Understanding French policy toward Chad/Sudan? A difficult task (3)
This is the third and final posting by Roland Marchal of CNRS/SciencesPo Paris on French policy towards Chad and Sudan.
From Urgence Darfour to Eufor
Kouchner, who had become a good friend of the SLM leader, Abdel Wahid Mohamed al-Nur, wanted to move things on Darfur. The very first day of his installation at the ministry he organized a meeting with Urgence Darfour and other NGOs and as an outcome proposed to organize “humanitarian corridors” to provide food and assistance to the Darfur population. The NGOs working in Darfur, the experts and eventually the UN strongly disagreed: Darfur was not Bosnia. At a meeting he organized with the former in Khartoum, he left the room in anger when the NGOs told him that what they needed first was a political solution in Darfur not those corridors.
Kouchner could have reflected about the discrepancies between what he understood about Darfur and what humanitarian actors on the ground were telling him but this would have been a sign of humility that he was not ready for. He likes to be in the headlines but does not like to be criticized and mocked for his amateurism. He needed to take again the initiative by proposing a new idea. This is how Eufor/Minurcat came out.
The Eufor/Minurcat initiative is at the convergence of three different logics. First, while in June 2007 Khartoum had endorsed the idea of a new international force in Darfur, it had made clear that no Western countries should provide troops. There was no way French politicians could claim any role in that acceptance despite the pathetic summit organized late June in Paris to celebrate an agreement that Beijing succeeded to get, not Paris. So where were the French flag and the twin media-addicted politicians, Nicolas and Bernard? The second trend was the policy pursued by Paris concerning the deployment of UN troops at the border between Chad and Sudan. Paris had convinced the UN DPKO to send a mission in November/December 2006 that had to travel again to Chad in February 2007 because of rebels’ activities in Eastern Chad during their first stay. The DPKO was not enthusiastic about the concept: as always, it had to handle too many operations with too few troops and such an operation had a taste of France using the UN to achieve its own political agenda. So, it designed options that were unlikely and Idriss Déby himself felt not comfortable with a UN operation that would require a political mandate and was perceived by his whimsical neighbour, Mu’ammar Qaddafi, as a possible plot against him. Inclusive dialogue with the armed opposition was absolutely not an option. Although the proposal was refused by Chad, France kept pushing for a compromise between the two less numerous deployments discussed by the UN report and twisted arms at the UN to deprive such an operation of any political mandate.
As described above, Bernard Kouchner was reacting against a previous failure within a context that prohibited humanitarian military presence in Darfur. Chad was not the best option but was not meaningless since more than 250,000 Darfuri refugees were settled there and about 150,000 Chadian displaced. There was little understanding of why refugees and displaced were there: everything was linked to the conflict in Darfur in Kouchner’s eyes. The project was endorsed by Idriss Déby since he was reassured that there were no political strings attached to the operation. Moreover, as the operation was European, France would have a leading role and the UN would give up any ambition to infringe the Chadian political realm. Idriss Déby was right.
Paris wanted to promote the idea because it merged different goals in one policy. Moreover, it allowed Paris that was going to chair the European Union in Chad for the whole year 2008 to show its leadership at the European level and get the EU also to share the financial burden of such an operation. Among diplomats and military, there were also a group that pushed the project as the best way to close the Epervier (Sparrowhawk) Operation, save some money and get these French troops out of a country with such a debatable record.
Amazingly, the discussion among EU member States in Brussels was not as frank as this author would have expected. A number of countries, UK, Germany, Poland, had doubt about a possible French hidden agenda that had little to do with the claimed aim of Eufor. As always, there were remonstrations that but the more reluctant States used financial arguments and did not antagonize the project as such despite strong reservations: the figures of 27 countries for less than 3500 soldiers is a good illustration of this mixed support or opposition, France got in that period, taking also into account that Paris provided more than 50% of the troops. Nobody wanted to appear as not doing much to help Darfur; nobody was convinced that carrying out Eufor met this aim. But, no harm was done.
Without discussing here the operational concept, it is interesting to note how the French military tried to keep the full control of the deployment, keeping the foreign Chief of Staff team in Suresnes (at the outskirts of Paris) and disaggregating the operation between N’djamena and Abéché. While in the early weeks of the planning, the focus was on communal conflicts, banditry and land issues, in summer 2007 the French Military Intelligence reframed the concept: the problem was created by the rebels’ columns and janjaweed. It took months to Eufor to accept that most of the violence and insecurity in Eastern Chad was coming from Chad, not Darfur and that the Chadian officials and military had their good share of responsibility in the predicament of the population. The French general leading the operation in Abéché, Jean-Philippe Ganascia, intended to behave as an European and was heavily criticized by the French Embassy in N’djamena to the extent that in September 2008 many observers thought that he would be recalled in Paris. An unfortunate pressure on the operation was the wish expressed many times by Bernard Kouchner that Eufor success would be measurable by the number of displaced going back home. This created many tensions between Eufor and the humanitarian NGOs.
To a large extent, Eufor was a public relations success for the French The mission despite its cost (between â‚¬ 900 million-1 billion) did not face major casualties and offered to the European public the well appreciated pictures of European soldiers bringing peace and aid to destitute people. The situation in Darfur deteriorated throughout the period but journalists wanted to promote the good job done by their national contingents and hardly connected the Eufor fragile achievements with the lack of perspective on Darfur conflict. Despite a number of incidents between the Chadian local administration and Eufor, the French Embassy contained the tensions and the experience was good enough to convince Idriss Déby that he could accept a UN force, when the European mission was over in March 2009. Again France made sure at the UN HQ that Minurcat II would not have any political mandate. No journalists investigated how much the infrastructures built by Eufor and handed over to the Chadian State were rented by the following Minurcat II: European taxpayers would have been happy to know their contribution to Idriss Déby’s military apparatus…
Supporting the ICC or playing realism?
The end of Eufor mission in Chad was a relief for Bernard Kouchner. At that time, he was attacked in a book on his consultancy activities commissioned by African heads of State. He especially needed to distance himself from Idriss Déby, whom he had proposed to write a study on Darfur in December 2006. When pundits and journalists asked questions about the long term impact of Eufor, he stated that he was proud of what he did and that those who criticized him would do so forever anyway. As a detailed promotion of Eufor achievements would have raised question on the sustainability of the improvements and the situation in Chad, the best strategy was to move to ethics and discuss the ICC indictment of Omar el-Bashir. Doing so had only advantages. This kept the attention out of Chad, put moral values at the forefront and could reconcile the superficial vision of the Darfuri predicament with the priorities set up by Bernard Kouchner. Again moral values were mobilised to just prove how great our policy and policy makers are.
The Elysée Palace had quite another set of priorities. As in many countries, the Foreign Service in France is cautious about the ICC because it knows some of its structural flaws and certainly does not like to have a possible autonomous actor inviting itself into an already complex game. But the political understanding was also different. At the Elysée Palace, Abdel Wahid al-Nur sounds like a demagogue who is playing the most extreme cards because he is in the West, not in the IDPs camps sharing the insecurity of his fellow Furs. Khalil Ibrahim, the JEM leader, is not seen more positively: a good political son of Hassan Turabi, whose ambition is to destabilize the whole Sudan, not to reconcile Darfur and Khartoum through a peace agreement. In their views, the NCP is no better but a long time interlocutor that cannot be changed at this stage. Even Idriss Déby, beyond his personal courage, is not seen as a good guy in town, though the best one among the current players. The only policy for the Presidential team seems to act in good coordination with Tripoli to dismantle the Chadian armed opposition (seen as a pure tool of Khartoum), improve somewhat governance in Chad in order to disconnect the Darfur and Chad crises and get an agreement in Darfur that does not jeopardize long term interests in Sudan (also in terms of preferred interlocutors).
Meanwhile Bernard Kouchner is dealing with his many conflicts of interest and deteriorating image among the French public, the Elysée Palace is also facing contradictions. First, Libya is not an easy partner that can share concerns and solutions. Qatar is more popular than Riyadh in Tripoli, yet not so appreciated because it diminishes Libya’s role. Idriss Déby has lost prestige in Tripoli after he repeatedly criticized Libya and the AU (currently chaired by Tripoli). Second, Idriss Déby has his own agenda that several times already left some of his French supporters voiceless. Governance has not improved in his country and there is even less hope it will now that he was able to beat the rebels in May 2009 without a strong French support. The implementation of the August 2007 agreement with the civilian opposition – a true mantra of French diplomats – is at best debatable and has not yet produced any confidence in free and fair elections that anyway are recurrently postponed. His relations with the Darfur insurgent groups have become deeper and more problematic than ever as witnessed by the attacks on Kornoi and Umm Baru when JEM was reinforced by Chadian soldiers who also brought military hardware. Third, the international attention Chad got due to Eufor and Minurcat produced unpredictable effects. For instance, on several occasions other European military intelligence services contradicted information provided by Paris to Brussels: suddenly, even the French had to be accountable in Chad! These incidents won’t deteriorate into a crisis within the EU for sure but the political cost for Paris is real. Should the stalemate both in Darfur and Chad deserve it?