General Mahamat Déby — son of the late President Idriss Déby, and head of the Conseil militaire de Transition (CMT) which took over the country after his father was assassinated in April — clearly believes that Chad is threatened from almost all sides and possibly also from within. He is therefore making major, not entirely successfully, attempts to sign a series of border security arrangements, while simultaneously planning to drastically increase the size of his army. The CMT has already sealed a security agreement with Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum which should secure Chad’s western border. Déby is now trying to achieve the same thing for the country’s northern and eastern borders in the face of persistent threats of rebel attacks.
For much of the last month, fighting has been raging in southern Libya between Chadian rebels from the Front pour l’Alternance et la Concorde au Tchad (FACT) and militias loosely affiliated with eastern Libya strongman Khalifa Haftar. Déby and members of his CMT have been trying to relaunch political dialogue with rebel leaders while also trying to conclude border control agreements with Libya and Sudan. Their aim is to prevent the various rebel groups from regrouping on Chad’s northern and eastern borders before the traditional ‘offensive season’ begins early in the new year.
So far, the CMT’s negotiations have been with Musa al-Koni who represents the Fezzan on Libya’s three-man Presidential Council. Haftar’s control over southern Libya is extremely limited and so too is Koni’s influence. Nevertheless, al-Koni is reportedly close to Haftar and Chad, perhaps misguidedly, is clearly counting on him being able to reign in the Chadian rebels who are based in southern Libya.
The CMT has also opened talks with Sudan in the hope of securing Chad’s eastern border. So far, although Mahamat Déby was in Khartoum on 28-30 August, the CMT has failed to reach an agreement with Sudan’s Transitional Sovereignty Council (TSC). While in Khartoum, Déby reportedly proposed to his Sudanese interlocutors — notably the notorious Vice President Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, (a.k.a. Hemeti) — that they sign a security agreement that included the protection of the countries’ 1,300 kms common border. We understand that Hemeti — who has a long and tumultuous history with the Déby family — refused to commit to a deal and, so far, Khartoum’s leaders have only agreed to strengthen their intelligence exchanges with Chad.
Besides Hemeti, the other architect of this Sudanese-Chadian dialogue is the former Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) rebel leader, Suliman Arcua Minnawi (a.k.a. Minni Minnawi) who was appointed as governor of the western region of Darfur in May. He has reportedly visited N’Djamena several times since his appointment but, as with Hemeti, it is uncertain whether the CMT has made a great deal of progress with Minnawi.
Another proposal that Chad has put to Sudan and Libya is the creation of a buffer zone in southern Libya. It hopes this will be under some sort of international control and serve as a neutral area in which foreign groups active in Libya — especially, as far as Chad is concerned, the several thousand Chadian rebels — could be disarmed. Given Libya’s overall instability and political uncertainty, however, this might be little more than a pipedream on N’Djamena’s part.
According to sources in N’Djamena, another problem hampering the CMT’s diplomatic drive is that several of its members feel that they are being progressively encircled by ‘Arab’ leaders or strongmen: notably Mohamed Bazoum in Niger; Haftar in eastern Libya; and Hemeti in Sudan. Apparently, this prospect is fuelling a sense of deep distrust which, perhaps ironically, is said to extend to several prominent Chadian Arab personalities. Sources have cited:
- Ahmed Kogri – head of Chad’s national security agency;
- Hinda Déby – the former first lady and third wife of the late Idriss Déby; and
- Mahamat Saleh Annadif – Chad’s former foreign minister and the current head of the United Nations for West Africa.