As the new millennium neared, it was strongly rumoured that by its beginning former defence minister Youssouf Togoimi and his rebel forces would be in the streets of the capital N’Djaména. Togoimi had taken to the northernmost mountains of the Tibesti region in September 1998 in protest at what he viewed as the increasingly autocratic and clannish rule of President Idriss Déby. So ominous was the situation that Déby went to the front to direct operations. In the end the anticipated attack did not materialize but the claims and counter-claims of the Government and the rebel Mouvement pour la Démocratie et la Justice au Tchad (MDJT) continue – latterly over control of the vital oasis garrison town of Bardai.
The cycle of fighting looks set to continue despite President Déby’s reputed offer of ‘a sincere hand of peace’. The MDJT claims that the Chadian constitution gives it ‘the right to resist to the end an unscrupulous and bloody dictator’. This will have an ironic ring for Déby who, with the help of the French, toppled his former chief, Hissène Habré, on 2 December 1990. Habré, dubbed the ‘African Pinochet’ by some, was discharged in early July by a Senegalese court considering allegations of human-rights abuses committed during his rule from 1982 to 1990. The verdict has been appealed, however, and the saga looks set to go on as long as Pinochet’s.
Conflict in Chad is almost as old as the country – it began in earnest five years after the country gained its independence from France on 11 August 1960. The conflict began with the Christian south pitted against the Muslim north but since has become more complicated, as foes and allies have switched sides.
But the end may at last be in sight – with oil as the catalyst. After three years of rigorous study by the World Bank and intense pressure from environmental groups, on 6 June the Bank finally approved $93 million to build a 1,050-kilometre pipeline to carry oil from fields in the southern town of Doba to the Cameroonian port of Kribi. The capacity of the Doba fields, conservatively put at over 900 million barrels of high-quality oil, is expected to yield Chad $3.5 billion during the projected 30-year duration of the project – as well as $500 million for Cameroon.
The seven million war-weary inhabitants of this impoverished nation, the fifth-largest country in Africa, will hope that oil can provide a new route to prosperity. Other prime oilfields in the Lake Chad area of Sédigui are to be exploited for domestic consumption and there are promises of further deposits in the south. A consortium of US-based transnationals Exxon and Chevron plus the Malaysian state oil corporation Petronas is to develop the project.
The World Bank describes the Doba project as ‘an unprecedented framework to transform oil wealth into direct benefits for the poor, the vulnerable and the environment’. The Bank has pledged to make this a showcase for its successful management of an oil project. Non-governmental organizations and environmental groups, spearheaded by Friends of the Earth, have committed themselves to monitoring the impact on the environment and are focusing on possible corruption in the present regime.
All in all, President Déby will do well to survive unscathed until the end of his first five-year term in 2001.