In its African strategy, Chad has been a major asset for France since its independence in 1960. After the death of Idriss Déby, support for his son illustrates France’s attachment to its stability, and what it does in cost.
The photo made cringe among the most resolute denouncers of “Françafrique”. On April 23, at the funeral of Chadian President Idriss Déby, we see Emmanuel Macron seated alongside Mahamat Idriss Déby, son of the former president and general.
An image in the form of a symbol of France’s support, even beyond death, for the power exercised by the President-Marshal since 1990, an essential ally of Paris. The unexpected death of the Chadian head of state on April 20, killed by the rebels of the Front for Alternation and Concord in Chad (FAC) according to the authorities’ statements, created amazement in the African capitals but also in the Elysee. This country is indeed one of the strengths of France’s card game in Africa.
Glancing at a map allows you to understand the eminently strategic place of this vast country, whose borders overlook Libya, Sudan, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon. Chad is therefore at the junction of multiple crisis zones on the continent. Interviewed by RT France, Peer de Jong, expert on African issues and former aide-de-camp to Jacques Chirac, said in this regard that “Chad is at the crossroads of everything, at the center of everything. From a geostrategic point of view, it is a decisive country. ” For Mériadec Raffray, a specialist in defense issues, also interviewed at the microphone of RT France, “Chad is a security lock within the destabilized islands.”
This unique location has always placed the country at the heart of French strategy in Africa. And if Chad is no longer a French colony, since its independence in 1960, French soldiers have never lost their ways. The country has experienced seven French interventions in 50 years and it is on its arid territory that the French army has lost, with 158 soldiers fallen during various missions, the most men in foreign operations since the end of independence.
Interventions not only military but also political, Idriss Déby having come to power thanks to France in 1990 and being maintained there with its support until his death. As a symbol of this interference, the former Chadian president himself mentioned, in an interview with the newspaper Le Monde in 2017, the intervention of France in the constitutional development of his country from 2006: “And while I do not did not want it, France intervened to change the Constitution. There is a constitutional expert whose name I do not even know who came here. I said I didn’t want to change the Constitution, but they went through their mysteries and they changed the Constitution. “
This central place of Chad in the African game has taken on yet another dimension since the start of the French operation in the Sahel in 2013. The country has become a pivot in the endless fight waged by French troops in this region against a hydra. armed rebellions and terrorist groups. François Hollande, who launched Operation Serval a year after entering the Elysee Palace in 2012, eager to break with the “autocrats”, wanted to distance himself from the Chadian president. The geostrategic reality and the realities of war quickly forced him to rethink his position and get closer to the essential Idriss Déby. The latter quickly became a necessary support for France, when he had skilfully decided to commit troops to Mali and the Central African Republic to support the French army engaged on these two fronts with operations Serval (2013), which became Barkhane in 2014, and Sangaris (2014-2016).
Because in the conflict it has launched in the Sahel, France has many allies but few combat partners, ready to send their soldiers to this immense front in the face of elusive adversaries. Paris cannot do without one of its rare African allies whose army is able to fight alongside it. As Peer de Jong notes, “the Chadian army is an army with high efficiency.” Composed of 40 to 50,000 men according to estimates, this army is by its long warrior tradition respected and feared throughout the Sahel, with the material and financial support of France and the United States. However, despite this military force, the country remains poor and torn by strong ethnic divisions: as the researcher at the Institute for Security Studies Remadji Hoinathy explained in Le Figaro, “contrary to what people say, Chad has always been very fragile ”.
This is why after the announcement of Idriss Déby’s death on April 20, 2021, Emmanuel Macron did not hesitate for long before ensuring his support for the transitional military council, headed by Mahamat Idriss Déby, son. of the former president. A decision difficult to understand by the opposition, which considers that France does not support a democratic opening of the country. Emmanuel Macron did try to change his position by asserting that he “was not in favor of a succession plan” for the Chadian presidency. However, in the streets of the capital N’Djamena, anti-French sentiment was stoked, especially as the crackdown on opposition protests was particularly violent. The Chadian army did not hesitate to fire live ammunition at the demonstrators, which led Paris to distance itself from the new government by condemning the crackdown. For journalist Makaila Nguebla, specialist in Chad, interviewed by RT France, “France is in the process of endorsing the military junta in power.” “Macron’s words were awkward, but France also serves as the usual scapegoat in this crisis. It pays for its essentially security vision of Franco-Chadian relations and the deviation of its universal values, ”relativized for his part in Le Figaro Remadji Hoinathy.
However, by giving its support to what looks like a coup d’etat, even if, under international pressure, the military appointed a “transitional government” of civilians on May 2, the French word seems to lose. still legitimized in the face of African opinions increasingly hostile to the French presence on the continent. The new coup d’état in Mali on May 24, denounced by Paris, and which has just led it to suspend its cooperation with the Malian army, has thus forced the diplomacy of the Quai d’Orsay to achieve a large and difficult gap to hold. Indeed, how to support the Chadian soldiers for their coup de force while rejecting that of the Malians in Bamako, without being blamed for a double standard? In any case, several hundred Malians marched in Bamako on May 28 to defend the military coup in their country, condemn international interference and demand the departure of France. Some also advocated, on this occasion, a military partnership between Mali and Russia.
A rejection of Barkhane who did not prevent French troops from launching Equinoxe – interrupted since June 3 following the French decision to suspend Franco-Malian missions – a new operation responsible for attacking armed terrorist groups before the rainy season with the hope, on this occasion, of capturing the leader of Al-Qaida in the Sahel. A target that the Elysee would probably like the Army to put on its hunting board within a year of the presidential election, as French public support for the military operation in the Sahel continues to decline. The convolutions of the Quai D’Orsay and the political instability in the region should not allay this dissatisfaction and further risk weakening Emmanuel Macron’s ability to mobilize other European allies in this endless war in the Sahel. Chad remains, however, one of the few solid footholds on which French soldiers can count in their fight.
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