By G. Dunkel, International Action Center, Feb. 14, 2008
Chad, in central Africa, was brutally conquered by France over a century ago and made part of its colonial empire. Today, while nominally independent, it is the fifth poorest country in the world, according to the U.N. However, it has become a significant, though not major, exporter of oil in the past three years.
ExxonMobil, a major U.S. corporation, is currently exploiting this oil, which has also brought billions of dollars to Chad. Most of that money, however, has stayed in the pockets of President Idriss Deby Itno -- a former helicopter pilot trained by the French, who seized power in 1990 -- and his clique, through one stratagem or another. Redistributing this wealth is one of the issues pushing forward a rebellion against Deby’s rule.
This struggle broke out into heavy fighting early in February when a rebel coalition fought for control of Ndjamena, Chad’s capital. An estimated 1,000 people died.
The Deby government claimed that most of the casualties were rebels—it called them mercenaries paid by Sudan—who didn’t know their way around the city, which has no street signs.
That’s not how the insurgents explain why they pulled back. Coalition spokesperson Abderaman Koulamallah said in an interview with Agence France Presse that direct attacks carried out by the French military had caused “enormous civilian casualties.”
Mahamat Nouri, the main military commander of the opposition, charged the French Air Force had “bombarded” its positions for over 13 hours to protect the Deby government.
During the battle for Ndjamena, which began Feb. 2-3, many of Deby’s soldiers reportedly deserted or didn’t follow orders because of ties they have with the rebels. Many of the rebels themselves were formerly in the government army. For example, Nouri himself used to be Deby’s defense minister and took a number of troops with him when he went over to the opposition.
While the French were willing to provide Deby with logistical, intelligence and air support and to defend the Ndjamena airport, they were not willing to put the bodies of French soldiers on the ground in harm’s way.
So Deby issued a call for reinforcements to the Justice and Equality Movement, a rebel group in Sudan fighting the government in the region of Darfur. It is drawn mainly from Deby’s ethnic group, the Zaghawas. However, Zaghawas also play a leading role among the rebel forces. (Le Figaro, Feb. 2)
The JEM troops quickly arrived on the battlefield in Chad. (New York Times, Feb. 8) The only practical way for JEM troops to have gotten from Darfur to Ndjamena, a distance of more than 600 miles, was for the French Air Force to fly them from its base in Abeche, a major city in eastern Chad not far from the border with Sudan.
The Sudanese government has announced that it will allow U.N.-African Union “peacekeepers” to move about freely in Darfur, but the JEM has just announced that it will attack them whenever they enter JEM-controlled areas.
The French press on Feb. 10 reported that the opposition had seized two major towns in the eastern part of the country. It also reported that EUFOR—with some 4,700 soldiers drawn from the armies of the 27 countries in the European Union—had begun setting up an advance base in Ndjamena, called Camp Europa. Full deployment of EUFOR is set to begin Feb. 12.
EUFOR, which stands for European Union Forces, has been used before in Bosnia and the Congo. While its commander and a large proportion of its troops are French, it does have a U.N. mandate to protect Sudanese refugees in Chad and the Central African Republic, distribute humanitarian aid and train Chadian police.
Its real aim is to project and protect Europe’s imperialist interests in the strategic center of Africa, bordering on the hotspot of Darfur.
Dr. Ley-Ngardigal Djimadoum, the leader of Chad’s Action for Unity and Socialism (ACTUS), at the beginning of February released a statement in French on a number of African and European anti-imperialist web sites.
Djimadoum said that, “Almost all the Chadian opposition is very hostile to EUFOR in Chad. The presence of French military bases, under the pretext of defending the territorial integrity of an ‘independent’ state, from independence  to now, leaves a bitter taste. In reality, these occupation troops only defend the economic interests of the multinationals and the geostrategic interests of the imperialists on the African continent.
“A number of mass revolts and rebellions against the dictators imposed on our people by French imperialism have been drowned in blood by the support and the direct participation of French troops besides the army of their puppet government.
“The humanitarian aid proposed by EUFOR is a tree which hides the forest. More competent civilian organizations have been in place for years.”
The budget for EUFOR’s operation is nearly $450 million, close to twice the yearly income of Chad’s 9.3 million people.
The coalition that attacked Ndjamena independently issued a statement condemning France’s role, while avoiding the sharp language Djimadoum used.
Chad is an extremely poor but highly strategic country that has been waging an unrelenting struggle, with many twists and turns, against French neocolonialism for over 40 years. The intervention of European imperialism through EUFOR is going to raise the stakes, but is unlikely to end the drive of the people of Chad for their liberation.