Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Chad: Can someone come get the egg off my face?

One could make the argument that Chadian President Idriss Déby is a known commodity, no matter how distasteful he may be. This is not something you could say for the rebels who were knocking down buildings in N’Djamena a few weeks back, especially considering how distasteful they appeared to be.

One thing is for certain is they appear to be at least funded by Sudan, whose government has waged a proxy war against the more (at least cosmetically) Western-leaning Déby, who has welcomed the European Union to station troops on its borders with Sudan to help bring stability to the long-suffering refugees of Darfur.

We made the argument during the crisis that while French President and Chadian benefactor Nicolas Sarkozy should use the 1,500 French soldiers stationed in the country to protect Déby, he should extract some guarantees out of the leader: Like going back to Déby's earlier agreements and guaranteeing a portion of oil revenues for “future generations” and to generally stop harassing opposition politicians and a few other feel-good measures. We understand that a country like Chad may not want a European- or American-style of government, but its people clearly desire basic human rights and deserve a taste of the oil wealth pouring into the country. Hardened and realistic as we thought we were being, it was still another borderline wishy-washy argument that never gained much traction outside of this blog.

It wasn’t all our fault. The situation in N’Djamena deteriorated so quickly and the rebels surprisingly engaged the French military in combat, that perhaps our proposed heart-to-heart between the two leaders never could take place. (Maybe it did happen, and perhaps Sarkozy did try to extract some promises from Déby. But who knows?)

The problem is, less than a few weeks away from rebels knocking on the door of Chad’s State House, Déby seems to be up to his old tricks. That’s clear as it appears that Chad’s military seized two opposition politicians during the chaos following the rebel retreat. Here’s what a Human Rights Watch investigation turned up:

On February 21, the Chadian government stated that an official inquiry had been unable to locate Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh, spokesman for a coalition of opposition political parties, and Ngarlejy Yorongar, a prominent opposition member of parliament, nor determine the circumstances of their disappearance. Interior Minister Ahamat Mahamat Bachir later that day announced that Yorongar had been seen in his neighborhood the day before. However, multiple eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch researchers in N’Djamena that Chadian government soldiers took the two men into custody on February 3. Yorongar’s family and lawyers deny that he resurfaced.

I heart French reform
As someone who wants to half believe the reforming gene of Sarkozy that really, really strives to rid his country’s continuing upkeep of tyrants, I can’t help but notice he clearly now has egg on his face. While it’s not all Sarkozy’s fault, mind you, he certainly has to visibly clean it off before it spreads and the rest of the world’s leaders chuckle themselves silly. (Yes, I’ll stop this lame imagery.)

So, during a trip to South Africa this week, Sarkozy will stop by in Chad for some quick talks. From Reuters:

"The message to his Chadian counterpart will be very clear -- there must be a credible investigation and therefore there must be a credible investigative commission," Sarkozy's spokesman David Martinon told reporters before the visit.

Martinon said the French president would tell Deby that friendship between their two countries could grow only if the pace of democracy accelerated in Chad.

There are a few things going on here. Granted, Africa Flak may have jumped the gun and underestimated the power of Realpolitik in relations between France and states like Chad. Déby may be riding high now, but the time will most likely come when it’s Sarkozy who has to bail him out again. Perhaps this meeting will decide which action French military will take. The argument with Déby has always been: The devil we know is better than the devil we don’t. That may have proved true with these rebels and their mysterious ways. But it may not be true for politicians like Saleh and Yorongar. But, of course, they are nowhere to be found.

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