Chad’s North West may become the next stage for insurgency, drug-running and religious extremism in the Sahel if the government continues to actively neglect the poorest of the violence-plagued country’s poor regions.
Chad’s North West: The Next High-risk Area? , the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines the potential for conflict generated by a policy of neglect by the central government, structural local problems (intensification of inter-communal competition for natural resources, decline of local traditional justice systems) and rising external threats (trans-Saharan drug trafficking and radical Islam in neighbouring countries). The combination of these factors risks destabilising what has hitherto been a relatively quiet part of the vast country if not promptly and unambiguously tackled.
“Because of economic under-development and the absence of meaningful government administration, the resentment of the local population is getting stronger and stronger “, says Saad Adoum, Crisis Group’s Central Africa Senior Analyst.
The North West has always been difficult to control and administer. The present government has continued its predecessors’ policies of neglect and reliance on security measures instead of development. Because of its strategic location, the region is increasingly the target of infiltration attempts by armed groups and criminal networks that take advantage of the no-man’s-land areas of the Sahara Desert to expand their activities. Islamic terrorist groups from Northern Nigeria and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, operating in the Sahel region, are making their influence felt.
N’Djamena should urgently implement a regional development plan based on the needs of local communities and a new local governance system. It must change its policy of cooptation and intimidation towards the traditional leaders and treat development and security as inextricably linked in a context of increasing competition for natural resources.
The fight against the emerging external threats – trans-Saharan criminal and terrorist networks – requires the Chadian government to involve itself in the pan-Sahel and Sahara initiatives that seek to improve international security cooperation. But above all it requires increased coordination and exchange of information between Chad and neighbouring countries like Nigeria, Niger and Libya that share the same security interests.
“The North West provided many fighters during Chad’s earlier civil wars, and it is a large territory where intercommunity competition for scarce natural resources is intense”, says Thierry Vircoulon, Crisis Group’s Central Africa Project Director. “It has the potential to be the origin of the next major security problem in Chad and the fragile Sahel region if its vulnerabilities remain unaddressed much longer”.