A landlocked country located in Central Africa, the Republic of Chad is often referred to as the “Dead Heart of Africa” due to its distance from the sea and its largely desert climate. Chad is not only one of the poorest and one of the most corrupt countries in the world but as a nation is also among the top 10 hosts for large numbers of refugees. Indeed, tens of thousands from Darfur and the Central African Republic languish in refugee camps in Chad, and many thousands more from within Chad have been forced from their homes by political violence and recurrent coup attempts. Chances are this unstable political climate will continue beyond the upcoming Chadian parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled respectively for November 2010 and April 2011, in which prospects for a free and fair outcome are slim. So we answer the question “What about Chad?” by glancing into internal politics and the humanitarian crisis brewing in the Republic of Chad, the role of Chad’s neighbors in that crisis, and the recent tug-of-war between the central government and the United Nations regarding the withdraw of the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT).

Internal politics and the humanitarian crisis in Chad
As of December 2009, there were 168,467 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and more than 300,000 refugees mainly from Darfur and the Central African Republic in Chad, a crisis related to internal armed conflict, inter-ethnic violence, and conflict due to tensions between Chad and Sudan alike.

In the early nineties, the Darfur crisis in western Sudan spilled over the border, causing a large influx of refugees into eastern Chad. Chad’s current President Idriss Deby who has been in power since a Dec 1990 coup d’etat, is from the same Zaghawa ethnic group as the Darfuri rebels who now have their base in Chad. The government of Sudan accused Chad’s president of allowing the rebels to operate from bases inside Chad and responded in kind by letting Chadian rebels operate from Darfur. Since then, the two governments have accused each other of harboring and funding the other’s armed oppositions. Past peace negotiations have been tried with little success, yet there is hope and a widely-shared faith that the latest peace agreement signed on 15 January 2010 in N’Djamena will hold and begin to bring an end to the waging of proxy wars.

On the internal front, Chad has faced armed conflict since it first erupted in 2006, following President Debby’s constitutional “review,” a process brought about constitutional revisions permitting him to run for the president’s office for a third term. Debby won the Presidential elections of May 2006 with 65 per cent of the vote, but the election was contested by the opposition. There was an attempted coup before the 2006 election, and another in February 2008.  The Chadian rebel groups based in Darfur and carrying on attacks have consistently accused President Debby of limiting government posts to members of his ethnic group and using of oil revenues to buy arms and reinforce his power instead of investing in social services and infrastructure to develop the country.  A long list of Chadian rebel groups includes the United Front for Democratic Change, the United Forces for Development and Democracy, the Gathering of Forces for Change and the National Accord of Chad.

Inter-ethnic attacks against civilians have also caused internal displacement in eastern Chad. The main culprits here were the Sudanese Janjaweed militias who carried out cross-border raids against Chadian villages in 2006 and 2007, exploiting long-standing land disputes between ethnic groups. They perpetrated human rights abuses including massacres, rape, looting and burning of villages, which resulted in the forced internal displacement of up to 185,000 people. While civilians may not have been the intended targets of rebel attacks against government forces, the fighting has killed hundreds of people, and levels of insecurity have escalated in the wake of each confrontation.

Making the case for MINURCAT
Since 2007, inter-ethnic violence has gradually been replaced by widespread attacks against civilians including Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), refugees and humanitarian workers by gangs known as “coupeurs de route.” In response, there has been a deployment of international forces from European Union (EU) and United Nations  (UN). In 2007, the UN Security Council authorized the creation of MINURCAT, the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad, in response to the growing levels of insecurity and human rights abuses in eastern Chad.

The objectives of this entity included helping reform Chad’s justice system and monitoring the human rights situation. MINURCAT was also mandated to train a specialized Chadian police unit, known as the “Détachement Intégré de Sécurité” (DIS), to provide security in IDP and refugee camps and to patrol main towns in eastern Chad. As of Sept. 2009, MINURCAT had trained over 800 DIS officers. However, permanent DIS posts have only been set up in refugee camps, and patrolling all 38 IDP sites is said to be impossible due to lack of capacity and resources. Furthermore, humanitarian organizations have expressed grave concerns about abuses committed by DIS members.

The European Union (EU) troops known as EUFOR were also deployed in Chad with a mandate to protect Chadian IDPs, Sudanese refugees, safeguard humanitarian operations, and help restore stability. EUFOR was unable to ensure security largely because it was ill-equipped. Therefore, it was replaced by the UN peacekeeping troops in March 2009, and the mission’s mandate was recently extended for one year.  Although the UN promised to deploy 5,200 troops as part of MINURCAT, it is currently working with only 2,600 troops.  MINURCAT faces multiple other challenges including lack of funding and insufficient military equipment.  UN officials have said that without its planned complement of troops and equipment, MINURCAT will not be able to protect IDPs, refugees, and humanitarian workers, or to create a secure environment conducive to the safe return of IDPs

Recently, the Chadian government asked the UN to withdraw it forces at the end of its mandate on 15 March 2010. However, the UN asked the Chadian government to reconsider its decision for the sake of security, safety and well being of refugees, IDPs, and other Chadian communities in need of humanitarian assistance. On March 12th 2010, the UN Security Council extended MINURCAT’s mandate until May 15 while discussions are ongoing between Chadian authorities and the UN.

Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) sees no reason for President Debby to ask for the departure of the UN peacekeeper while there are no appropriate conditions for the return of Chadian Internally Displaced Persons, Sudanese refugees and those from the Central African Republic.  AFJN encourages the US government to collaborate with the UN to make sure Sudan-Chad peace talks materialize into peace and that MINURCAT mandate is renewed and receives funding to do its work.

By K. Serge Adotevi, AFJN Intern