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Twists and turns of power in Chad: 'Peacekeeping' that led to the death of the country leader

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On the day of the elections in the Republic of Chad on 11 April, the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (Front pour l’alternance et la concorde au Tchad – FACT) entered Chad from Libya, advancing 400 km south of the Libyan border. Government forces met them on April 17, 300 km from N'Djamena, with its President Idriss Déby Itno in the front lines. The president was injured in the fight with rebels and these wounds led to his death which was announced on 20 April.

Chad has been torn by rebellions and military clashes since it acquired its formal independence from France in 1960. The inbreaks of the Libyan-based rebels are a common thing: the border was crossed by the rebels in 2018 and 2019, and both attacks were stopped by the French Air Force. This time, however, France has chosen noninvolvement: the only help from Paris was the intel support. The question is how much France is aware about the rebel forces and who is backing the FACT movement. 

According to the UN reports, the FACT were based at a Jufra military air base in central Libya. The Jufra airbase is known as an unofficial transport hub where France collects the gold, uranium and oil which was exploited in Chad, Niger and Mali. After being collected the shadowy cargo goes to the Sirte port to travel to its final destinations.

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Another interesting venue also associated with the FACT rebel group is Sabha Airbase (also known as Tamanhent Airbase), a Libyan Air Force base southeast of Sabha. The open source research provided the information from the local source that the French have been building up this airbase and providing support for the FACT fighters. In the image of the Sabha Airbase, presumably taken on January 2021, the process of unloading of a propeller plane can be observed. Also there is a helicopter in the parking lot.

The image made on 4 September 2019 shows two fighter jets and a helicopter. The asphalt of the runway and adjacent roads has been refurbished.

The image from 4 February 2021 shows that the hangar near the parking lot is completed. At one of the hangars in the territory, seven military pickups are observed, presumably with large-calibre machine guns.

The situation became suspicious as the Chadian government forces were taken by surprise, because they did not have the right information on the rebel numbers and their equipment. There is a small chance that French military did not have the intel within a rebel group which was located close to the French areas of interest. Given the fact that the only help France was offering Chad this time was the intel support, it is hard to escape a conclusion that the whole operation with the FACT march on the Chadian capital is another below-the-radar acitivity orchestrated by France in order to solidify its positions in Africa.

At least 1,000 French soldiers are currently based in Chad. The military presence of France in the Republic of Chad dates back to 1986. Since 2014 the headquarters of the counterterrorism Operation Barkhane has been set in Ndjamena. The major base for France military presence in Africa, Chad is quite dependent on Paris and the recent event shows that France is ready to put the indirect pressure on the Chad’s government.

The fact that President Macron decided to attend the funeral of Idriss Déby is of utter importance: it looks like the French side wants to be sure that the new leadership of the country clearly understands the power balance and the means which Paris has and is ready to implement. Chad rests one of the last levers of pressure for France in the region, as the former colonial power is constantly losing authority among its ex-colonies. The growing discontent of French politics in Mali and the Central African Republic pushed Paris to quick and decisive actions which would show the region and the global community that France can use underhand methods of power exercise.  

France is not the only patron of the FACT. The UN reports that while the FACT were stationed in Libya they have been receiving cargo carrying weapons from the United Arab Emirates on the regular basis. The 400-450 cars with heavy military equipment deployed by the FACT fighters were also delivered by the UAE. The UAE, another global power with imperial ambitions, decided to remind Chad its place because of the rapprochement between the Chadian Republic and Qatar. There appeared the news that Qatar facilitated negotiations between the Swiss commodity firm Glencore and Chad concerning its €1.2 billion ($1.4bn) debt, which led to the renegotiation of the debt on very advantageous terms for Chad.

What is the role of the United Nations in this morbid scenario? The displacements and movements of the FACT fighters were well observed and documented by the UN experts. According to the United Nations investigators, in Libya the FACT fighters have been cumulating weapons, money and battlefield experience, preparing to come back to Chad. Yet nothing has been done on the side of the UN to counter these actions.

Now the UN is worried that uncertain situation in the Republic of Chad would have a negative impact on the counterterrorism operations in western and central Africa and will worsen security situation in the already unsteady region.

This situation, however, was potentially preventable if not for the UN’s inactivity and inefficiency. The approved budget for the UN peacekeeping operations during the current fiscal year (1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021) is US $ 6.58bn. In addition, many countries voluntarily provide additional resources, like vehicles, supplies and personnel, in support of the UN peacekeeping activities at no cost. These resources seem to be more than enough to imply the measures needed for peacekeeping. But the UN’s huge bureaucratic structure gobbles up the money, slowing down the actual implementation of the decisions. Another burning problem within the structure is the poor quality of the expertise, as most of the reports are drafted by the experts who are not based in the regions they describe.

Now Chad faces a certain period of instability which can affect its neighbors as well. It seems that under the passive eye of the United Nations, France and the UAE once again managed to create a power shift, using under-the-table schemes for destabilizing the situation in Africa.

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Africa

Tunisia crisis underscores risks of European push for democratization in northern Africa

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While the European Union and the United Nations struggle to keep Libya’s transition to elections on track, the dramatic events unfolding next door in Tunisia have raised the spectre of upheaval and instability in yet another North African member of the European neighbourhood. In a series of moves that leaves the Arab Spring’s only success story at risk of backsliding into authoritarianism, Tunisia’s populist president Kais Saied (pictured) has disbanded the rest of the country’s government and granted himself emergency powers under the terms of the country’s 2014 constitution, writes Louis Auge.

In addition to disbanding Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending the highly fractious national parliament, within which Rachid Ghannouchi’s Islamist Ennahda party represented the largest group, Saied has also shuttered the offices of al-Jazeera and removed multiple top officials, all as Tunisian foreign minister Othman Jerandi seeks to reassure EU counterparts that his country’s democratic transition is still on track.

Fledging Tunisian institutions fall flat on COVID and the economy

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Kais Saied’s power grab has understandably provoked outrage among his Islamist political opponents, but his dismissal of Prime Minister Mechichi and his dissolution of parliament were also the central demands of nationwide protests in Tunisia over the past several days. As Tunisia lurches through Africa’s most lethal COVID epidemic, a growing cross-section of Tunisian society is losing faith in the ability of the country’s deadlocked political institutions to address widespread joblessness, corruption, and endless economic crisis.

Between Tunisia and Libya, the EU finds itself face to face with both the best case and worst-case outcomes of the Arab Spring, each presenting its own challenges for European foreign policy in North Africa and the Sahel. Despite the supposed success of its transition, the number of Tunisians who traversed the Mediterranean to reach European shores increased fivefold as their elected officials brawled on the floor of the Assembly in Tunis last year.

The experience has made European leaders understandably wary of pushing other countries in the region towards overly hasty political transitions, as demonstrated by the French and European handling of the situation in Chad since the battlefield death of President Idriss Déby three months ago. When the tenuous stability of multiple countries could be at play, decision makers in Brussels and the European capitals have proven more patient with transitional African counterparts of late.

Prioritising stability in Chad

The news of President Déby’s death this past April immediately, if only briefly, threw the future of French and European policy in Africa’s Sahel region into question. Under its former leader, Chad emerged as France’s most active and reliable ally in a region overrun by jihadist groups taking advantage of weak governance in countries like Mali to carve out territory for themselves. Chadian troops have been deployed alongside French forces against jihadists in Mali itself, and have borne the brunt of operations against Boko Haram in the region surrounding Lake Chad.

A breakdown in government authority in N'Djamena along the lines of the collapse seen in Mali would have been catastrophic for European foreign policy and security priorities in the Sahel region. Instead, the country’s immediate stability has been ensured by an acting government headed by the late president’s son Mahamat. In a sign of the country’s importance to European interests, both French president Emmanuel Macron and EU High Representative Josep Borrell attended the late president’s funeral on April 23rd.

Since then, Macron has welcomed Mahamat to Paris in his role as head of Chad’s Transitional Military Council (TMC), both to discuss Chad’s 18-month transitional period to elections and to define the parameters of the two countries’ joint fight against jihadism in the Sahel. While France’s long-running Operation Barkhane is set to wind down between now and the first part of next year, its objectives will shift to the shoulders of the French-led Takuba European task force and to the G5-Sahel – a regional security partnership of which Chad has proven to be the most effective member.

Delicate balancing acts

While the TMC has ensured the continued stability of Chad’s central government in the short term, regional security challenges help explain why neither the EU nor the African Union (AU) are pushing the country’s interim authorities too hard on speedy elections. The transition to civilian rule is already under way, with PM Albert Pahimi Padacké forming a new government this past May. Next steps include the appointment of a national transitional council (NTC), a national dialogue bringing together both opposition and pro-government forces, and a constitutional referendum.

As they navigate the next stages of the transition, actors both within and outside of Chad could look next door to Sudan for lessons on how to move forward. Despite the fact more than two years have already passed since the overthrow of longtime president and alleged war criminal Omar al-Bashir, Sudan will not be holding elections to replace Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok’s transitional government until 2024.

At a major conference held in Paris and hosted by President Macron this past May, Sudan’s European partners and creditors made clear they understood the long time horizon was necessary for Hamdok and other post-revolutionary leaders in Khartoum to focus on the urgent problems facing post-Bashir Sudan. Alongside an economic crisis that makes even basic commodities hard to come by, Sudan is also juggling tens of billions of dollars in external debt and a “deep state” of officials loyal to the deposed president. In an endorsement of the transition’s progress thus far, Hamdok came out of the conference with a pledge from IMF members to clear the arrears Sudan owns them, while Macron also insisted France supported clearing the $5 billion Khartoum owes Paris as well.

If N'Djamena and Khartoum can navigate their perilous transitions to democratic governance in the face of “staggering” challenges, Chad and Sudan could jointly revive hopes for Arab democracy in both European and Middle Eastern capitals – even if the last flame of the original Arab Spring appears to be flickering out in Tunisia.

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Libya

A Documentary about Libya: Another Bogus Story?

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The British state broadcaster and news agency BBC sent an inquiry to the Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin (pictured) with announcement of its intention to make a documentary about the fate of Libyan citizens. The description of the project states that the film will feature serious human rights violations which were allegedly documented during the fighting in the Tripoli`s vicinity.

The BBC editors wanted to find out from Prigozhin what role Russians play in the life of the North African country. Representatives of the British state media noted that they would probably refer to Prigozhin`s comment in their research.

The press service of the Concord Catering company, headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, published the entrepreneur`s response.

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He reminded foreign journalists that the US authorities plunged the North African republic into civil war when they killed Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and filled the country with extremists and terrorists. The latter are even integrated into the power structures of Libya. Moscow, unlike Washington, helps residents of other countries, according to the businessman.

Prigozhin also suggested that BBC staff should ask for comments from the Russian Anti-Repression Foundation if this media wants to learn more about human rights violations by Washington and its allies.

“I have not heard anything about the violation of human rights in Libya by the Russians and I am sure that this is an absolute lie. But if you want a detailed list of such violations by the United States and its allies around the world, then I recommend that you contact the Anti-Repression Foundation for more detailed comments. Or Maksim Shugaley who was thrown into the Mitiga prison in Libya without trial or investigation, where he survived deprivation and torture and who knows more than anyone else about the violation of human rights in this country. My advice to you is to operate with facts, not your Russophobic sentiments,” the businessman told the BBC journalists.

According to the press office of the Concord Catering, the company has repeatedly published explanations on a number of submitted issues. In particular, they reported that Yevgeny Prigozhin has nothing to do with those Russian citizens who were allegedly participating in hostilities on the territory of Libya. Among the unfounded accusations, there is also an allegation that the Russian businessman is connected to the Euro-Polis LLC, which, according to rumors, is a company supplying military equipment to Libya. The press office denies all allegations related to connection of Prigozhin with the Libyan conflict stating that catering and the supply of arms are unrelated businesses.

The press service of Concord Catering also mentioned that the BBC is not the first media which sends the same type of questions. Many other international media holdings have been engaged in the replication of rumors.

It is noteworthy that earlier the British Independent Press Standards Organization upheld a complaint by Prigozhin`s against the Daily Telegraph for spreading false information about the situation in Libya.

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Africa

EU and Republic of Kenya launch strategic dialogue and engage towards implementing the East African Community Economic Partnership Agreement

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The European Commission has welcomed the launch of the Strategic Dialogue between the European Union and the Republic of Kenya, and the strengthening of multilateral partnership between EU and the East African Community (EAC) region. In the context of the visit of president of the Republic of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, Executive Vice President and Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis met Adan Mohamed, cabinet secretary for East African Community and regional development. Both sides agreed to engage towards implementing bilaterally the trade and the economic and development cooperation provisions of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the East African Community.

Executive Vice President Dombrovskis (pictured) said: “I welcome Kenya's efforts and leadership in the region. It is one of EU's most important trade partners in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Chair of the East Africa Community. The recent decision of the EAC Summit allows EAC members to implement the regional EPA bilaterally with the EU, based on a principle of ‘variable geometry'. The EU will now engage with Kenya - which has already signed and ratified the regional EPA - on the modalities towards its implementation. The EPA is an important trade and development tool and its implementation with Kenya would be a building block towards regional economic integration. We encourage other members of the East African Community to sign and ratify the EPA.”

International Partnerships Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen, who exchanged with Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo added: “I welcome the new impetus to the EU-Kenya bilateral relationship with agreement on the launch of the strategic dialogue together with a renewed engagement with the East African Community. This will create a dialogue focusing on common policy aims and real benefits for all involved. We will immediately begin work on a roadmap to implement the strategic dialogue. We are committed to accompany the country's ambitious green transition, job creation and digitalisation efforts. In addition, investing in People, in education or health, will be paramount to build resilience and help tackle COVID-19 challenges and we are working intensively on Team Europe initiatives to support small and medium enterprises and pharmaceutical industries in Africa to complement the efforts at country level.”

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More information is available in the press release.

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