Chad Strongman Says Nigeria Is Absent in Fight Against Boko Haram
|Idriss Déby. (Photo by Foreign and Commonwealth Office)|
Chad’s president, Idriss Déby, speaks in a soft mumble, wears spectacles and an immaculate white robe, and is to be found in the quiet inner recesses of a gilt-edged, marble presidential palace — under crystal chandeliers and vaulted arches that seem part Renaissance, part Vegas — at the dusty center of his country’s capital.
Yet he is undeniably one of Africa’s most formidable strongmen. His men once whipped Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s fighters in a desert battle, and he has survived numerous rebel assaults and coup attempts. More recently, his forces have successfully battled the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram and Al Qaeda’s regional affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, shoring up his credentials as the West’s favorite African autocrat.
Still, in discussing his military’s victory in the Boko Haram stronghold of Damasak, in Nigeria, Mr. Déby showed no hint of triumphalism. Instead, he was frustrated, impatient: His men were stuck, still awaiting any sign of Nigerian forces who could come take over. He does not want to be holding Nigerian territory, he said. He wants to be on the move.
“We want the Nigerians to come and occupy, so we can advance,” Mr. Déby complained in an interview at his palace last week. “We’re wasting time, for the benefit of Boko Haram,” he added. “We can’t go any further in Nigeria. We’re not an army of occupation.”
The president says he took up the war against Boko Haram reluctantly, and mostly as a bid for economic survival: Chad is a landlocked country, dependent on land trade routes through the militant group’s territory.
In the process, he has embarrassed Nigeria — a small-country president cleaning up a far bigger and richer one’s mess — and he has overshadowed the militaries of neighboring Cameroon and Niger that are less well equipped, while earning the gratitude of Western leaders.
Those leaders once shunned him for his shaky human rights record, low corruption ranking, nepotism and brutal police force. In fact, those conditions have not changed. His country ranks fourth from the bottom on the United Nations Human Development Index of 187 nations, with rock-bottom life expectancy and schooling levels. The Chadian elite connected to him enjoy gargantuan villas, looming above the battered one-story dwellings of ordinary people. Last week, clandestinely recorded video images showed his police officers whipping half-naked student demonstrators. And his military forces were accused of serious human rights violations during their intervention in the Central African Republic last year.
Yet Mr. Déby, 62, is a pariah no more. Now the French foreign minister smiles at him in photographs. Although he insists he is not “Africa’s policeman,” the West is only too happy to call on his forces in a region seething with Islamist terrorists.