Bodies littered the streets of N’Djamena, Chad’s capital city, after three days of intense fighting between President Idriss Déby’s forces and 1,200 Chadian rebels, earlier this month.
Déby – who has dictatorially ruled Chad after seizing power in 1990 in a military coup – narrowly avoided being overthrown himself. Only after the intervention of military forces from France – the former colonial power – using assault helicopters, did the rebels withdraw.
This conflict (a less well organised rebel attack on the city occurred in 2006) is inextricably linked to the more well known bloody civil war currently raging in the Darfur region of neighbouring Sudan.
Both Chad and Sudan accuse each other of fomenting rebellion and civil war in each others countries. Many commentators say that the timing of the recent rebel invasion was a ploy by Sudan to pre-empt deployment of 5,500 EU troops – led by France – to protect over 200,000 Darfur refugees in eastern Chad. Indeed, this deployment has been delayed by at least four weeks.
Sudan denies the charges of being involved in the rebel attack. The charge is also denied by the rebels, led by Chad’s former defence minister Mahamat Nouri and former chief of staff Timan Erdimi (also a nephew of Déby).
Sudan is also accused of trying to stall the intervention of a 27,000 strong African Union/United Nations peacekeeping force in Darfur. It is certainly plausible that had the rebellion succeeded, the UN attempt to contain the five-year-old civil war in Darfur would have collapsed.
But even as UN forces are arranging deployment in Darfur, Sudan’s government has used attack aircraft to strafe villages in the area, forcing a further 12,000 refugees to flee westwards into Chad.
But Idriss Déby (one of Africa’s most corrupt rulers who siphoned-off much of the country’s oil wealth) is no innocent in this conflict. Déby stands accused of backing rebel groups fighting Sudan’s troops in Darfur. And Amnesty International has warned that Déby is using his ‘victory’ to depose of his political opponents in Chad.
Inevitably, the main victims in this regional conflict are the ordinary Chadian and Sudanese civilians caught in the crossfire and targeted by militias and government troops. Some 2.5 million people have been forced to flee to neighbouring states to avoid the bloodshed.
Their plight has worsened since the recent rebel attack in Chad as this has suspended a $300 million UN aid programme to Darfur administered through Chad. Chad’s prime minister has also called for the expulsion of the Darfur refugees, claiming that they are assisting Chad’s rebels.
The recent rebellion in Chad has given an opportunity for French imperialism (there are 1,400 French troops in Chad) to re-assert its influence in its former colony. The French government has offered to militarily intervene again in future to maintain the Déby regime in power. “If France must do its duty, it will do so,” said French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Such a pledge is reminiscent of France’s previous intervention in Rwanda in the 1990s under French ‘socialist’ President Mitterrand. Then, under the guise of providing “humanitarian assistance” French paratroopers collaborated with extremist Hutu militias in their carrying out of genocide against Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
Déby has immediately ‘repaid’ Sarkozy’s assistance by pardoning the French aid workers of Zoe’s Ark charity who were convicted in Chad of illegally trying to fly 103 children out of the country for adoption in France. The announcement of a pardon came after talks between Déby and France’s defence minister, Herve Morin.
The current conflict in eastern Chad is not simply an extension of the Darfur civil war. Many elements of the Darfur conflict originated in Chad. According to Alex de Waal of the Social Science Research Council, the original Janjaweed militia - the notorious Arab militia used by Sudan’s regime in Darfur – were actually Chadian rebels. And some of the leading non-Arab figures in Darfur’s rebel groups fought in Chad’s army at one time.
The conflicts in Chad and Sudan involve a number of elements. Firstly, imperialism is seeking greater political influence in the region. The US has long regarded Sudan as a hostile Islamist state supporting international terrorism. In 1997, under former president Bill Clinton, economic and diplomatic sanctions were imposed. In 2001, these sanctions were renewed by George Bush. In May 2007, Bush imposed new, severe sanctions after accusing Sudan of conducting genocide in Darfur.
Secondly, the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force in both Darfur and Chad, agreed by the big powers but typically ineffective at protecting local populations, is a useful political lever for imperialism.
Thirdly, the region’s resources, especially its oil reserves, are seen as ripe for exploitation by Western and more recently Chinese companies.
The oil fields are rich sources of profits for multinationals and the local elites, at the expense of the impoverished local population. (An oil pipeline running from Chad, through Cameroon, to the Atlantic coast, was completed in 2003, despite protests over its environmental impact. The project involved the World Bank, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Petronas.)
Finally, the conflict also involves the rotten regimes, and using their warlord proxy militias in both Chad and Sudan, to protect their power. The Chad rebels, for example, are regrouping and undoubtedly will launch fresh attacks. So too are the Janjaweed in Darfur.
It is clear that neither imperialism, nor the local capitalist regimes, or the UN, can solve this regional conflict. Genuine democracy, the redistribution of wealth to eradicate poverty, illiteracy and acute health and other social problems, all require the overthrow of the dictatorships in Chad and Sudan by the urban and rural workers and poor.
Only the establishment of workers’ and peasants’ governments, resting on socialism and internationalism, can guarantee the rights of all Chadian and Sudanese people and allow them to voluntarily cooperate to raise living standards in the entire region.
This article appears in this week’s Socialist, weekly paper of the Socialist Party (CWI England and Wales)