in the sixth round (French), she withdrew and he was elected on the seventh ballot, 39 to 15 (the 15 being abstentions). The winner needed not just a simple majority, but a majority of two-thirds (i.e., at least 36).
  • As I wrote last July (paywalled), the election of a the new AU Commission chair was meant to be decided then. But West Africa balked at the list of candidates available (which included some of the candidates from this time – Venson-Moitoi and Moku – but not the others), and was not able to insert a last-minute candidate of its own.
  • In a formal sense, Chad is in Central Africa rather than West Africa, but West African (and particularly Sahelian) support was crucial in Mahamat’s ultimate victory. One report (French) says that Mahamat won in part because of fragmentation within regional blocs during the early rounds – even on the first round, West Africa’s Bathily only received 10 of West Africa’s 15 votes. West Africa’s support steadily shifted to Mahamat during subsequent rounds. The same report talks about an anti-Senegal sentiment among certain key countries, reflecting displeasure with President Macky Sall’s foreign policy as well as suspicions that Senegal is too pro-Morocco (Morocco was just readmitted to the AU after a long suspension, and some countries opposed its re-entry).
  • The key backers of Mahamat after round four of voting were reportedly (French) North Africa (especially Libya, Algeria, Mauritania), the Sahel, and Southern Africa, especially Angola and Mozambique. In other words, much of the continent aligned in favor of Mahamat, while Mohammed retained East African support until the end. Mahamat received only fourteen votes on the first ballot, but he emerged as a consensus candidate.
  • The victory has been widely interpreted as a sign of Chad’s influence and particularly the influence of its President Idriss Deby. As RFI (French) wrote, “It is a victory for Idriss Deby who waged a discreet, but methodical campaign in favor of his protege. It is a victory for Chadian diplomacy, but still more for the Chadian army, which for five years has paid a bloody price in Africa for defending Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Cameroon against the terrorists of al-Qaida and Boko Haram. Finally, it is a victory for Francophone [Africa] because the outgoing president, Madame [Nkosazana] Dlamini-Zuma [of South Africa], did not speak a word of French.”
  • Chad’s military deployments in recent years directly mapped onto the voting for Mahamat: the West African countries that supported Mahamat over Bathily included (French) Mali, Niger, and Nigeria, as well as Burkina Faso, which borders Mali and Niger and suffered a major terrorist attack in 2016. Chad’s deployments have been expensive financially, but rewarding in foreign affairs. There has been much analysis of how Chad has positioned itself as a key African counterterrorism partner for France and the United States, but clearly Chad has also positioned itself as a key ally for other African countries.

Some biographical details on Mahamat, as well as some coverage of his election, can be found in English here.

More on Austerity in Chad

Last week I wrote about student protests against austerity in Chad. The austerity measures, implemented since President Idriss Deby was inaugurated for his fifth term in August, are also affecting civil servants (French):

The government announced Tuesday, September 27 that it was cutting civil servants’ bonuses for a period of 18 months, provoking the anger of unions. It is one of the 16 emergency measures announced by the state to cope with the economic crisis the country is going through.

The measures include an 80% reduction in allowances and bonuses for civil servants.

As Twitter user Tinea commented, the austerity measures are “hard to swallow given the oil money wastefully spent.” From the perspective of many Chadians (I imagine), Chad’s oil revenues have provided only limited tangible benefits – some new infrastructure, but sometimes a higher cost of living as well. Add to that the budgetary impact of lower global oil prices (which were prompting austerity measures in Chad by late last year), and some Chadians may feel that high oil prices enrich the few, but low oil prices hurt the many.

For more on oil in Chad, the place to start is Celeste Hicks’ book Africa’s New Oil, in which Chad is the central case study.