The Roots of the Darfur Conflict and the Chadian Civil War
In February 2008 the capital of Chad came close to falling into the hands of rebels seeking to overthrow President Idriss Déby. This attack by Sudanese-backed rebels was seen in policy circles as yet another attempt by the Sudanese government to delay or prevent the deployment of a foreign peacekeeping force in the region. Although the Sudanese government endorsed the creation of the hybrid force United Nations – African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) in the summer of 2007, it has not acted to make its deployment effective. The European Union has since decided to send another mission to eastern Chad, known as EUFOR, whose main mandate is to protect the camps for Darfur refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). In response, Khartoum has expressed concerns that this new European mission in Chad is meant to address the Darfur conflict and not to secure eastern Chad: European troops would use Chad as a base from which to intervene in Darfur.
Such perceptions of recent events in Chad entertain a simplistic vision of the Darfur conflict and make Darfur’s settlement increasingly difficult. In the meantime, the Chadian population is made to endure a devastating war firmly rooted in the regional dimension of the Darfur conflict, a fact ignored or denied amid the loud and often irresponsible policy and humanitarian discourse of the international community.
This opinion takes issue with three main aspects of the prevailing consensus. First, the conflict in Darfur is to some extent the continuation of the civil war in Chad and not the opposite. Over the past three decades the international community — specifically, France and the United States — did little or nothing to obtain a genuine reconciliation process in Chad that would have countered authoritarian and predatory trends in both Hissène Habré’s and Déby’s regimes. The current crisis is only a new episode of this past history; many actors in the Darfur crisis are actually linked to the history of the Chadian civil war.
Second, although Khartoum from mid-2005 has emphasized the strong connections between Darfur field commanders and N’Djamena, mediators in Darfur and the international community have reacted by denying this reality, allowing Khartoum to pursue, as always, the military option: the security apparatus took control of this brief and used its own means to address it, as politicians had nothing to offer. Therefore the strategic target for the Sudanese regime was not the deployment of EUFOR in eastern Chad, as Europeans would like to believe, but N’Djamena. EUFOR in this equation is only a minor parameter, despite statements made by the flamboyant French minister of foreign affairs.
Third, there is little room left to place political mediation on a new footing in the region, as virtually all the key actors are prisoners of their previous policies. What appears today as the only way out is a change of the mediating teams and a radical reassessment of the Darfur and Chad crises as regional crises.
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