Monday, March 10, 2008

Senegal's Wade attempts to broker peace between Sudan and Chad

It wasn’t long ago that people were scratching their heads over Senegalese President Adboulaye Wade’s attempted mediation between Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and the members of the European Union who remain steadfast against his corrupt rule. Wade’s overtures didn’t stop from Mugabe’s flaunting of the travel ban against him from being the major sideshow in December’s EU-Africa Summit in Portugal.

Well, the Senegalese president is at it again with an attempted peace accord between the formally intractable states of Chad and Sudan. In fact, the leader will host a signing ceremony in Dakar Wednesday with Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Idriss Déby, president of Chad.

The date is important for Wade, for it comes one day before he is to open the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference.

It also won’t be the first time the two leaders have met face-to-face. Both Libya and Saudi Arabia have brokered deals in an attempt to settle the proxy war between the two countries. Each time, the deals collapse when violence reignites in the Sudan region of Darfur, the five-year conflict that has caused nearly 300,000 deaths and 2.5 million refugees, many of them in Chad.

Wade didn’t give details of the new pact, but he did say it provided concrete steps for each government to cease supporting rebels in the other country. He also indicated a desire to engage the African Union, European Union and the United Nations to create a buffer force to hold the aforementioned rebel groups at bay. Presently, a French-led EU force is now stationed on the Chad (and Central African Republic) side of the border to protect the estimated 234,000 Darfurian refugees from raiding parties. There has already been at least one skirmish between the Sudanese Army and the estimated 700-person EU force (which is expected to grow to 3,800).

A history lesson
Chadian anti-government rebels have long used Darfur as a base for staging raids against successive governments in N’Djemena. Idriss Déby, the current president, hails from a small ethnic group that straddles Chad’s border with Darfur. He came to power in 1990 through a rebellion that was financially and materially supported by both Khartoum and Paris, the former colonial power.

Two years after Déby took power, oil was discovered in Chad. After a revolutionary oil agreement backed by the World Bank, who financed the project, several international NGOs and the government, production began in 2003. Déby had already presided over the questionable election of 2001 (and arrested the six candidates running against him after they complained about irregularities) and began buying weapons from the bonus money provided by the deal, an unlawful move according to the new oil agreement.

At roughly the same time, the insurgency in Darfur began, writes Gérard Prunier. Déby originally supported Khartoum’s repressive response, but eventually changed sides when he discovered a majority of the anti-Sudanese government insurgents turned out to be members of his own ethnic group. Before he could properly make the switch, however, a 2005 coup led by some of his own family members attempted to topple his regime. Presently, no less than four separate rebel groups (some with mysterious ties to Khartoum) have engaged the Chadian army in an attempt to overthrow the regime and control the flow of oil.

Early February’s fighting in Chad that brought a reported 1,500 rebels to within a few blocks of the Presidential Palace initially helped Khartoum in the short-term: It not only kept Déby on his heels, but also postponed the deployment of European force on the Darfur border. Yet, the deployment was only delayed ten days and the African Union, who was meeting at the time of the fighting, clearly sided with the Déby regime, immediately forcing the rebels to the negotiating table. It is believed the rebel retreat caused the Sudanese defense minister to break down and cry at a conference in acknowledgement of his government’s failure to topple their arch-enemy.

If you believe Prunier, this is what Mr. Wade and his peace process is up against: A Déby regime backed into a corner; rebels stationed in Darfur fighting against both governments; the alienation of the janjaweed in Darfur by the authorities in Khartoum; a proxy war not only between Sudan and Chad, but now hostilities increasing between Sudan and France.

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