Chad: Armed Presidents and Politics
- Ketil HansenKetil HansenDepartment of Education and Sports Science, University of Stavanger
Politics in Chad was militarized at the time of colonial conquest and has remained so ever since. Except for the French-supported candidacy of François Tombalbaye for the presidency in 1960, all other presidents of Chad have been connected to a coup d’état. All presidents in independent Chad have relied heavily on armed support, creating ample armies, feared presidential guards, and terrifying secret services. Proxy wars, political mistrust, economic opportunity-seeking, and strategic ever-changing armed alliances characterize Chadian politics. Flexibility and fluidity have embodied the heart of armed resistance in Chad since the establishment of the first important politico-military rebel movement Frolinat in 1966. In fact, for rebels and powerholders alike, the state is at its best when it is most fragile (in a Western sense). With fragility comes blurriness and flexibility and thus predation opportunities.
During the Cold War, most of the various armed fractions were supported militarily and economically by either the United States and France or Libyan Colonel Gaddafi and the regime in Khartoum. During Habré’s regime (1982–1990), the Cold War heated Chad. Fearing to lose Chad to the communists or “crazy” Colonel Gaddafi, the United States and France supported a brutal and ruthless Chadian president who ruled with terror and force.
The current president, Déby, gained power in the wake of the Cold War and has managed to keep it ever since by cleverly changing his rhetoric from a hope for democracy to a fear of war, both internally and internationally. After starting to export oil in 2003, Chad has used petrodollars to upgrade its armed forces, both in numbers and in materiel. Since about 2010, Chad has been a prime EU- and US-financed antiterrorism force in the Sahel. With its courageous troops, especially the former Presidential Guard, transformed in 2005 to Direction Générale de Service de Sécurité des Institutions de l’État (DGSSIE) and from 2014 led by Mahamat Déby, son of President Déby, Chad’s army has gained international fame. The Chadian army has benefited largely from the tactical training and military equipment provided by the United States and France in the name of antiterrorism. Thus, by the end of the 2010s, Chad had one of the best-equipped and trained armies in Africa.