Tribalism and Transition the Desert Republic of Chad Is a Strategic Crossroads between the Islamic States of North Africa and Former Colonies of France. Foreign Influences Complicate an Already Troubled Move toward Democracy

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EIGHTEEN months after Col. Idriss Deby toppled Chadian dictator Hissein Habre and promised democratic reforms in this West African desert state, the transition process remains bogged down in tribal disputes.

An attempted coup June 18 has now unleashed rebel military action in two areas, with government and rebel forces both taking casualties in armed clashes around Lake Chad and in the far north.

Although the coup, led by the minister of public works and transport, Abbas Koty, failed, it was the latest and clearest sign of the depths of tribal and clan divisions within the government of President Deby, diplomatic and Chadian sources in N'Djamena say.

"If the weakness of the government continues, it will lead to fiefdoms being established," says Gala Gata N'Gothe, leader of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces-Republican Party. "This will lead to new leaders emerging in the districts. If the government doesn't improve this situation, then the regions will begin to administer themselves under regional warlords."

Deby seized power from President Habre in November 1990 after advancing from Sudan. He promised multiparty reforms and presidential and legislative elections. To address Chad's ethnic diversity, the ruling Patriotic Salvation Movement also established a Council of Ministers that includes representatives of different tribes.

In May 1991, in response to calls by opposition parties, Deby promised to convene a national conference in May 1992 to draft a new constitution and implement a multiparty system.

However, that conference has not opened, and opposition leaders express doubt that it will. Despite the appointment of Joseph Yodoyman, a former Cabinet member of the Habre administration, as prime minister, ethnic divisions, particularly in the military, continue to hamper the government.

In his rise to power, Deby drew support from elements of the Zaghawa tribe, which straddles the Sudan-Chad border. But that support was and remains tenuous. As Army chief and defense minister, Deby was forced to flee from Habre after the soldiers he commanded clashed with Chadian-Zaghawa nomads in 1986.

The clashes stemmed from a dispute with the nomads over who should appropriate weapons captured from Libyan soldiers during Chad's war with Libya in the mid-1980s. A second conflict developed between Deby and the nomads when soldiers under Deby's command allegedly stole camels from Zaghawa, Anakaza, and Deby's own Bidiyat tribe. …