The tributes to the late President Idriss Deby just poured in last week – especially from Western leaders. And boy were the condolences nauseating – at least to anyone vaguely familiar with Chad and its longtime strongman, or those even faintly fond of decency. The worst of it came – unsurprisingly and unapologetically – from the country’s former (officially) and persistent (de facto) colonial masters in Paris. Coming right on the heels of Deby’s – still hazy on its exact details – death on the battlefield against a rebel rebellion, President Emmanuel Macron’s office released a statement announcing that "France lost a brave friend."
The White House pulled its pity-punches a bit more than Paris – despite Washington’s extensive support for the dictatorial Deby – and offered only its "sincere condolences" to the people of Chad. The Biden administration could not, however, be nailed down on just why it assumed most Chadians should or would be so inconsolable over the death of their 30-plus-year-tenured oppressor.
The head of the African Union Moussa Faki Mahamat – who just so happens to be a former Chadian prime and foreign minister, plus belongs to the late president’s same Zaghawa ethnic group – called Deby a "great statesman and recognized military leader." Well, one would expect as much from Deby’s personal plant and mole atop the continent’s premier politico-military multinational body.
Seriously, reading these ready international reactions was beyond bizarre. It was bewildering; enough to wonder whether we’re talking about the same guy. Were these self-styled democratic leaders actually talking about Idriss Deby, of Chad – the guy who seized power in a 1990 military coup (with support from Libya’s Moammar Ghadafi), never left, and had just a day before his death secured a sixth term in office, after amending the country’s constitution yet again so he could stick around the presidential palace? Did these top paragons of the West really mean Idriss Deby Itno, from the Zaghawa ethnic group’s Bidayat clan – who’s been more than credibly been accused of globe-topping corruption, rigging elections, outlawing critical demonstrations, shutting off social media, accepting bribes from Chinese energy firms, conscripting child soldiers (with President Barack Obama’s legally look-the-other-way blessing), and squandering immense oil revenues on weapons while half of Chad’s live in utter poverty?
Then I snap out of it, reenter the world as it is, and remember: But hey, he’s generous with outsourcing his own ill-paid troops as cannon fodder for Franco-American neo-colonial combat so…all’s forgiven, and permissible! Just ask a Saudi prince presiding over a system that still lops-off ladies heads for "sorcery."
To further ingratiate himself with the global hegemon, and its petulant Parisian little brother, Deby also played nice with Washington’s problematic Palestinian-oppressing pals in Tel Aviv. As a nice touch, in January 2019, Déby agreed to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even described his then visit to Chad as "part of the revolution we are having in the Arab and Muslim world." See, Déby was a revolutionary – only now rebranded as a diplomatic and democratic one, supposedly shedding his rebel coup-artist past. Oh and upon Deby’s violent passing, Bibi – his fellow national longest-serving leader record-holder (who’s even now desperately trying mightily to stay in power amidst a contested election-fallout) – conveyed his Twitter condolences by praising Deby’s "bold leadership and … his historic decision to renew Chad’s relationship with Israel." What a guy!
The Jeff Foxworthy Treatment
Suppose it’s clear where I’m about to go with this – at least to readers of a certain age. See, one can read all of these global leaders’s glowing eulogies of Deby, and their thoughts-and-prayers offered to Chadians, and almost forget all the evidence that – like ‘90s comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s recurring bit on "rednecks" – the West’s late proxy pal just "might be a [dictator]."
Sticking with Foxworthy’s schtick, consider some indicative highlights:
- If you’ve held power since the premier of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air on NBC…you might be a dictator.
- If your son – Mahamat "Kaka" Deby – takes charge of a "military transitional council" immediately upon your death…
- If your dynastic-like successor son has reached the rank of four-star general by age 37…
- If you have an elite presidential guard – and it’s commanded by that same son…
- If upon your death, you’re posthumously promoted to field marshal…
- If after being killed in battle, tanks are immediately deployed on the main roads in your capitol city…
- If you’re reign was so punctuated by rebellions and counter-rebellions that you have a three-meter deep trench dug around the capital, and order all the trees cut down around the presidential palace – to increase visibility for the attack helicopters sold to your military by more powerful foreign patrons – well, yea…you might be a dictator.
Get the picture?
The thing is, Deby’s prime Franco-American backers have long bolstered his regime – and appear ready and willing to do the same for King Deby II – with much more than words alone. That said, President Macron used his words at Deby’s funeral oration in N’Djamena last Friday to signal Frances’ past, present, and future fealty to the latest in a long line of loyal Chadian puppets. Furthermore, Macron was hardly subtle, conspicuously seating himself next to Déby’s successor son, despite (completely accurate) criticism that Deby-the-younger’s takeover had circumvented the constitution – well, he just went ahead and dissolved it along with the national assembly anyway – which clearly states that the assembly’s speaker take over as interim leader and that new elections be held within 90 days, rather than the 18-month "transitional period" the youthful General "Kaka" Deby has instead announced.
Some of Macron’s musings – okay, almost all of them – were pretty over-the-top. The French president spoke fondly of Deby as an "an exemplary leader and a courageous warrior," who "after three decades and so many brave battles, the battles [he has] waged are still aimed at the defense of the homeland, the preservation of stability and peace."
Naturally, Chad’s never truly been at peace during Deby’s entire tenure – facing at least two coup attempts, several rebellions, Islamist attacks, farmer-herder or ethnic-based violence, and a proxy war with bordering Sudan, plus having its troops sent off on often bloody foreign excursions into Mali, Niger, Libya, and the Central African Republic – among other regional hotspots. As for stability, well – that depends on one’s definition of the word. Deby’s personal power position had been stable, and Islamist, ethnic, or political rebels hadn’t had as much success as they did neighboring states, but violence remained both endemic and systemic in Chad – a way of life even – and according to Human Development Index, the country remains the world’s third-least developed. Then again, indigence and fear can technically be a stable state of affairs all its own. Just ask almost any African citizen in France’s former colonial bloc!
Finally, Macron laid all his cards – and troops, and tanks, and jets, and drones – on the table and straight-up threatened the rebels marching south from Libya (of course!) towards the capital: "France will not allow anyone to question or threaten the stability and integrity of Chad." I mean, he has to back Deby’s son, he’d likely say, because "The people of the region enjoy a peace pact with France. We have to make sure the pact lives on – and that of liberty and independence."
Unfortunately, Paris’s promised pact – whereby the French have in actuality maintained immense control over the financial and foreign policy portfolios of their former colonies since handing over official, but ultimately only quasi-, control to actual Africans back in 1960. And, incidentally, even a cursory look at Francophone Africa’s 60-year post-colonial track record, demonstrates rather decisively that Paris’s "peace pact" has brought these post-colonial countries hardly any "peace," scant "liberty" to their people, or real "independence" for their governments.
In fact, so supposedly unstable and incapable have Francophonie governments been – and certainly how limited their sovereignty – that French troops have intervened some 50 times in around 20 Sub-Saharan African states since 1960, "primarily with the goal of buttressing weak rulers against domestic opposition," according to an extensive analysis by the scholar Stefano Recchia. And amid all that decades’ worth of adventurism, no country caught more French military interventions than Chad.
In fact, just as Paris protected (with ample American aid) the late president’s even more grotesque predecessor – the now International Court-convicted and imprisoned criminal-against-humanity, mass-murderer, and sexual-slaver, Hissène Habré (in office 1982-90) – from internal rebellion and Libyan incursions, the French military has also saved Deby’s hide a time or two, and may be set to save his son in a near-future pinch. After all, in 2008, France intervened to stop cross-border rebel movements (notably, with UN Security Council approval and some EU participation). Then, rather more intensely, in 2019 President Emmanuel Macron ordered the aerial bombing of rebel columns advancing on Chad’s capital.
That French planes and/or commandoes didn’t intervene early enough to save Deby’s life from the latest of Chad’s ubiquitous rebellions is interesting – and certainly stoking some conspiracy-theorizing. While the details of Deby’s death remain murky, and the usual accuracy of Occam’s Razor’s accidental- or incompetence-explanations may prevail, the (especially) Afro-skepticism regarding Paris’s place in Chad’s ongoing imbroglio is quite comprehensible. To understand why, one must quit thinking like a the-world-began-yesterday American, and channel the longer memories of repeatedly victimized Africans.
What is it about Paris’s past behavior during Chad’s oft-bloody – and never once peaceful – power transitions, that Africans might recall less than fondly? Well, for starters: Paris has a long sordid history of emplacing, backing, bailing-out, then eventually turning on whichever brutal – and, of course, economically- and French military presence-pliant – strongman sits in N’Djamena’s presidential palace.
The macabre Machiavellian game kicked off straight from post-colonial Jump Street, when just three years after independence, Chad’s first president, François Tombalbaye, banned political parties and thus triggered a rebel movement in the Muslim north – the Chadian National Liberation Front (Frolinat). In 1973, as the revolt turned into a full-fledged insurgency, French troops helped put down the rebellion, though Frolinat continued guerrilla operations throughout the 1980s with Libyan backing. Tombalbaye, however, was assassinated by soldiers commanded by French Army officers in 1975.
Libya annexed a section of northern Chad in 1977, and attempted military incursions or outright invasions in support of one northern rebel rebel group or another for the next decade or so. After Hissène Habré-the-horrendous seized power in 1982, he could count on ample American aid (including CIA covert operations, plus weapons and trainers ), and direct French military support, to fend off the Ghadafi regime’s Libyan forces.
That Habré was even then credibly accused – and much later definitively convicted – of mass political killings during his reign didn’t much factor in Washingtonian or Parisian palaces. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan even hosted Habré at the White House – stating that "It was an honor and a great pleasure to have had him here as our guest." Only then, in December 1989 the French supported the overthrow of the Habré government and helped install Habré’s former army chief-turned-rebel, Idriss Deby, as president – in part because (get this!) Habré had wanted to sell more Chadian oil to U.S. companies.
In other words, events in Chad have proven that its presidents primarily serve at Paris’s pleasure, and that an ambitious N’Djamena politician’s fortunes – and very survival – usually depend on the preferences of French kingmakers. These days, France has a permanent military base in Chad – along with small cohorts of US advisors – and N’Djamena hosts the headquarters for Paris’s seven-years-itch that can’t quite be scratched Sahel-wide "counter-terror" campaign, Operation Barkhane. Barkhane, of course, seamlessly rebranded and reaffirmed the existent (since 1986) Operation Epervier mission – which was ostensibly meant to re-establish peace and maintain Chad’s "territorial integrity." In other words, the colonizers are still on hand in a real way in Chad, sending a big message by their very presence.
Again, while France earns top prize for unrepentant imperializing here in the third decade of the 21st century, Washington turned in a typical assist in prevaricating on behalf of Paris’s Chadian long con. At the end of last week, State Department spokesman Edward “Ned” Price fielded a number of questions about Deby’s death and Chad’s ongoing – and obvious unconstitutional coup of a – "transition." And boy did he offer a deft bit of dissembling – saying nothing whilst speaking plenty words, and without answering any actual questions.
Well, come to think of it, Ned did spend over a decade working for the CIA, and more recently as an NBC News analyst, so – he’s kind of classically trained at the whole "Admit nothing. Deny everything. Make counter-accusations" Agency-act . Consider some transcribed highlights epitomizing the pass that dictatorial Deby gets from Washington – even from the grave:
Tuesday, April 20th
QUESTION: …Just on Chad. Do you think that the appointment of now the late President Deby’s son is in keeping with this Chadian constitution?
MR. PRICE: Well, Matt, what I would say is, again, we are – our thoughts are with the Chadian people at this time. We stand with them. We continue to condemn recent violence and loss of life in Chad, and importantly, we support a peaceful transition of power in accordance with the Chadian constitution. That’s what is important here in terms of what this means going forward.
QUESTION: Okay. But that didn’t answer my question at all.
MR. PRICE: What we are saying and what is important to us –
QUESTION: You get that it doesn’t answer my question, right?…
QUESTION: (Inaudible) what happened is – happened based on the constitution?
MR. PRICE: We are standing, of course, with the people of Chad. We will be watching very closely. We will be supporting the people of Chad and seeking to ensure – to help them ensure that everything going forward is in accordance with their constitution.
[Different reporter/new query]
QUESTION: Just briefly on Chad. Just one thing about it is that the parliament has been dissolved. Is that problematic in any way? Is this still something that you see as consistent with the transition that you mentioned?
MR. PRICE: Well, again, what we want to see is a transition that is consistent with Chad’s constitution. Obviously, Chad’s institutions are enshrined in its constitution. We want to see the elements of that constitution protected going forward, whether that entails a transition of power or the sanctity and integrity of Chad’s institutions.
Wednesday, April 21st:
QUESTION: …One on Chad…Yesterday, you said that you support a peaceful transition in accordance to the Chadian constitution. However, the speaker of the National Assembly has been sidelined. Deby’s son is now in charge of this transitional council. Doesn’t that violate Chad’s constitution? Are you raising any concerns?
MR. PRICE: Well, look, again, we offer our – we offer the people of Chad our heartfelt condolences on the death of President Deby. We continue to stand with the people of Chad during this difficult time. We condemn recent violence and loss of life in Chad. And as I said yesterday, we support a peaceful and democratic transition of power to a civilian-led government. Obviously, developments in recent days and hours are a cause for concern, but we will continue to call for and support a peaceful democratic transition to a civilian-led government.
[Different reporter/new query]
QUESTION: On Chad. Within hours of the coup in Myanmar, you began to review whether or not a coup had been committed. As we’ve said, the opposition, the major opposition parties have called this a coup. Are you undertaking a review?
MR. PRICE: It’s a fluid situation I wouldn’t want to characterize it in any way just yet. What I would say to your question, though, is something I’ve said before, is that we have long encouraged a move towards democracy and representative government in the context of Chad. That is something we’ll continue to do.
Got that? Or are you left more confused than you started out by the time Ned’s finished his hornswoggle-hypnotism trick? – because that’s exactly what the guy’s going for. Two things: first off, kudos to some of these journalists and their tough, persistent lines of questioning – credit where it’s due, and all. Also, I think my favorite Ned-ism in the whole charade has to be his not "want[ing] to characterize" Chad’s "fluid situation" in "any way just yet."
Oh, and one alibi question of my own. In just that two day span, Ole Ned proclaimed that the US"offers [sincere or heartfelt] condolences," "stands with," or that America’s "thoughts are with" the "people of Chad," no less than eight times. Funny, aren’t his brand of polite Dems the same folks always howling that "Thoughts and prayers are not enough” after mass shootings in America? Guess the sentiment stops applying when the mass-shooter and mass democracy-suppressor is a useful "partner" and his victims are African.
The US indecency-enabling in Chad is naught but a less-overt version of France’s more classic-colonial formula. And like the French, the Americans are now trapped in the country’s desert of delusion and disaster. On the day of Deby’s funeral, Macron tweeted that Chad can count on "France’s unwavering friendship." But as Roland Marchal, a researcher at Sciences Po Paris, explained, France – and I’d surmise also America – "is a prisoner of its relations with Chad, more than Chad is a prisoner of its relations with France."
By backing tyrants without addressing foundational social, economic, or ethnic issues, Paris and Washington foster the very problems they then feel the need to solve – which further feeds the perceived obligation to justify further support for these same strongmen. Strap in for the vicious cycle-coaster, it’s sure to be one hell of a ride!
The Spoils of War [Crimes]
Over the years, Chad’s various from a rebel-to-a-king killers and coup artists have happily assented to the Franco-American game of quid-pro-quo – mainly because of the bountiful benefits of the arsenal-quo for their loyalty-quid. Plenty of weapons have headed Deby’s way these past three decades, from decidedly interesting and diverse sources. According to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), from 2012-20, N’Djamena imported $136 million worth of licit foreign arms. Some $17 million came from the US, another $40 million from Washington’s NATO allies, $38 million (interestingly) from Ukraine, and – get this – $39 million from top single-seller, China. The vast majority of weapons imports – $128 million, or 94 percent – consisted of aircraft and armored vehicles.
The US sent Deby’s regime Cessna-208 Caravan surveillance aircraft, dozens of (Israeli) MDT David Armored Personnel Vehicles (APVs), as well as the Lockheed Martin-produced engines for the C-27J Spartan military transport planes that Italy supplied. Paris also sold scores of APVs and armored cars to Chad, even outfitting Deby’s presidential guard – led by his son and now successor Mahamat "Kaka" – with 22 modern ACMAT Bastion PATSAS variants used by France’s own special forces. That new Western favorite, Ukraine, sent over Soviet-era Su-25 and MiG-29S fighter planes. China sold Chad most of its real ground firepower, though – a few dozen WMA-301 Assaulter wheeled "tanks" with 105mm cannons.
From 2019-21, Congress appropriated $2,430,830 for "Military Intelligence (MI) Advisory Services" to Chad, awarding the contract (naturally) to the private sector – specifically to Crisis Response Company (CRC) LLC, a Texas-based risk management company focused on "providing professional advisors and contingency logistics solutions to clients throughout sub-Saharan Africa." By the way, CRC is also in on the newest AFRICOM racket: Mozambique – where it’s working to "strengthen its intelligence-gathering capacities." Anyway, its CEO served 25 years in Marine Corps infantry and recon units (in fact his entire leadership team is a Marine Recon reunion party), and his official bio brags that his:
"…tenacious pursuit of CRC’s strategic goals continues to generate fiscal and geographic growth for the company and value for our clients including the US Department of State, US Department of Defense and the Special Operations community."
In other words, he openly touts his skillful-spins through the ole revolving door – heck, that’s why he thinks you should hire him! Likewise, the company’s COO was a Marine Corps Force Recon team leader. The senior vice president of their global security division spent 23 years in the FBI and seven more in the Marine Corps. The VP for operations spent 30 years as a Marine officer, and even rose to become the deputy commander of the Marine Corps Special Operations Command. Their business development manager put in 23 years with Marine Recon, then went to work for Lockheed Martin. The CFO isn’t a vet – though she is from South Africa, that veritable mercenary factory of a nation – but her experience at JP Morgan Chase brings a bit of business acumen. Pretty slick business model, no?
CRC’s US Army vet-infused doppelgänger, Apogee-SSU Joint Venture secured a still ongoing contract from the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs in September 2019, with a total value of more than $4.5 million. The exceptionally terse and vague "Description Of Requirement" for Apogee’s assigned scope of work used only 13 of the 250 characters allowed in the ever-tedious government form: "Chad Advisors."
Apogee, which bills itself as a "small business contracting option," was founded by a retired lieutenant colonel and a retired major who’d taught together on West Point’s Department of Social Sciences faculty. The former, now the company’s president, even served as Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff of the Army at the Pentagon; the latter, now CEO, was a longtime green beret who served as a military intelligence officer for Special Forces Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina – which probably explains why Apogee is headquartered just outside the base gates in the nearby city of Fayetteville.
All of which further proves every rational observer’s theory: once the US corporate defense industry gets in the game – it’s bound to be a long season of war.
The West’s role in the whole Chadian mess stinks worse than the most potent of Parisian cheeses. The French, for their part, don’t even hide their criminal neo-colonialist instincts and hyper-interventionist reflexes. As Nathaniel Powell, an associate researcher at the U.K.’s Lancaster University, aptly summarized Paris’s position: "The French have made very clear statements that they would much prefer an unconstitutional stability," rather "than a potentially messy transition."
The war-hawks in Washington are – if more quietly – basically down for about the same African outcomes. That’s odd though, since I seem to recall a not-so-long-ago moment when that George W. Bush-era hyper-hawk Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld brushed off CNN video images of post-U.S. invasion mobs of Iraqi looters, by huffing that hey – "Stuff happens," adding that the situation in Iraq was "untidy. And freedom’s untidy." Can these militarists-from-afar make up their minds or what?
Only in America, ironically – and rather vulgarly at that – it’s often faux progressive polite Democrats who are most bullish on America’s abstract "light footprint," "low risk-high reward," tech-savvy and by-proxy African adventures. Yet these are the same folks who so loudly (at least pretend) adherence to racial justice concepts like allowing "agency," and empowering – not patronizing – communities of color here in the states. Which raises a rarely broached but crucial question: Isn’t the West’s acceptance, apologia, enabling, and frankly – recall the heads-of-state gushing over Deby’s proverbial casket – cheering of petty but deadly African despots just a tad paternalistic, and rather racially-charged?
On some level, the whole enemy-of-my-[Islamist]-enemy act smacks less of savvy foreign policy "realism" than a collective excusal and justification along the unuttered lines of: Well, you know, it’s different over there; come on, these Africans aren’t as deserving of – and certainly not ready for – what OUR people are entitled to. In fact, if we’re being real: maybe these semi-savages NEED a strongman.
Sometimes one wishes the banal bureaucratic armchair-militarists in Washington, Paris, and Brussels would just come out and say as much. Even if there doesn’t seem a hope in hell they’d take it a step further and admit a less indecent truth: their entire premise is flawed, and their resultant support-your-local-friendly-tyrant policies have repeatedly proven counterproductive.
Perhaps they need to hear something pithy, maybe in the vein of Captain Ramius’s (Sean Connery) quip from a blockbuster Hollywood take on Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October – a flick released the very same year (1990) Chad’s Idriss Deby took power:
"I know this book!…Your conclusions were all wrong, Ryan…”
Danny Sjursen is a retired U.S. Army officer, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy (CIP), contributing editor at Antiwar.com, and director of the new Eisenhower Media Network (EMN). His work has appeared in the NY Times, LA Times, The Nation, Huff Post, The Hill, Salon, The American Conservative, Mother Jones, Scheer Post and Tom Dispatch, among other publications. He served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge and Patriotic Dissent: America in the Age of Endless War. Along with fellow vet Chris "Henri" Henriksen, he co-hosts the podcast “Fortress on a Hill.” Follow him on Twitter @SkepticalVet and on his website for media requests and past publications.
Copyright 2020 Danny Sjursen