Chad: A Suicide Bombing and Its Response [Updated]

On June 15, four suicide bombers killed twenty-seven* people and wounded 101 others at the Central Police Station and the National Police School in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad. Chadian authorities (French, .pdf) and most observers attribute responsibility to Boko Haram, the Nigerian-born jihadi group. Boko Haram has motive. Starting in January, Chadian soldiers helped to dislodge Boko Haram from territory it controlled in northeastern Nigeria. Boko Haram has long had the habit of conducting reprisals against those it considers enemies, and the sect’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, has been threatening and criticizing Chadian President Idriss Deby for months. Deby even said (French) that he was “not surprised” by the incident. The attacks in N’Djamena also occurred in a context where Boko Haram, reacting to the loss of its territory, is increasing its suicide attacks in and around northeastern Nigeria. This is, however, the first suicide bombing in N’Djamena, and the first major attack by Boko Haram in Chad.

The Chadian government’s reaction has been multi-faceted but, in my view, problematic. Since the attacks, the government has bombed suspected Boko Haram camps in Nigeria. The actual military effects of the bombing will be hard to assess, though Chadian authorities have been quick to claim a major success. Politically, the bombings seem to be a predictable step, one that governments in similar positions often take. The effects in that sphere are also hard to assess. The retaliatory bombings have generated some irritation among Nigerians, directed both at Chadian authorities (for potentially violating Nigerian sovereignty) and at Nigerian authorities (for “sleeping”). Meanwhile, Chad does not seem to have an end-game strategy beyond killing everyone in Boko Haram – which may prove impossible. In the long term, Chad may already be facing the dilemma that its very efficacy against Boko Haram draws it further into violent conflict with the sect.

More controversially, and for me unadvisedly, the Chadian government has also banned full-face veils for Muslim women (the BBC and the Chadian government say “burqa,” but I think they also mean the niqab, which I suspect is more common in Chad). The government’s rationale is that such clothing could be used to conceal identities and weapons, but the attackers on Monday seem to have come on motorbikes and it is unclear whether they were men or women. In any case, to me, such a ban represents a dangerous conflation of jihadism and (what label should one use?) other interpretations of Islam, including non-jihadi Salafism. If a woman wears a niqab, does it mean she is in league with Boko Haram? Of course not. And if you start telling Muslim women what they can wear, and telling Muslim men how their wives should dress, you risk antagonizing people. I don’t think that Chadians will pick up weapons or join Boko Haram over this issue, but in the long term, it is problematic to use incidents of terrorism as a reason to pick sides within non-violent, intra-Muslim struggles. Again, I don’t think non-jihadi Salafis in Chad are going to fight the government over this, but – especially in a context of pre-existing issues of potential government bias against Salafis – it’s possible that the Chadian government is sowing the seeds of future non-cooperation among a significant segment of its Muslim population.

Finally, Chad’s Prime Minister Kalzeubé Payimi Deubet has called (French) on religious leaders to tell their audiences to cooperate with the security forces and to denounce suspicious persons. This seems like a wise step to me, although context and tone matter – if audiences get the impression that religious leaders are being co-opted or intimidated by the government, those leaders’ credibility will suffer alongside that of the government itself. Here too, I think the niqab/burqa ban will work against the government’s other goals.

I do not envy the position in which the Chadian government finds itself. Boko Haram is a genuine threat to Chad, as the suicide bombings show. The challenge is, and will remain, how to respond to that threat without exacerbating it, and without needlessly elevating internal social and political tensions that may, in the long run, have little to do with Boko Haram except where they intersect with the violence almost by accident. Ultimately, much may depend – as it already has – on Deby’s relationship with the new government in Nigeria, because Chad’s ability to strike and bomb Boko Haram will mean less if the governments of the region, working together, cannot develop a strategy for ending the threat of Boko Haram completely. That endeavor will require more than bombs.

*I’ve also seen twenty-eight and thirty-three as counts of those killed.

[Update June 19]: Two reactions from religious bodies:

  • Chad’s Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs has endorsed the burqa/niqab ban, telling the BBC “the hijab is recommended, but wearing a burka is not part of the Chadian culture.”
  • Nigeria’s Jama’at Izalat al-Bida wa-Iqamat al-Sunna (The Society for the Removal of Heresy and the Establishment of the Sunna, better known as Izala), a Salafi organization, has denounced the ban (Hausa), asking, “if [a government bans niqab], where is democracy?”

Nigeria: President Buhari’s Trip to Niger and Chad

On June 3 (yesterday), Nigeria’s President Buhari started his first trip abroad since taking office, visiting Niger (June 3), Chad (June 4), and then heading to the G7 Summit in Krün, Germany. As Jeune Afrique (French) points out, the trip signifies the importance Buhari attaches to the fight against Boko Haram, and particularly to his relations with Niger and Chad, both of which have been deeply and increasingly involved in the Boko Haram effort.

The trip, in my view, is meant to signal appreciation for these countries’ efforts and convey a continued willingness to work with them, but also to re-assert Nigeria’s leadership.

Here are some key moments from Niger and Chad:

Niger

  • Speech in Niger. Key quotes:
    • “I would like to convey the appreciation of Nigeria for the sacrifices by Niger in the on-going efforts to counter the menace of the Boko Haram insurgency.”
    • “I wish to reassure that with the new impetus [in the fight against Boko Haram] and resolve to seek for closer collaboration with our neighbouring countries of Niger, Chad and Cameroun, Boko Haram insurgency will soon be defeated, insha Allah.”
    • “Another issue of concern to us which is closely associated with the insurgency in the region is the influx of refugees and other displaced persons. We are aware that currently, there are over one hundred and fifty thousand (150,000) displaced persons comprising refugees and returnees taking refuge in various parts of Niger…Our administration will work closely with governments of the affected States to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the displaced persons and their host communities. The ultimate objective however, remains to end the insurgency and facilitate their return to their homes.”
  • News:
    • Reuters: “Nigeria’s army will take a bigger role in the effort to crush Boko Haram, by taking over from soldiers from Niger in occupying towns liberated from the Islamist militant group, President Muhammadu Buhari said on Wednesday.”
    • Premium Times: “President Muhammadu Buhari said Wednesday he will review a report by the human rights group, Amnesty International, alleging widespread torture and extrajudicial killings by Nigerian military in the fight against Boko Haram.” Official readout of Buhari’s comments here, Amnesty report here.
  • Photographs of Buhari with Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou.

Chad

  • Speech and final communique (unverified). Key quote:
    • “Your Excellency, permit me to note that our security is intricately linked. This compels us to cooperate fully on security issues in a robust and sustained manner. To this end, we must redouble our efforts to operationalize the Multi-National Joint Task Force with its Headquarters in Ndjamena. I believe the Task Force will stabilize the areas that have been ravaged by the Boko Haram insurgency when it becomes fully operational. I am very confident that, Insha Allah, this insurgency will be brought to an end soon.”
  • News:
    • AFP: “Buhari on Thursday praised Chad for joining the fight against Boko Haram, saying further cooperation was essential in the future…Deby for his part ‘reaffirmed Chad’s involvement and availability’ to work with Nigeria, according to a statement from his office.”
    • Premium Times: “President Idris Deby of Chad has praised President Muhammadu Buhari for his ‘wise decision’’ to relocate the Nigerian Military Command center from Abuja to Maiduguri, to speed up the defeat of the insurgent group, Boko Haram.”
    • Channels: “While in the Chadian capital, President Buhari also held a closed-door meeting with Major-General Tukur Buratai of Nigeria, who was recently appointed Force Commander of the MNJTF, with headquarters in N’Djamena.”
  • Photographs of Buhari with Chadian President Idriss Deby.

What are your impressions of the trip?

In Senegal, Inauguration of Extraordinary Chambers to Try Former Chadian Leader Hissène Habré

Hissène Habré, a French-educated political scientist, rebel commander, and politician, took power in a coup in 1982 and ruled Chad until rebel forces led by Idriss Déby overthrew him in 1990. Habré has been living in Senegal ever since. Pressure to put him on trial has come from numerous forces: groups within Chad, officials in Senegal and Belgium, the United Nations, the European Parliament, the African Union, and others. For years, however, some observers felt that Senegalese authorities were stalling on the question of whether they would try Habré. Human Rights Watch has a chronology of the case here, an overview here, and a Q&A here.

Today marks an important event in the case: the inauguration of special tribunal called the Extraordinary Chambers, in Dakar. There are a number of points to be made about this event. For one thing, as VOA says, “this will be the first time a world leader is prosecuted for crimes against humanity by the government of another country.” The case will have major ramifications for future attempts to try former heads of state.

Second, there are questions to ponder about how Senegalese politics interacted with the trial. VOA quotes Reed Brody, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch, framing the shift in Senegalese authorities’ behavior on the case as a result of the change in administration from President Abdoulaye Wade (in office 2000-2012) to new President Macky Sall.

“In 10 months, Macky Sall and [Justice Minister] Aminata Toure and the government of Senegal have moved this case more than Abdoulaye Wade had done in 12 years.  Finally, the tenacity and the perseverance of the victims is being been rewarded by this government,” [Brody] said.

What happens next? It’s hard to tell – AFP says that no details are publicly available about when the trial will start. RFI (French) gives a broad timeline: fifteen months (maximum) for investigations; seven months for the trial; and five months for appeals. That could mean that there is no final verdict until May 2015. In the meantime, this will be an important case to follow.

A New Cabinet in Chad

On January 21, Chadian President Idriss Deby named Joseph Djimrangar Dadnadji as the country’s new prime minister. RFI (French) calls Djimrangar Dadnadji, who has served numerous times in ministerial and senior government posts under Deby, a “loyalist among loyalists.” He replaces Emmanuel Nadingar, whose thirty-four month tenure set a record for a prime minister under Deby.

The full list of ministers in Djimrangar Dadnadji’s government is here (.pdf, French). The Journal du Tchad (French) looks in depth at the new team. Sixteen ministers have been carried over from the last government. One new appointment that stands out to me is that of Djérassem Le Bémadjiel, a young engineer and inventor brought from the N’djamena refinery to become Minister of Petroleum and Energy. You can read a profile of him here (French). Oil, of course, has been a source of controversy for Chad as well as a driver of certain kinds of social change.

The Journal du Tchad identifies negotiating with labor unions, who were on strike for part of last year, as one of the key priorities for the new government. The cabinet reshuffle also comes as Chadian soldiers deploy to Mali, an issue which has commanded much of Deby’s attention in recent weeks.

Overview and Map of the Rebel Advance in the Central African Republic [UPDATED]

In a military offensive this month, the rebel coalition Seleka has captured at least six towns in the Central African Republic (CAR – see map below). This post gives some background on the situation.

One could start a history of conflict in CAR much further back, but the current cycle of conflict began with the presidency of Ange-Felix Patasse (1937-2011, ruled 1993-2003). François Bozizé launched a rebellion against Patasse in 2001 and took power in 2003. Chadian President Idriss Deby is seen as a key ally of Bozizé, who has been in power ever since. As president, Bozizé won elections in 2005 and 2011, but he too has faced challenges from rebels, notably a conflict in 2003-2007 with a coalition called the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR). An April 2007 peace agreement formally ended that conflict, made the UFDR a political party, and provided for the integration of rebel fighters in the army. Some rebels kept on fighting – a group called the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), for example, launched attacks in late 2009. RFI (French) reported that in August 2012, the CPJP, “the last rebel group active” in CAR, signed an agreement with the government to become a political party. The emergence of Seleka shows that rebellions in CAR are not, in fact, over.

Seleka is made up of “breakaway factions” from the UFDR, the CPJP, and another group, the CPSK, whose French name could be rendered “the Convention of Patriots for Salvation and Kodro” (I was not able to discover what “Kodro” means in this context). Seleka was, according to this French-language site, formed on August 20 of this year. Its demands include what it sees as proper implementation of the 2007 accords, including payments for demobilized rebel fighters and releases of prisoners. More on their demands here.

Seleka currently appears to control six towns: Ouadda, Sam Ouandja, Bamingui, Ndele (captured December 11), Bria (captured December 18), and Kabo (captured December 19). While Ouadda and Sam Ouandja are reportedly small, and Bamingui seems to be as well, the BBC describes Ndele as a “key northern town” and Bria as “a key mining hub in a diamond-rich region.” Together, the BBC says, Ouadda, Sam Ouandja, Ndele, and Bria form “a major route linking the CAR to Sudan, Cameroon and Chad.” Reuters does not assign Kabo any strategic or economic significance, but Reuters notes that taking Kabo, which is 400km/250m from Bangui, brings the rebels even closer to the capital. Many of these towns were battle zones circa 2006, and Ndele was a center of fighting in 2009.

The rebels’ advance seemingly owes partly to the advantage of surprise, but they also seem to have outfought government soldiers (and former rebels fighting alongside the government) in these towns. The BBC describes the battle for Ndele:

An army source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the BBC that the rebels captured Ndele after a surprise attack.

The town was poorly defended, as a detachment of troops was leaving Ndele and had not yet been relieved by other soldiers, the source said.

[…]

The army in Ndele was backed by a former rebel movement, the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), which signed an accord with the government in 2011, AFP reports.

“The CPJP put up resistance, but they were routed by our men and forced to flee,” a rebel spokesman known as Col Narkoyo told AFP.

Seleka fighters also reportedly ambushed a government detachment attempting to retake Ndele on December 16. Chadian soldiers crossed into CAR on December 18 to assist the government in breaking the rebellion, but so far I have seen no reports of Chadian troops clashing directly with the rebels. Chad intervened militarily in CAR during the previous rebellion as well as at other points.

Humanitarian concerns are growing. The fighting has already displaced thousands of people.

UPDATE: See this Reuters piece, “Rebels Say Advance Halted, Ready for Talks.”

Below is my map of the rebel advance. Undoubtedly the locations of some of the towns are somewhat off, so take it as merely an approximation of the geography:

In West Africa and Paris, Chad’s President Idriss Deby Calls for Clarity on Military Intervention in Mali

Chadian President Idriss Deby has made several forceful calls recently for clarity on plans for a possible military intervention in Mali. Deby’s met Tuesday with Boni Yayi, President of Benin (and Chairman of the AU), and Malian Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra. Deby told reporters:

“It’s up to the Malians to tell us as clearly as possible what kind of support they expect from Africa, beyond what has been done by [the Economic Community of West African States, of which Chad is not a member], and what kind of contribution they expect of Chad.”

He and the AU called formally for the UN to authorize a military intervention in Mali (see a timeline of steps toward intervention in Mali here).

On Wednesday, Deby met with French President Francois Hollande in Paris. A military intervention in Mali was one of the central subjects they discussed. This was the first time the two men had met face to face, but not the first time they had discussed Mali: on July 5, the Presidents had a telephone conversation on the topic. Jeune Afrique (French) reported that at the time Deby gave his conditional support to the idea. But he recommended that the framework of the intervention be broadened beyond ECOWAS to include the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN), with Western powers’ logistical support. “Under these conditions, Chad could participate,” he reportedly said. Since that time, the AU has signed on, and some Western powers (including France) have indicated they would support an intervention logistically, but the UN Security Council has yet to approve the force.

On Wednesday, following his meeting with Hollande, Deby spoke (French) of “total confusion” on the issue of Mali coming from ECOWAS, the UN, and Mali itself, confusion concerning the military option as well as the option of negotiations. Nonetheless he reaffirmed Chad’s intention to work “alongside the Malians so that Mali may recover its territorial integrity.” Deby’s statements in Paris tracked closely with his remarks the preceding day.

Africa News Roundup: Eid and Boko Haram, Northern Mali, Chad and China, and More

Muslims around the world will celebrate Eid al Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan, this Sunday. In Northern Nigeria, authorities are bracing themselves for possible attacks by the rebel sect Boko Haram:

A centuries-old Eid festival in the major northern city of Kano, famed for its elaborate horse pageant, has been cancelled, officially due to the local emir’s health, but residents suspected the worsening violence was to blame.

In the volatile central city of Jos, authorities declared off-limits two main prayer grounds that have been hit by violence in the past over security concerns, but said alternative locations were available.

The authorities’ moves were an indication of how badly security has deteriorated in northern and central Nigeria, where Boko Haram has been blamed for more than 1,400 deaths since 2010.

Nigeria’s national police chief urged the public to share tips with officers, something many people have been reluctant to do out of fear of both Boko Haram and the authorities, who have been accused of abuses.

The warning message from the US Embassy in Abuja is here.

The Washington Post reports on Boko Haram’s efforts to gain a foothold in towns along the Nigeria-Niger border. An interesting article, although as regular readers know I think the “tolerant Sufis versus militant fundamentalists” line is simplistic.

In other Nigeria news, Shell “said on Friday it had contained oil leaked from a failed pump within a flowstation on Nigeria’s Nembe Creek though local residents disputed this, saying it had spread to mangrove swamps.”

VOA:

Observers of Somalia’s political transition process say the final political benchmarks to end the transition, including the election of a new president, will not be met by the August 20 deadline.  An arbitration committee working to solve clan disputes on how to share parliamentary seats is yet to reach agreement. Some reports also say the technical selection committee working to screen and approve members of the next parliament objects to some of the candidates put forward.

The numbers out of northern Mali are grim and getting worse: over 435,000 people displaced, and 4.6 million hungry.

Patriarch Abune Paulos of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church passed away on Thursday.

China delivered food aid to Chad this week, marking the occasion with a ceremony on Monday (French).

Presidents Alassane Ouattara and Idriss Deby met in Mecca (French), where they discussed Mali and other matters.

IRIN writes that education in the Sahel is “in crisis.”

What else is happening?