The wave of anti-French sentiment sweeping across the Sahel has reached Chad. The country's capital, N'Djamena, saw large demonstrations and riots in mid-May organised by the political opposition, which is calling for the dissolution of the military junta in power since the death of President Idriss Deby.
Chad joins the list of countries in the region suffering from rising anti-French sentiment, making Russia's entry into Africa a timely one. At the protests, according to images provided by TV5 Monde and France 24, many of the demonstrators carried Russian flags and burned French flags.
This was compounded by acts of vandalism targeting French companies and their infrastructure. The petrol pumps of the French oil company Total were attacked by demonstrators. The authorities reported that more than seven Total petrol stations were vandalised and twelve policemen were injured in clashes with demonstrators.
In response to these demonstrations organised by the opposition platform Wakit Tamma, the Chadian government, headed by a military junta, has arrested three of the organisers, according to Wakit Tamma's spokesperson.
The military junta took power after the death of the country's president for 30 years, Idriss Déby. The late leader, from the warrior Zaghawa ethnic group, succumbed to his wounds after taking part in a frontline offensive against rebel groups in the north. His own son, commander of the presidential guard and intelligence services, took his father's place, with the approval of Emmanuel Macron, who was the only Western head of state to attend Idriss Deby's burial ceremony.
The presence of Macron, who presided over the ceremony together with Mahamat Deby Itno, was widely criticised. The rise to power of Deby and the military junta would be against the Chadian constitution, which, in the event of the death of the head of state, would entrust power to the president of the national assembly and open a process of democratic transition. However, the ruling military junta, while remaining loyal to European security interests for the Sahel, has yet to implement a transition of power, one of the reasons for the demonstrations, according to spokespersons of the protest platform Wakit Tamma.
France with the Deby
The French Republic's relationship with Chad is mainly articulated through defence and security. France has always been on good terms with the Deby clan, albeit with some ups and downs. The main reason is military. Chad has positioned itself since the last decade as the backbone of the G5 Sahel and has been France's main support in the region.
The country, ruled by the Zaghawa ethnic group, has specialised in warfare like no other country in the Sahel. The Chadian government spends approximately 40 per cent of its total budget on the armed forces. Constant civil wars, and the conflict with Libya in the 1980s, made Chad a warrior country, with a special proficiency in desert environment combat, employing the famous Toyotas columns to hit hard and fast. It is no coincidence that the previous president, Idriss Déby, died on the front lines at the age of 68, nor that the Chadian and international political scene was clear about who his heir would be when it was Mahamat Deby Itno whom his father sent to lead the fighting in Mali during the Serval operation.
Communiqué #30 du Gouvernement du Mali relatif au retrait du Mali de tous les organes et instances du G5-Sahel y compris la Force conjointe. pic.twitter.com/OzuaEzNqWn— Ministère des Affaires étrangères du Mali (@MaliMaeci) May 15, 2022
It was precisely the former colony that brought aid to France at the beginning of the Serval operation to stop the jihadists' offensive against Bamako in 2014. With the creation of the G5 Sahel, Chad took the position of the leader of the joint force, contributing a third of the total 6,000 troops of the force composed of Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger. The Deby's continued power is clearly key for France, which as it withdraws from the region relies on Chad to take the military lead in efforts to pacify the difficult Sahel region.
These efforts are increasingly undermined, and have been going downhill fast since Mali invited the Barkhane forces, the mission that succeeded Serval in Mali, to leave the country, in a context of growing tensions and rapprochement with Moscow.
At the end of May, the Malian military junta announced in a communiqué that it would leave the G5 Sahel and all its subsidiary bodies due to the organisation's failure to hand over the presidency of the supranational organisation within the stipulated timeframe. Mali's exit from the G5 Sahel casts serious doubts on the countries' ability to deal with the jihadist threat in a region with highly porous borders. Without strong cooperation between Sahel countries, the fight against terrorism cannot be effective.
This latest news threatens to destroy everything that EU diplomatic and military missions, led by France, have built up in the region to address instability.