Analysis: Power, corruption, poverty fuel Chad coup attempt

A recent attempt by rebel forces to oust Chad's president underscores instability among African nations.

chad refugees 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
chad refugees 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The recent attempt by rebel forces to oust Chad's President Idriss Deby underscores the instability prevalent among African nations. In a surprise attack on the capital N'Djamena last Saturday, a rebel force comprising three groups surrounded the presidential palace. With members of Deby's Zaghawa tribe forming one of the three groups, it is clear that tribal affiliation is no guarantee of government stability, especially when injustice is felt to be the result of bad governance. Hundreds of Chadians have been killed and tens of thousands have fled to Cameroon. The rebels have vowed to continue their attacks until Deby is removed from office, either by force or by resignation; thus the turmoil is likely to increase 10-fold. Located in Central Africa, Chad shares borders with Libya, Cameroon, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, Niger and, most significantly, Sudan's Darfur region, ravaged by genocide since 2003. Since Chad gained independence from France in 1960, military coups and violence have characterized the political scene, with leaders and their tribal supporters using force to contend for power and control of the nation's wealth. Deby was no exception; he seized the presidency from Hissense Habre in 1990. Deby has been accused of corruption, political repression and favoritism toward fellow Zaghawas, ensuring that they hold a majority of government and armed forces positions. The Zaghawa are one of 200 ethnic groups in Chad and represent less than 5 percent of a population of almost 10 million. There are those (including some from his own tribe) who feel betrayed by Deby, as they have not benefited from the distribution of power and oil revenues which they feel entitled to in return for the support they provided Deby when he overthrew Habre. They are not alone. Only a minority has benefited from Chad's oil revenues, and the country remains the world's fifth poorest, a cause for the widespread unpopularity of Deby. Deby's unpopularity is also a result of his move to amend the constitution so he could run for a third term. Political power is the key to wealth in Chad, and the opposition feels it's their turn to reap the benefits. The Darfur conflict has likewise played its part in recent years, with military personnel defecting to the opposition in protest of Deby's insufficient support for fellow Zaghawa who are rebelling against the Sudanese government. An escalated conflict in Chad would be disastrous for Africa, plunging neighboring countries into internal conflict and likely creating an explosive situation detrimental to the region's fragile stability. With tensions increasing between the leaders of Chad and Sudan due to accusations that each is aiding rebel forces against the other, mediation is essential. The French forces already operating in Chad will need to help contain the violence, and pressure for Deby to step down or at the very least to reach a power-sharing deal with opposition groups is necessary to stem unrest and the political illegitimacy that Deby has acquired. Shani Ross is co-coordinator of the Executive Studies Program at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.