Chad: Political Chaos A Threat To Displaced People Region-Wide

By Joel Charny
The push of Sudan-backed rebels into the Chadian capital, N'Djamena, poses a serious threat, not only to the government of President Idriss Deby, but to the humanitarian relief efforts in the country. An estimated 440,000 displaced people have sought refuge in eastern and southern Chad: 230,000 refugees from Darfur, 170,000 internally displaced Chadians, and 44,000 refugees from the Central African Republic. These people depend on a fragile relief operation that has to deliver large quantities of food and other basic supplies across a country with poor infrastructure and security. The Chad operation has never been as robust or as well-funded as that in Darfur, and the political chaos, if prolonged, with jeopardize it further.

The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution this afternoon condemning the rebels and authorizing member states to help the country resist the attackers. The Chadian government is hardly blameless, however. President Deby originally came to power in 1990 through an armed revolt, and his government has been providing assistance to rebel movements contesting the Sudanese government's control of Darfur.

The rebel offensive came on the eve of the deployment of a European Union peacekeeping force along the eastern border with Darfur. Orginally proposed by the French, this force is intended to help stabilize the border region and protect civilians and the humanitarian groups aiding them. Analysts are speculating that the rebels attacked precisely to prevent this force from deploying, since its presence would hamper their operations in the border region and would work against the interests of their Sudanese government patrons.

The fact is that the central government in N'Djamena has but a tenuous hold on governing the country. But wealth from the newfound oil, coupled with Chad's pivotal position in relation to the Darfur conflict and the political future of Sudan, means that the stakes of controlling the state apparatus are high. Even if the current crisis is averted, there will be other moves to seize power from the weak Deby government.

The potential impact of a pro-Khartoum government in Chad is unknown. The worst case scenario would be organized moves to dismantle the refugee camps and force Darfuri refugees back to Sudan. A government led by groups sympathetic to Sudan would also likely withdraw permission for European Union and UN peacekeepers to deploy on Chadian soil.

Caring for Kaela, the only Washington-based advocacy organization working on Chad, has called for an "inclusive national peace conference" to resolve Chad's on-going political instability. This seems unlikely in the current political environment, and it is unclear if even the former colonial power, France, has the political will or the means to defuse the conflict and foster a national dialogue. But without this step, more conflict is inevitable, as is more vulnerability for displaced people in Chad.

-Joel Charny