The Sahel, the transition zone between the Sahara and Sub-Saharan Africa and one of the most fragile areas in the world, has emerged in recent years as a region of increased geopolitical importance for Western countries. Poverty, inequality and a lack of respect for democracy and human rights have been the norm for decades. In recent years the Sahel has become a hotspot for terrorist groups, frustrating any attempt to improve the social, political and economic landscape of the countries located in this area, namely, Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Chad and Mauritania.
Among them, Chad has emerged as the lynchpin of a French-dominated Western geopolitical strategy in Central Africa to counterterrorism. In this space, several international operations have been established, such as the Multinational Joint Task Force against Boko Haram in 2015, or the most recent Operation Barkhane initiated by the French in 2014, both having their headquarters in the Chadian capital, N’Djamena. However, the situation is far from stable, and liable to change at any moment. Whereas Chad was regarded as an oasis of stability in relation to the other Sahelian states, political upheaval and security threats are constant. The recent death of its long-standing president Idriss Déby, at the hands of rebel fighters, risks jeopardising the whole international strategy in the Sahel. The unexpected leader’s demise, the same day his re-election to a sixth six-year term was announced, has caused turmoil. He died due to wounds sustained during a clash between his troops and a Chadian military-political group based in Libya, the Front for Change and Unity in Chad (FACT). This group had launched an offensive in the days surrounding Chad’s election, to “exploit electoral tensions and as a call to other opponents to join their cause”, some experts maintain.
For some time now, analysts have been warning about the risks if Déby’s reign came to an abrupt end, thus, opening a succession crisis. This essay aims to analyse the perils arising from the vacuum of power left by the president and to ultimately answer the following research question: ‘To what extent is the French, and by association the West’s, strategy in the Sahel in danger due to the death of Idriss Déby?’
In order to do this, the paper follows a precise structure: firstly, some context of how the country became at the centre of international efforts to counterterrorism in the Sahel and the recent events following Déby’s demise will be explained. Secondly, there is an examination of the risk arising in the new scenario concerning succession tensions, rebel groups aiming to overthrow the transitional military government, and social and political upheaval. Lastly, after consciously assessing the material, a conclusion is provided about the subject matter.
Photo: French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Chadian President Idriss Deby at the Elysee Palace in Paris on November 12, 2019 (Francois Mori/AP)