Why rebel leader won't rule Chad even if he wins war

Goukhouni Woddei, the tall, distinguished-looking leader of Chad's rebels, is a man who will not be allowed to rule his country - even if he wins the current civil war.

That, at least, is the view of many Western and African diplomats here.

So why, then, is Woddei leading the drive to topple the Chad government of Hissein Habre?

To gain revenge against Habre for driving Woddei out of the presidency last year, sources say. And to avenge himself for Habre's creation of a guerrilla group to rival the one both had led more than a decade ago.

Woddei and Habre are both members of the northern Toubou tribe and were leaders of the Chad National Liberation Front (Frolinat), which fought the southern-dominated government in the '60s and '70s.

Woddei ''hates Habre,'' a Western official here says. ''He will stop at nothing to get even with him. His decision to lead the GUNT (the rebels) was motivated solely by his personal desire to see Habre fall.''

But ''the two men as individuals couldn't be more different,'' another source says. And this, he says, helped precipitate the bitter rivalry that motivates Woddei to lead the rebels now, even though he appears to have no hopes of regaining the presidency.

Woddei, president of Chad from 1979 until Habre forced him out of office a year ago, is the nominal head of the ''legitimate Chadian government in exile.'' But the real power in the eight-faction rebel coalition, sources say, lies with the Democratic Revolutionary Council (CDR), a left-wing group favored by Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

Any new Chadian government would be dominated by the CDR leader, Acheikh Ibn Oumar, GUNT's defense minister and a protege of Colonel Qaddafi, sources say.

Woddei would be left to play a subsidiary role. In fact even now, one Western diplomat says: ''Woddei is no longer a real force in GUNT and the Libyans are allowing him to stay in the organization only as long as he can provide legitimacy to the organization.''

Senior African diplomats agree that Woddei's future as a Chadian leader is limited. As one African diplomat says: ''Since GUNT is almost totally reliant upon the Libyans for diplomatic and military support, if the rebels are successful it would be Qaddafi who would choose the leader of the next government in Chad. Goukhouni, especially after asking the Libyans to leave Chad in 1981, is definitely not Qaddafi's man for Chad.''

But Woddei is proving his mettle by leading a strong military campaign against Habre's government forces, heavily supported by Libyan planes, artillery , and soldiers. His side had gained the military advantage at least until this past weekend - when French troops moved to the front line near government forces.

Woddei is apparently willing to allow rebel factions in GUNT to use his name and stature to legitimize their war - and to be manipulated by Libya - even though it appears he would be cast aside if the rebels win.

Even in the early days of Frolinat, the sharply different personalities of Goukhouni and Habre brought them into conflict.

Habre, the son of a sheperd, has a reputation for being a brilliant but aggressive individual. Woddei has a quieter, generally less aggressive nature.

Born the fifth son of a derdei - the traditional chief and religious leader of the northern Chadian region of Tibesti - Woddei's upbringing had an indelible effect on his character and his approach to leadership.

Although he has long been a guerrilla fighter, Woddei is a quiet, inward-looking individual who generallyseeks compromise before confrontation.

The conflicting personalities of two men ''definitely contributed to their eventual fallout,'' says one Western observer here.

But it was their differing strategies for fighting a guerrilla war that finally brought them into open confrontation.

Their conflict began in the mid-70s when they clashed over how Frolinat should handle its abduction of two French anthropologists.

Woddei wanted the French hostages released in an attempt to appease France, which at the time was a firm supporter of Frolinat's enemy, the southern-dominated Chadian government of Brig. Gen. Felix Malloum. Habre pushed a harder line.

Compounding their differences in the kidnapping affair was their differing attitudes toward Libya, Frolinat's main supporter.

Habre, a fierce nationalist, wanted to distance Frolinat from the Libyans after they occupied (and later annexed) the Aozou Strip on Chad's border with Libya. Woddei believed Frolinat should take a more low-key line, allowing the Libyans to occupy the Aozou in exchange for continued support.

When the split between Woddei and Habre finally occurred in 1976, ''it was bitter,'' a Western official here says. ''(Woddei) forced Habre out of Frolinat and took over his position as head of the organization.''

The feud intensified when Habre established his own guerrilla organization, the Armed Forces of the North (FAN).

Woddei saw Habre's move as ''a stab in the back,'' says one Chadian. ''Maybe Woddei should have expected it, but it still weakened his leadership and further divided the northerners in their struggle against Malloum.''

Woddei felt further betrayed when Habre decided in 1978 to join the government as prime minister under Malloum. The Habre-Malloum government proved to be short-lived, but the Woddei-Habre rivalry endured.

In 1979, both men entered the ill-fated transitional Government of National Union (GUNT), with Woddei as president and Habre as minister of defense. This alliance lasted less than six months.

As one Woddei supporter says, ''Habre refused to compromise with Woddei. He kept his army separate and when the time was right, he attacked Woddei's troops.''

In that battle, Woddei, aided by Libya, prevailed. But his victory was temporary. In June 1982, Habre toppled Woddei from power.

But as one of Habre's supporters observes, ''For two men who have been such bitter enemies for so long, it was too much to think that Woddei would just fade away. He had to try to get even.''

Now, only 14 months after Habre forced him from the presidency, Woddei is again battling his old nemesis.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.