Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Chad - where even a little hope is now failing

Some time ago I read an article on how Africa’s newest oil producer, Chad, was working with the World Bank on a project that would ensure it’s new found, if somewhat limited, oil resources would be used for the general development of the country. Oil tends to be more of a curse in Africa than a blessing, but could the World Bank stop this unhappy tradition?

As a Chadian observer puts its: “This project could not survive contact with the reality of Chad” (Gilbert Maoundonodji, who runs a Chadian NGO, talking to the NYT). That reality is a president, Idriss Deby, who came to power by a coup, whose legitimacy has only marginally increased after being returned in two dubious elections, is losing control of the country as supporters defect to rebel groups that are in open revolt in the east of the country. Chad is being sucked into the misery of Darfur, the neighbouring region of Sudan where massacres amounting to genocide have been on-going over the last three years. Chad accuses the Sudanese of supporting the rebels in an attempt to overthrow the Deby government. Meanwhile Sudan accuses Chad of sheltering rebels which they claim are destabilising Darfur, who they additionally claim the infamously murderous Janjaweed militias are simply defending against.

The Deby regime now want to use its oil wealth to buy weapons. If one is charitable you could say this is to help defend Chad and maintain order, whilst the cynics would suggest it is to continue their hold on power. Whatever the reason, and the two are perhaps not so different, the World Bank has said no and will not pay out any more money from the accounts it holds for Chad. The Chadian government has suggested that Exxon, its partner in exploiting the oil, should transfer its royalties directly to the government, not into the World Bank managed account, whilst a Chadian minister hinted that there are “other partners we can pursue” presumably meaning China (see the end of this article), which has expressed an interest, and has shown that it will not let moral scruples get in the way of buying oil in Sudan.

As an aside: France seems to have been less focused on Francophone Africa in recent years with its energies taken up in other areas of the world – they have been quite happy to cooperate with the US in aiding American military training operations across the Sahel - where in the past this would have been a definite no-no - yet they don’t seem to have given up yet on Deby as ‘their man’ in Chad. The French military seems to have played some role supporting government action against the eastern Rebels but, according to AFP (via “Baku Today”! Don’t you just love the internet?), were not involved in the fighting directly.

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