Chadian soldiers on a vehicle in Am Zoer. The Chadian government has intervened at the invitation of neighboring Central African Republic., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Chad's role behind the scenes in the Central African Republic
A bloody conflict is threatening to tear the Central African Republic (CAR) apart. The African Union has sent troops, the EU wants to follow suit - but it is Chad which is pulling the strings militarily and politically.
Zentralafrikanische Republik Ausschreitungen Gewalt Christen Muslime 16.01.14
The Central African Republic's northern neighbor, Chad, is a military heavyweight in the region. Under the leadership of President Idriss Deby Itno, it is a driving force behind key decisions in the current crisis. For example, on the question of the president: CAR's interim president Michel Djotodia was invited to attend a summit of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) in the Chadian capital N'Djamena in January 2014. He then resigned following pressure put on him by President Deby. This was not the first time Chad had decided on the rise and fall of a Central African president. Deby has always considered CAR to be Chad's backyard, says Helga Dickow, an expert on Central Africa at the Arnold Bergstresser Institute at Freiburg University.
In the 1990s, former president Ange-Felix Patasse came to power with Chadian support, she said in an interview with DW.
"And Djotodia's predecessor, Bozize, was basically only head of government with Deby's approval."
Chad also has a very strong military presence in CAR. A large part of the 5,500- strong military mission of the African Union (MISCA) was provided by Chad. In December 2013, the intervention force was tasked with bringing stability to the country. In addition to MISCA, there are also some 1,600 French soldiers in the Central African Republic
The alliance between the Chadian and French armies is not new. Chad had already shown itself to be an experienced and important ally during the French intervention in Mali. Since that joint operation, France has now "sided with Deby," says Dickow. "France is now basically supporting a dictator who was previously not socially acceptable. He is now back in the fold of international politics."
However, in the Central African Republic, the population took a skeptical view of the foreign troops. There have been accusations that Chad "supported Seleka rebels and even trained some of them," Dickow told DW.
"The Chadian troops in CAR have reached a size that is uncontrollable,” says Acheikh Ibn-Oumar, a Chadian opposition politician and former ambassador to the United Nations.
"Chadian troops have been crossing the almost one thousand kilometer-long (620 miles) border with CAR, saying they are trying to control it," he told DW.
Brice Kevin Kapayen, a human rights activist and member of the CAR transitional parliament, confirmed that Seleka supporters had entered CAR. "They are armed. The question is: who gave them arms?" The spokesman of the Chadian government has denied any involvement. "But he is not here.
He is not in Bangui to see what is happening. We have evidence for everything we are saying," said Kapayen.
Chad is currently a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. In negotiations, Chad argued against sending a UN peacekeeping mission to the Central African Republic. "They want to find an African solution," says Helga Dickow.
The oil factor
Chad has built up its military strength thanks to its oil revenue, says Dickow, and this makes the country appear stable and powerful. However this appearance is deceptive. President Deby is looking for a way to secure the southern borders. He wants to make himself militarily impregnable as he did before in the Darfur conflict when rebels from Sudan threatened his hold on power. "The other crisis region which could be a gathering point for rebels who could rise up against N'Djamena is the border region between CAR and southern Chad," Dickow said.
She sees another reason why this border is of interest for Deby. In southern Chad and in the north of the Central African Republic are oil wells. "Any trouble in this border region would also jeopardize oil production in Chad."
Opinion: Germany must not shirk reponsibility in Central Africa
Central Africa requires military aid, also from Germany, if the violence is to be ended.
Ethnic cleansing and anarchy threaten to engulf the entire region, warns DW’s Claus Stäcker.
Deutsche Welle Claus Stäcker
They are disturbing images, which should not be allowed to be shown. In the center of Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, a man is lynched on an open street. A crowd of international media representatives films and takes photos unhindered as he is torn apart - and a passerby eats one of his organs.
The cannibal is clearly insane. But what is really insane is that the heavily armed French soldiers who observed the gruesome episode did nothing to stop it.
Much of the country out of control
The 1,600 troops from France are said to have the capital largely under their control.
UN aid flights from Cameroon are able to land in Bangui. A tough new interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza has been appointed. Thanks to the foreign soldiers she was able to venture outside the city for the first time. She did not get far. The greater part of the country is out of control and there is no sign of either French or African forces offering protection.
Place names that today are linked with massacres and lynchings are tomorrow forgotten. Names such as Boda, Bouka, Nzakoun. Muslim militias kill women and children, Christian groups take bloody revenge on Muslim civilians who serve as substitutes for the militas they wish to target.
Estimates put the number of dead at over 2,000. The true figure is probably much higher. Human rights organizations now use the term "ethnic cleansing" and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres has spoken of a "humanitarian catastrophe of unspeakable proportions." 1.5 million Central Africans have fled and are in need of food aid.
Following its successful intervention in Mali, France was full of confidence but then seriously underestimated the Bangui mission.
The soldiers can repulse or disarm military units but are powerless against spontaneous lynch mobs. The African Union (AU) reacted unusually quickly by sending in the African-led International Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) with a troop strength of more than 5,000.
However, the force is rightly viewed with suspicion as most of the soldiers come from neighboring Chad which is actively involved in the conflict.
UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon has therefore called on Paris to increase the number of its troops. Interim President Samba-Panza has called for a mandate for UN peacekeepers but such a force would only be ready in six months time at the earliest. By then there is a strong possibility that Central Africa could be split – into a Muslim north and a Christian south.
That would have unforeseen consequences for the entire region with its countless marauding bands of soldiers at large in Sudan, South Sudan, Congo or Uganda.
German policy on Africa needs a military component
France has, in the past, made many mistakes with its post-colonial string-pulling, especially in Central Africa. President Hollande wanted to end that and become a more honest broker. A good start was made in Mali. The new approach could be continued in Central Africa but Paris needs allies.
Fellow European Union states have so far shown little interest. Germany was strong on rhetoric but then only held out the vague promise of an air ambulance. That will not be enough to bring peace to Central Africa.
There is much talk in Berlin of a new Africa strategy. A courageous trio of foreign minister, defense minister and development minister appear to stand shoulder to shoulder on the issue of greater involvement in Africa.
Defense Minister von der Leyen is right to recall the collective failure at the time of the genocide in Rwanda and in Congo. The new Africa trio must now clarify Germany's military role and contribute towards a logical EU security strategy and distribution of responsibilities. No other world power shows any serious interest in military adventures in Africa. This leaves a key role with the EU.
Since the last refugee disaster off the coast of Lampedusa, it should be clear that African and European stability are linked. Germany cannot duck away or leave things to the French. In such situations, solidarity is called for. And the military would doubtless add: esprit de corps.