Chad, an African dike against terrorism

Huda al-Husseini

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A Levantine woman who was part of a delegation to Russia told me that during their meeting with President Vladimir Putin, he honestly told them: “If you want democracy, go to the US and if you want security and stability that protect the economy of your rich state, talk to us.”

The horrific massacre which recently happened in Sinai reflects much of this logic. Democracy cannot flourish amid terrorist threats that are present in every corner. The West won against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and the new arena became Libya. Meanwhile America’s strikes began to target al-Shabaab in Somalia.

However these organizations do not sum up all terrorism. There is a country which thanks to its geographic location is of huge significance for the West that’s fighting terrorism. This country also has a history of participating in campaigns that aim to achieve stability.

It’s Chad which American President Donald Trump chose to ban its citizens from traveling to America. Although Chad’s democratic record is not encouraging, the ban is considered illogical due to Chad’s role as a stabilizing force in South of the African Sahel.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s first foreign trip after he was elected was to Mali. In September, Chadian President Idriss Deby visited Paris to sign an agreement with the EU which will grant Chad a loan worth $8.3 billion to cover the years 2017 until 2021. The aim of the plan is to help Chad throughout its severe economic crisis.

After the Arab Spring results unfolded, the proverb “A devil you know is better than the devil you don’t” became more relatable

Huda al-Husseini

Strategic importance

This plan also reflects the strategic importance which Chad represents in combating terrorism. However, despite financial support, local political pressures which threaten Chad can influence its role as a stabilizing force in the region.

France knows the importance of Chad. Its intelligence helped Idriss Deby topple President Hissene Habre in 1990. In April last year, Deby won a fifth term during elections and he tightened his authority despite the several attempts to topple him. He has succeeded in making Chad an indispensable partner for international security in Africa.

During his last visit to Paris, he was glad that Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe congratulated him for his work against terror groups in the region. During his address, Macron noted that combating terrorism is a priority for his administration. As a result, financial aid provided to Chad helps maintain the stability of this strong partner in the region.

The Arab Spring proved that the stability of European countries depends on pleasing poor or growing countries. The biggest proof after Syria has been Libya.

Chad is located at a crossroad north of Africa and its neighbors are Nigeria, South Sudan and Libya. All three countries suffer from extremism, and particularly from Boko Haram in Nigeria. South Sudan has proven it’s a failed state ever since its independence while armed militias in Libya harbor criminals that almost shake Egypt’s national security.

I remember how when I was in Chad once, Libya invaded its desert and French forces deterred the attack. Considering its geographic location, Chad is viewed as strategic for western countries’ interests, particularly for France as well as for Egypt’s interests in confronting terrorism.

Chad is an important member of the G5 Sahel countries and it works with Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger to enhance cooperation and security in Sahel as part of the Operation Barkhane (a military plan which France launched in 2014 to eliminate armed groups in the African Sahel and that’s headquartered in N'Djamena where 3,000 French soldiers are stationed).

Chad is one of the rare African countries that are described as the region’s “sheriff” since it leads reconciliations and succeeds in them. A researcher in Chadian politics said Chad’s government carried out several negotiations with rebellious groups and with the Sudanese government that provided safe havens for them.

After negotiations and the agreement between Chad and Sudan, the Chadian army agreed to include most rebels in its ranks. This provided some stability even though some groups continued to object to Deby’s authority.

Macron’s election

Macron’s election strengthened relations between the two countries considering their focus on combating extremist groups like Boko Haram and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Boko Haram’s influence is strongly present in Chad around Lake Chad which is inside Chad’s territories. It’s a fishing area that’s also rich in agricultural and grazing lands. Boko Haram has benefitted from the lake’s geography and invaded many islands. To confront the continuous threats and to respond to the immediate and long-term demands of citizens, Chadian authorities need to base their work on the relatively successful regional security cooperation and to begin keeping away from military responses and rely on more important civil approaches.

Deby deployed soldiers on several fronts in the Central African Republic and in Mali. He’s lately deployed troops in the basin of Lake Chad to fight Boko Haram thus following the diplomatic military strategy to fight terrorism in the region. Military expenditure helped Chad expand its participation outside African borders as it supports the Arab and international coalition to fight the Houthis in Yemen.

Chad is also an important partner in the current immigration crisis which Europe is suffering from as many refugees try to reach Libya via Chad’s borders. For the past five years, many Sudanese found refuge in it. Another sign of Chad’s growing political influence is the election of its former foreign minister Moussa Faki Mahamat as chair of the African Union Commission.

As a result of this wide participation, the overall military expenditure in Chad increased during the past 13 years. Last September in an attempt to attain more influence and aid from other countries, Deby threatened not to participate in the G5 Sahel coalition and demanded that part of the foreign troops deployed in Chad withdraw if Chad does not receive strong financial support.

Although Chad seems strong thanks to its solid military power and stable political institutions, the opposition began to intensify, and the government is being criticized over matters related to human rights and democracy. This is in addition to the economic crisis due to the decrease of oil prices.

Chad proved its strength and commitment to combat terrorist groups and sent regular troops to many countries, including African ones, to combat terrorism. Neighboring countries are completely collapsed, like Libya and South Sudan and they are all open to Egypt. Boko Haram is not the only threat to political stability in Chad.

The political crisis makes it a fertile land for extremists. France under Macron is aware of that as it is urging Deby to call for new parliamentary elections. Deby had postponed them under the excuse that the budget was not enough. France under Macron desires to strongly return to Africa and the Middle East.

It knows that any vacuum caused by economic or political weakness may be filled with terrorism or that Iran may look forward to seizing it now that it has a foothold in Burkina Faso.

France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian urged Deby to hold elections and reminded him that French support is conditional on the presence of a democratic system. This takes us back to Putin’s statement: If you want democracy, go to America.

What if Deby rejects the French conditions, will France and Europe stop supporting Chad, the state which fought and is fighting terrorism?

After the Arab Spring results unfolded, the proverb “A devil you know is better than the devil you don’t” became more relatable. The African Sahel has two doors, one that overlooks Egypt’s Sinai and another that overlooks Europe’s backfield.

This article is also available in Arabic.
Huda al-Husseini is a political writer who focuses on Middle East geopolitics.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.