Home | Comment & Analysis    Wednesday 20 May 2009

The Chadian Civil War in Sudan (1-2)


By Suliman Giddo *

May 19, 2009 — For decades, Chad has played a major role in the instability of Sudan’s western region of Darfur. I know because I grew up near the northern Darfur town of Kutum, met Chadian rebels who sought refuge there, and witnessed the spillover of violence from Chad long before the Darfur War erupted and changed my community forever.

This week Chadian forces crossed the border with Sudan to attack the Union of Forces of the Resistance (UFR), a Chadian rebel umbrella group taking refuge in Jabel Sandu, just south of Geneina, Darfur. The Sudanese government, which Chad has long accused of harboring the rebels inside Darfur, claims it will not respond to Chad’s attacks on Chadian rebels there. But the confrontation challenges the people of my home region of Darfur to prepare for the possibility of further turmoil, if not a full-scale inter-state war in Central Africa.

Many of the Zaghawa, Arab Salamat, Tama, and other peoples who live along the Sudan-Chadian border are from nomadic and market communities that have crossed from one side to the other to trade camel or sorghum, to marry, or to explore. These activities were common long before there was an international border. It was only a matter of time before political violence crossed the line as well.

I learned about rebellion for the first time in the mid-1970s and 1980s when Chadian rebels crossed the Sudanese border seeking refuge outside Kutum, the second largest city in North Darfur.

When I returned from Khartoum University to Froung area (near Kutum) for summer break one year, my family held a celebration. Since I was among four students from the area studying at the University at that time, my return was often a cause for great festivity. That morning a cousin, who had been looking after our goats, came running to the village and said there were Khawga (white men) in the valley.

I went to investigate the situation and found two Libyans and two Sudanese Darfuris; they had left their truck in the valley and were trying to escape their graves by remaining unseen by whichever group pursued them. When the four men saw me, they were not surprised, they just asked for directions out of the valley. They told me they had some gifts to take to Awal, a small mountain 25-30 miles from our village. Although this was unusual for me, I pointed the way and spent years wondering what they were doing there and what their presence meant for us.

This was at a time when Libya had recruited several thousand men from Darfur, under the umbrella of an Islamic movement; they trained, financed, and equipped them to fight the Chadian government. Libya had annexed the northern Chadian area of Aouzou in 1968. Then Al-Moamar El-Gadaffi the president of Libya ramped up his country’s efforts to gain influence in Chad by arming a proxy rebel force to fight against the Chadian government. By 1979, Libya swept into Chad’s capital N’Djamena, with the Chadian rebel force, led by Goukouni Oueddi, and took power.

For the next eight years, an anti-Libyan rebel force led by Hissene Habre, which included such soon-to-be well-known leaders as Idriss Déby, Hassan Djamous, and Mahamat Nouri, rallied the support of France, Sudan, and Egypt to force Libya and their proxy rebel force out of Chad and the disputed Aouzou region.

When the four men appeared in the valley near my family’s home outside Kutum, they were supporting Bin Omer to fight Habre’s forces. With Sudan’s cooperation, Habre soon crossed the border into Darfur to chase the Libyan-backed rebels out of both countries. Now I had seen these men escaping for their lives.

In the early 1990s, when I came to see my family in Froung on the western side of Kutum, I came across another heavily Chadian armed group of men just 35 miles away from the town. The militia asked me who I was and where I was heading. When I told them my full name, to my great surprise, the men welcomed me warmly. One of the unit’s guards said: “We know that you are on your way, but it is best that you see our commander, Musa.”

When I met Musa, the Chadian intelligence commander who works for Idriss Déby’s rebel group, which took refuge in Darfur, I found he was a very nice man. It was hard to communicate since his Arabic accent was very difficult to understand. My Zaghawa language was not adequate at that time. Nevertheless, Musa spent a very pleasant period with me, telling me about the greed and grievance of Hissene Habre’s government. Musa’s force was determined to change the government in Chad.

Within months, Idriss Déby, an ethnic Zaghawa and leader of Chad’s Mouvement Patriotique du Salut or MPS (Patriotic Movement of Salvation), would split from Habre, take power and lead the Chadian government for the next eighteen years. As a Zaghawa, he would cut relations with Sudan over the Darfur War in which Sudan was backing Arab militias to fight against Zaghawa and other black African marginalized majorities.

During my month-long stay back home in the Kutum area that year, I visited Musa’s camp often. At the time, the region was at risk of political violence. People were terrified. The government of Sudan knew the Chadian rebel force I had met was taking refuge in Darfur. Many believed Sudan was supporting them in opposing the Chadian government.

At Ramadan in 1991, Musa’s forces planned an attack on the Chadian capital. The government of Sudan had given the rebels a deadline to leave Darfur; they had no choice but to accept the unavoidable confrontation.

Early that morning, I was visiting my aunt in the neighboring village when I saw a heavy, moving cloud of dust. Within a few minutes, a convoy of trucks, Landcruisers and a great number of Chadian soldiers drove past toward Ain Farah where Musa’s Chadian rebels were camped. That afternoon, some of the Chadian troops came running back from the rebel camp on foot or riding in a few vehicles. Many had been killed in the clash meant to drive the Chadian rebels out of Darfur. Seven civilians from the neighboring villages were reportedly killed in the fight. Others fled to the mountains.

My grandmother was over 96 years old. We had to put her on a donkey and take her to a safe place about twelve miles away from my village. I remember whenever she heard gunshots she always told me: “Leave me. I have seen a lot. I don’t want you to die. You still have more to do and the family is depending on you, so you run and leave me.”

There was no time to talk. I had to focus on what I was doing. Finally, I was able to bring her to a group of people that I knew. Once the family reunified, we realized that my elder brother was missing. Chadian government forces had swept into Darfur to chase Musa’s rebel forces and they captured a number of local civilians, including my brother. The Chadian government soldiers accused the young men of supporting the rebels, but they spoke the Fur language and this saved their lives. After five days, the Chadian forces had to return to protect their capital of N’Djamena from a new rebel attack; they found that rebels had already taken power. Idris Déby had become the president. There was no choice but to release the young men; my brother was free.

Today, Chad has been accused of supporting some Darfuri rebel movements that take refuge in northern Chad and that helped defend the Chadian capital, N’Djamena against rebel attack in February 2008. On the other hand, JEM force launched its own attack on the Sudanese capital, Khartoum in May 2008.

Many observers suspect Sudan likewise continues to support Chadian rebels like the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) which has long found refuge inside the Sudanese and Arab-controlled areas of Darfur from which it launched the February 2008 invasion of N’Djamena.

Considering the substantial relationship between Chad’s war to defeat Chadian rebels taking refuge in Darfur and Sudan’s war to defeat Darfuri rebels taking refuge in Chad, many experts are surprised the tension has not led to a full-scale inter-state war. However, both Déby’s Chad and Omar al-Bashir’s Sudan are spread thin militarily and likely prefer to fight by proxy, rather than risk greater cause for international intervention in central Africa.

According to progressive experts I have worked with, peacemakers who talk about peace and negotiation for Darfur without engaging Chad are not approaching peace from all the necessary angles. Imagine the Government of Sudan signed an agreement with the large Darfur rebel group, the JEM, and the JEM leaders joined the government in Sudan. What will happen to the Chadian rebels harbored in Darfur?

How will Chad perceive a peace deal with its Darfur allies, the JEM, which helped fight off a Chadian rebel attack on N’Djamena in 2008, without a resolution to the Chadian rebellion that appears to them to be supported by Sudan? The Government of Sudan likely hosts the Chadian rebels because in opposing the Chadian government, by proxy they must also oppose its supporters.

There are many levels of peacemaking. The Western approach typically takes a top-down approach, negotiating with leaders of the largest fighting groups within a country’s borders. However, this process ignores a great number of fighting groups both within and outside the country, such as the Chadian government and the rebels who oppose it. Those who are not represented are quite unlikely to support an agreement that excludes them. This Western approach also neglects the peaceful civil society leaders and the traditional dispute resolution forces that can be deeply influential if supported; they are not well represented by any of the groups brought to the table thus far. If peacemakers expect a sustainable solution for Darfur, then Chad will need to be substantially engaged in the process.

Perhaps including Chad more closely in the peace process will actually enable sustainable peace for Darfur. I have seen throughout my youth, with my own eyes, how Chad’s fate is inextricably linked to our own, in Darfur.

Suliman A Giddo. PhD Candidate at the Institute of Conflict Analysis and Resolution (George Mason University) and the Founder & President of Darfur Peace and Development Org. www.darfurpeace.org. The author can be reached at sgiddo1@gmu.edu

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