The Death of Chad President Déby Threatens to Destabilize the Entire Sahel
On April 20, Chad President Idriss Déby passed away from wounds he received in an alleged rebel attack in the north of the country, while he was reviewing frontline troops just after being re-elected for another mandate. His son, himself an army general and head of the Presidential Guard, was appointed as his successor with the task of holding new elections in 18 months. The offensive by the rebels and their backers could have enormous implications, as Chad is smack in the center of north Africa, surrounded by unstable countries both east and west.
Asking the question “cui prodest” (who benefits from the destabilization) quickly leads to a list of countries and forces that have organized regime changes in Northern Africa and the Middle East over the past decade. That list would match that of the countries and forces that have opposed the Lake Chad replenishment project, called Transaqua, that Deby had endorsed, including just a few days before his death (cf. SAS 15/21).
In an article written a few weeks before the Chadian President was killed, and published on the Atlantic Council’s website, author Cameron Hudson warned that if Idriss Deby lost the elections, it would send “shock waves from the Red Sea to the Atlantic”.
In the past, Chadian rebel groups were among the wide range of militias and jihadi terrorists supported by Qatar and Turkey, that were involved in the civil war in Libya as well as in other countries of the region. They are now being redeployed in the framework of a strategy aimed against both China’s Belt and Road Initiative and Russia’s growing interest in economic cooperation with the region. In addition to Chad, they are targeting the Central African Republic (CAR), a key country, together with the Democratic Republic of Congo, for the Transaqua project.
In this context, it is useful to consider a strategy paper by British geopoliticians at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), published on Feb. 12, under the title Russia’s strategy in the Central African Republic, which claims that Moscow is using its presence in the CAR as “a springboard for expanded influence in Central Africa” (see https://rusi.org/commentary/russia-strategy-central-african-republic).
Russia has recently expanded by 300 the number of its advisers in the CAR under a UN mandate, at the request of President Touadera. They are there to help the government fight the groups that refused to join the Khartoum agreement mediated by Russia between the government and opposition groups. The strategy paper warns that Russia is countering France’s longstanding influence in the country.
Moreover, Russia has strengthened its relationship with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by condemning predatory resource extraction by foreign companies, and would like to spearhead large-scale infrastructure projects there. With Rwanda, Rosatom signed a nuclear science center construction deal with in 2019 that could serve as a gateway to Central Africa, while Moscou has opposed external interference in the Burundi and Cameroon security crises.