Chad’s Idriss Déby has always been in the shadow of his more flamboyant neighbours – Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in the north, and Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir in the east. His strength, and the secret to his lengthy stay in power (21 years and counting), has been his ability to play the two off against each other. But even as 11 African leaders attended his latest inauguration on Monday, Bashir among them, Déby will be wondering just how the region’s revolutionised geopolitics will affect him. By SIMON ALLISON.
You’d think, having received an astonishing 85% of the vote in the Chad’s most recent election, that Idriss Déby would be sitting pretty comfortably by now. But that percentage is a lot less impressive when you realise that the main opposition parties boycotted the election, and that Déby’s mandate has never come from the people anyway. It’s come from Gaddafi, the besieged Libyan dictator who has propped up Deby’s regime for years, and who in 1991 supported the then-rebel leader when he seized power. Since then the relationship between the two leaders has been cosy. Libya never hesitated to send tanks and guns to Déby when he’s found his capital besieged by rebels, while Déby returned the favour this year by sending mercenaries and arms to help Gaddafi’s forces combat the rebel movement. Gaddafi’s abiding interest in Chad may also have something to with the large uranium deposits along its northern border.
If Gaddafi were to fall, Déby would lose a powerful ally; something he probably can’t afford while Sudan’s Bashir gazes covetously across the border. Déby and Bashir don’t get along, despite the crocodile smiles exchanged at the inauguration. Both are facing rebel movements centred along the Sudan-Chad border, and both think the other is behind them. Sudan’s Darfur rebels tend to criss-cross the border at will, regrouping safely in Chad before launching another attack on government positions in Sudan. Ethnically, the Darfuris are closer to the Chadians than to the Arab Sudanese in Khartoum. Similarly, Chadian rebels find some refuge in Sudan, where its rumoured they get help from the Sudanese government in return for assistance in fighting the Darfur rebels.
Attempts by Gaddafi to mediate the dispute have failed over the years, despite the signing of a number of peace deals, the terms of which were usually violated by one side or the other within days. Having said that, the most recent agreement, signed in 2010, has held firm, and Bashir’s presence at Monday’s ceremony in N’Djamena was a reassuring sign it might continue. But peace is a relative term in this part of the world, and Bashir may well be spurred into action by the fact that Chad’s protector is being kept pretty busy in Tripoli. DM
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Photo: Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir (L) congratulates Chad’s President Idriss Deby and first lady Hina after he was sworn in as president for a new five-year term during his inauguration ceremony in N’Djamena August 8, 2011. Deby has ruled the oil-producing central African state since a 1990 coup. REUTERS/Stringer
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