Africa Matters is a blog that follows the news and offers analysis of African affairs. Our aim is to delve deeper into the issues of African politics and development. We don’t presume to be experts, and we don’t presume to have all the answers—we are just trying to ask the right questions.

Wednesday, January 28

France withdraws from Chad

France will scale back its military presence in Africa, reports Emmanuel Georges-Picot, of the AP; this move entails the withdrawal of at least 1,000 of the 1,650 French soldiers stationed in Chad. According to Prime Minister Francois Fillon, the departing troops form part of the EUFOR contingent (the E.U. peacekeeping force, which is scheduled to be replaced by MINURCAT, the U.N. mission approved by the Security Council earlier this month). France has a dual deployment in Chad—in addition to the EUFOR peacekeepers, there is a second French contingent, which has been stationed in Chad since 1986. This one will stay.

A year ago today, when 400 rebels swept across the entire breadth of Chad in only four days, driving their technicals all the way to the gates of the Presidential Palace, only intervention by French troops, rumor has it, spared Idriss Déby from joining the long line of Chadian leaders ousted by violent coup. The official account, of course, held that Chadian forces beat back the rebels unabetted; but suspicions persist that France played a central role in Déby's white-knuckle victory. (A story in the French newspaper La Croix quoted unnamed sources in France's military and diplomatic corps alleging their country's more direct involvement, including provision of intelligence, strategic coordination, and even the engagement of a special operations force in a firefight with rebels.) Word was that President Sarkozy, with Déby pinned to the mat, leveraged intervention to get concessions out of the Chadian government—perhaps related to France's broader renegotiation of defense deals in former colonies throughout Africa, or even in gaining clemency for the notorious Zoé's Ark workers, who were serving sentences in France for attempted abduction. (In March, 2008, a month after the Battle of N'djamena, President Déby pardoned the six imprisoned volunteers.) 

The timing of last year's attack was not coincidental—the then imminent deployment of EUFOR likely prompted the rebels to try to forestall the intervention of peacekeepers. In this sense, the presence of French troops (and France's advocacy for the E.U. force, despite the objections of many in the humanitarian sector) exacerbated the conflict. But in Chad, where rebellion seems seasonal, a French draw-down may again, in like manner, spark instability—especially when Déby's fortunes are now tied so clearly to his French guarantors.

Many people in Chad seem perpetually on edge, wary of getting too comfortable—no one knows when the next attack will come, and what it will bring. As the peacekeeping mandate shifts from a largely French force with an overt bias and few qualms about interference to a U.N. force with a humanitarian objective and a narrower remit, they have to hope Déby's house of cards can withstand one more gust.