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Homepage > Regions / Countries > Africa > Central Africa > Chad > Chad: Powder Keg in the East

Chad: Powder Keg in the East

Africa Report N°149 15 Apr 2009


Eastern Chad is a powder keg with potential to destabilise the entire country as well as neighbouring states and worsen the already dire humanitarian situation. Local conflicts based on resource scarcity have been exacerbated by national and regional political manipulation. The population has already suffered enormously, from the domestic Chadian disputes, the Darfur crisis and the proxy war between Chad and Sudan alike. The two governments, with support from their international partners, should resume implementation of the Dakar Agreement, but a conference specifically dedicated to the conflict in eastern Chad should also be organised in order to allow local and national actors to find solutions to the domestic causes of the crisis. This conference should be integrated into the existing structures of the peace process in Chad.

Chad’s successive regimes have failed to ensure the well-being and security of the population in the East, thereby fuelling mistrust of the central government. In order to counter armed opposition groups, the regimes first of Hissène Habré and now of President Idriss Déby have used a divide-and-conquer strategy, pitting ethnic groups against one another. Nevertheless, eastern Chad was relatively stable until 2003, despite a tense political climate and sporadic bloody clashes. The humanitarian and security problems that have shaken it since then are unprecedented, with spillover from the Darfur crisis aggravating pre-existing inter-ethnic confrontations and strengthening cross-border intercommunal loyalties. 

Large-scale internal displacement and a massive influx of Sudanese refugees have upset eastern Chad’s demographic balance and intensified the struggle for resources. Both the Chadian government and rebel groups have armed their supporters, leading to bloodier banditry and bloodier inter-ethnic conflicts that often pit farmers against cattle breeders and making the work of humanitarian workers increasingly difficult. The central government has systematically co-opted for its own political purposes traditional mediation and conflict management mechanisms, such as diyah, the compensation due for shedding blood. 

For more than five years, the Déby regime has instrumentalised the troubles in eastern Chad in order to perpetuate itself. Déby has been able not only to divide his political opponents at the local level in the East, but also to limit the political space for his adversaries at the national level.  His strategy has had two phases. During the first, in 2004-2005, the government tried and failed to consolidate the support of its Zaghawa ethnic base.  Following splits among the Zaghawa, Déby stoked the historical mistrust between the Zaghawa and Tama ethnic groups in Dar Tama. He claimed that the Front uni pour le changement (FUC), the main coalition of rebel groups at the time, was an alliance between the Tama and the Janjawid of Darfur ill-repute and had been armed by Khartoum to eliminate the Zaghawa on both sides of the border.  To the international community, he depicted the FUC as the “Chadian-armed right hand of the Sudanese Islamist regime”, a characterisation that was widely accepted, given the many Janjawid attacks against Sudanese refugees in Chad.

During the second phase, from 2006 to the present, the government has tried with limited success to win the allegiance of the Dadjo ethnic group in Dar Sila by providing support both for existing Dadjo self-defence groups and for the creation of new, mostly Dadjo militias. This support is supposed to protect civilians from Janjawid attacks, but its real purpose is to enlist the Dadjo in fighting Chadian rebel groups. In turn, rebel leaders have used the crisis as a convenient political justification for settling scores with Déby. Sudan has exacerbated the instability in the East by supporting virtually all the rebel groups, even though they are strongly divided along ethnic lines.

The international community has had a pair of peacekeeping missions on the scene since February 2008 to alleviate spillover effects of the Sudanese conflict into eastern Chad:  a European Union force (EUFOR) and the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT). However, neither significantly improved the security situation. On 15 March 2009 MINURCAT took over the responsibilities of EUFOR but with a mandate that, like those of its predecessors, is limited to reducing insecurity in camps for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) and the surrounding areas and does not include, as it needs to, promoting a political process that treats the Chadian roots of the crisis.

The international community should end its head-in-the-sand attitude and deal with the root causes of the crisis by putting pressure on the Chadian government to organise the conference on the conflict in eastern Chad cited above. That conference should include representatives of the central government, rebel groups, customary leaders and opposition political parties.  It should examine the fundamental political causes of the instability in the East and put in place an adequate framework for dealing with them. MINURCAT should be mandated to organise the conference and act as a neutral body for selecting many of its participants. France, which has reinforced Déby without helping the Chadians to find a durable solution to the crisis, should pressure the government to engage with the communities in the East for the organisation of such a conference.


To the Government of Chad:

1.  Contribute, with MINURCAT’s help, to the organisation of a peace conference on the eastern conflict and send governors and prefects as representatives of the government to participate in tackling the following issues:

a) conflict between farmers and cattle breeders and access to land and water;

b) the issue of diyah;

c) the role of traditional chiefs;

d) the spread and circulation of weapons and regional disarmament; and

e) reconciliation and harmonious coexistence of communities.

2.  Agree, at the conclusion of this conference, to a permanent mediation council composed of key figures from the East who are accepted by the participants of the conference and who would monitor implementation of the conference’s resolutions and mediate between the government and local chiefs.

3.  Cooperate with MINURCAT and do not restrict the movement of its personnel.

4.  Open a new round of negotiations with the rebel groups based on the Syrte Agreement in order to agree on a sustainable ceasefire, define assembly points and create a joint military commission.

5.  End any support for Chadian militias as well as, in accordance with the Dakar Agreement, for Sudanese armed groups and work towards normalisation of bilateral relations with Sudan.

To Chadian Rebel Groups:

6.  Agree to a long-lasting ceasefire and resume, under UN oversight, dialogue with the Chadian government on the basis of the Syrte Agreement and support the holding of a peace conference on eastern Chad.

To the Government of Sudan:

7.  End support for incursions and armed attacks by Chadian rebels operating from Sudanese territory and work towards normalisation of bilateral relations with Chad in accordance with the Dakar Agreement.

To the United Nations Security Council:

8.  Mandate MINURCAT to organise the peace conference for eastern Chad and act as a neutral body for the selection of its participants.

9.  Ensure MINURCAT has all necessary troops and equipment to fulfil its mandate, including helicopters.

To the UN Secretary General:

10.  Appoint a special envoy to lead the negotiations relating to the peace conference for eastern Chad.


11.  Monitor the Chadian police and gendarmes who staff the UN-created Détachement Intégré de Sécurité (DIS) rigorously in order to improve protection of refugees and internally displaced persons.

12.  Accelerate troop deployment.

To the Government of France:

13.  Support diplomatically and financially the organisation of the peace conference on eastern Chad and make its financial, military and political support to the government conditional on progress in that conference and other national conflict resolution mechanisms.

To the European Union:

14.  Finance and help organise the peace conference on eastern Chad.

To the Government of Libya, the African Union, and the wider International Community:

15.  Support diplomatically and financially the organisation of the peace conference on eastern Chad.

16.  Help obtain Chadian and Sudanese respect for the Dakar Agreement.

17.  Press the Chadian government and rebel groups to resume talks on the basis of the Syrte Agreement.

Nairobi/Brussels, 15 April 2009

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