Chad: Confrontation Between France and Russia?

The recent rumblings about a rebel leader in Chad who wants to use Russian mercenaries to get rid of the head of the transitional military council in N’Djamena has caught the attention of a wider audience wary of the developments in a region where the Western powers are challenged by old foes.

The leaked transcript of a phone call between Timan Erdimi, the leader of the Chadian «Union of Resistance Forces» (UFR) and a former adviser of the president of the Central African Republic has received a lot of attention because of the implications it could have on the ongoing peace process. Timan Erdimi and the man from the Central African Republic discussed the removal of General Mahamat Idriss Déby, the head of the transitional military council and de facto president of Chad. The key aspect about the discussion between the two men however was the implication of the Wagner Group, the infamous Russian mercenary group, in their plan.

The Ominous Wagner Group

The mentioning of Wagner Group, which has long been active in neighboring Libya and since a couple of months back also in Mali, is particularly poignant now that Russia has invaded Ukraine, a move that sparked widespread condemnation, not least in Paris. And many observers in the Sahel region consider France to back Idriss Déby.

Further to the threat to French interests in Chad, the alliance between the UFR and Wagner is also a concern for the ongoing process to establish peace talks between Idriss Déby’s council and various rebel groups. Hassan Mahamat Al-Jid, a political analyst told «PoliticsBlog» that Erdimi clearly was looking for a way to break his isolation in which he found himself during the process underway in Qatar. According to his reading of the situation, Qatar is seen as working closely with the West and particularly France in trying to move forward the road to national reconciliation. Both Qatar and Turkey are in favor of a settlement and one should keep in mind that Turkey especially has been pitched against the Russians in Libya, where the latter were firmly rebuffed by a Turkish-led offensive.

Still, the government of Chad doesn’t seem overly convinced about Erdimi’s isolation and Ahmed Badi, an adviser to the transitional council said that it wasn’t only the Central African Republic that was involved in the case, but that the government was also interested in knowing about the role of Qatar, because the latter had tried to convince Erdimi to participate in the national dialogue.

Anti-French Sentiment Stirred Up

Bringing in the Russians is a blatant attempt to stir up anti-French sentiment by recalling the old ties to the Soviet era. The Chadian revolution had close ties to the Soviets and therefore luring the Russians back into the country isn’t such as surprising move, as Moussa Ishak Chicheley, a military advisor to the Accord Front told «PoliticsBlog».

While some seem not overly surprised about the move by Erdimi, others say clearly that he is wrong about the ongoing process. Replacing France with Russian mercenaries seems not such a clever idea, even though the French aren’t always welcome in a region they for a long time dominated as a colonial power.

Much Is at Stake

N’Djamena in recent days has seen demonstrations by young agitators against French interests, urging them to leave and welcoming the Russians in. This echoes the recent scenes from Bamako, where the military junta welcomed the French departure and, what’s more, also welcomed in the Wagner Group mercenaries.

Following the attack by the Russians in Ukraine, the recent dealings of its mercenaries in Northern Africa will come under very heavy scrutiny in Europe no doubt. It is very unlikely that the governments of France and its allies are going to give up on Idriss Déby under the current circumstances. Too much is at stake.

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