Chad: causes of war, conditions for peace

By , Donald R. Norland was US ambassador to Chad, 1979-81.

The military deadlock in Chad created by the arrival over the past month of some 3,000 French military provides an opportunity to focus on the underlying causes of the conflict and the prospects for its peaceful resolution. In retrospect, the war and especially the brief US involvement raised two key questions that remain unanswered: Is the conflict essentially a Chadian factional rivalry with the adversaries simply drawing on available sources of outside support? Or is the rebel army in northern Chad the spearhead of Libyan adventurism and expansion?

In unraveling the tangled web of events:

First, Chadian nationalism remains remarkably intact despite a conflict that has left much of the country devastated and exhausted. The internal power vacuum created over the years has gradually been filled by an influx of resources from outside powers which sustain and thus influence Chadian political movements and leaders. Goukhouni Woddei became President of Chad in November 1979, not by the choice of the Chadian people but as a result of a compromise worked out under OAU (Organization of African Unity) auspices. Hissein Habre succeeded him as President in June 1982, not as a result of any electoral process but thanks in large measure to a steady flow of foreign support.

Recommended: Default

Second, acknowledgment of outside support and influence in Chadian politics does not mean acceptance of foreign domination. There is legitimate concern that Chad might come under Libyan control. But it should be remembered that Colonel Qaddafi's forces occupied two-thirds of Chad, including the capital N'Djamena, for nearly a year from December 1980 to November 1981. The result was to reveal the full extent of Libyan incompetence, brutishness, and maladministration. It also provoked active and costly Chadian resistance. Third, the only valid test of the respective claims of President Habre and ex-President Woddei to represent the Chadian people is a referendum. Both have a case for saying they can rally a majority to their cause. But in the preoccupation with armed confrontation in the north most observers have ignored the south, where the majority of inhabitants and most of Chad's natural resources are found. And while southerners fear and dislike Libya the most, Libya's client, Goukhouni Woddei, may have more southerners in his camp than does Libya's most vocal adversary, Mr. Habre. In short, divergences between Habre and Woddei, and between northerners and southerners, transcend personal competition for power. They mirror the contrasting cultures and competing political orientations of their respective supporters. Northern Chad is the crossroads of this confrontation. It can remain a battleground or become a precursor of coexistence. One conclusion seems evident, however; namely that Chadians will be the big losers if they fight to the finish, as some of their sponsors seem to suggest.

Logic and experience dictate three conditions for peace in Chad:

1. An outside military force sufficient to provide the security assurances that the vast majority of Chadians desperately seek.

2. A national government acceptable to that same Chadian majority.

3. The total withdrawal of Libyan forces from Chad.

This agenda is not mere wishful thinking but reflects recent precedents in Chadian history: For several years prior to 1980 French forces provided a security framework sufficient to enable the Chadian government to operate independently and without infringing its sovereignty; a transitional government composed of all competing factions was hammered out in 1979 with African sponsorship; and Libya's occupation army left northern Chad in November 1981 when Woddei asked Qaddafi to remove it.

History of course does not repeat itself and circumstances change along with attitudes. But the basis exists for ending the conflict in Chad: Chadian leaders agree on the need to keep the country united and to reestablish central government authority. French forces are present with an unmistakable mandate from Paris to defend themselves and to resist any Libyan attack, as necessary. And Chadian leaders are being made to recognize that there are limits on both the resources available to continue the war and on the patience of the Chadian people to suffer its consequences.

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...