France and Sudan: Marchal Responds
Let me tackle a few points raised by the comments on my paper:
1. Is French policy towards Chad a clear example of Franí§afrique at work?
In my paper, I do not account the reasons that pushed Paris and N’djamena to get closer in the 1990s. A number of those reasons are listed in the first International Crisis Group (ICG) report on Chad published in 2006 and, as one comment suggested, at one point the situation in northern DRC and CAR was indeed significant.
After 2005, beyond what I wrote in 2006 and on this blog, new arguments were used to justify the on-going support to Idriss Déby. One point has been heard often from French diplomats and military in N’Djamena: the Darfur crisis was the first moment of an “Islamic/Arab wave” to impact Niger, Northern Nigeria and beyond (strangely enough, this argument was also developed in the second ICG report on Chad published in 2008).
But this argument raises two different questions. First, is there any reality to support that view? Secondly, what is actually the value of this argument in understanding French policies?
Without any doubt, the structure of the Chadian elites has transformed in the 1990s and these elites are today less French speaking and more culturally oriented to the Arab world. At the same time, religious practices in Chad have evolved and Salafi practices are more widespread today than 10 years ago. Yet, these changes are more connected (among many reasons) with globalization, migrations and the shortcomings of Western countries to provide facilities to train the Chadian elites “˜offspring. More than an Islamic reassertion, one should actually discuss a religious excitation that affects also the Chadian Christians. Last but not least, there is no direct and clear implications between religious changes and political changes; and the actors promoting those changes are not specially Arabs.
I have no answer to the second question but hope that because of the poor evidence to sustain such a thesis, this latter corresponds more to window dressing than to a driving argument for the French policy. But as the French policy to support Habyarimana in Rwanda after 1991 shows, strange ideas could move French policy makers.
As underlined in my paper, French economic interests in Chad are few and of little value. The French oil company Total refused to be part of the oil consortium in 1999, although Idriss Déby had previously provided Elf (a French State-owned oil company that Total bought in 1998) a seat in the oil consortium. There are conflicting explanations. People close to N’Djamena explained that the offer made by Total was too low as if Total expected to be chosen because it was French. A Total official explained me that Total did not want to enter a market heavily regulated by politics (doing so, Total wanted to signal a shift from Elf habits) and, as a starting point, could not accept to build/rehabilitate and manage a refinery that would never deliver profits as the Chadian State would change fiscal policies to get all benefices…
All those points are quoted to make clear that Franí§afrique is actually not the main explanation. We may, in my view, have flawed policies and wrong choices but the interaction between State and private interests that are at the core of the Franí§afrique are not currently driving the French policies toward Chad.
2. Why Djibril Bassolé was seen as a good candidate?
Seen from a French perspective (if it does exist), Djibril Bassolé had a number of qualities that the previous team hardly possessed. First, he was a military and would be in a better position to discuss key issues connected to cease-fire and DDR. Secondly, he had played a very efficient role in mediating between Tuareg insurgency and the Malian State and, in 2004, between Laurent Gbagbo’s government and the Forces nouvelles in Ivory Coast. Thirdly, as a Burkinabe close to Blaise Compaore, he had a personal experience of interacting with the Libyans, a tough requirement in the case of Darfur. Lastly, he intended to spend time in Darfur and talk to everyone. It is beyond the aim of this paper to discuss Bassolé’s achievements.
Yet, France pushed more to get Qatar involved for reasons that would deserve another long analysis.
3. JEM and Paris: a failed love story?
We have a say in French that says that “there is no one deafer than the one who does not want to hear”. With all due respect, Dr. Tahir is a good illustration of this.
The current French stance on Chad/Darfur is that the conflict in Chad is the sole consequence of the Darfur war. That is what JEM likes. Nevertheless, all accounts made by Eufor contingents made clear that this is hardly the case. There is a Chadian crisis that is in some ways (thanks to JEM among others) connected to the Darfur conflict. To a large extent, JEM is going to politically suffer from Eufor as much as from UNAMID presence on the ground as recurrently European and UN military repeat that JEM is more a military force than a political force able to administer populations and territories. I am not providing here my own analysis, just quoting interviews and my point is that JEM leadership does not seem to understand that ambiguities could be positive in a certain setting and very negative in another.
The French Special Envoy – until he was replaced – enjoyed a warm relationship with JEM leadership. Yet, Khalil Ibrahim could not get his travel documents (he got political asylum in France) renewed and his brother also is no more welcome in Paris. As stated in my paper, this French diplomat may have been a charming and polite person, yet he had not much leverage on the French policy towards Darfur and eventually JEM.
Despite a number of military incidents between Eufor and Sudan army on the border that were not publicly mentioned, JEM enjoyed a safe heaven due to the presence of the French and European military. Not acknowledging it would be pure arrogance. As said in my paper, this protection may or may not have been the singular outcome of a defined policy.