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Why anti-French protests are going on in Africa’s Chad

Chad has long been led by an authoritarian military rule, whose generals have aligned with France, but recent anti-French protests have shown that ordinary people have been fed up with both the oppressive regime and its so-called democratic European enabler. 

Chad is one of the world’s least developed countries, being among the poorest and most corrupt states in the globe. France is the former colonial power in the African state, recently facing various backlashes over its military presence in the region mainly from the continent’s different local populations of Mali, Burkina Faso and others.

“Due to France’s support to the Idris Deby [Itno] dictatorship and then to his son that no one has elected. France is perceived as a nefarious force not an ally [by many Chadians],” says Yasser Louati, a French political analyst and the head of the Committee for Justice & Liberties (CJL), referring to why people protest against France. Deby added Itno to his surname in 2006. 

Deby, a military ruler, had led Chad for more than three decades under an iron fist since 1990, when he overthrew his former boss, Hissane Habre, a pro-French general like Deby. Both Habre and Deby fought against Libya during the country’s bloody conflict with Tripoli, which ended with the French intervention in 1987 empowering people like Deby. 

Last year, Deby was killed by FACT rebels, a group led by former military officers, who have alleged ties with Russia. Deby’s son Mahatma succeeded his father without any election as the leader of the Transitional Military Council, dissolving the parliament. 

Both moves have angered the local population, seeing France behind the ongoing military rule. Chadians have also held various grievances against Paris, who has profited from the country’s rich oil sources since its colonial times. 

France’s presence in Chad is “notorious for supporting the exploitation of the country’s resources” of which Chadians received only a small portion despite being the real citizens of the state, Louati tells TRT World

As a result, attacks on Total stations and other French-origin businesses are not “a coincidence”, according to the French political analyst. Total is a big French oil company and Chad has the tenth-largest oil reserves among African countries. 

Chad could not get out of the growing unrest after more than one year since the killing of Chad’s long-time leader Deby, says Ulas Pehlivan, a Turkish security analyst who focuses on Africa, underlining the fact that most people struggling with worsening economic conditions have no more tolerance for any lingering in the country’s political transition. Deby and his allies have not disclosed any timetable for elections yet. 

“Chad’s main partner France is not also spared from the protests due to its prolonged clout in the country. And people still regard France as the main supporter of the current leader Mahamat and the military council,” Pehlivan tells TRT World. 

Recent protests were called by Wakit Tamma, a growing civil society group, which has been part of national talks to address grievances of different ethnic, religious and political groups. Two weeks ago, the government decided to put off national dialogue talks, escalating tensions with opposition groups like Wakit Tamma. 

“France installing dictators on our heads. We only ask that our people be respected” said Max Loalngar, a Wakit Tamma coordinator, referring to anti-French protests. 

France’s failing Africa policy

The strength of recent anti-French protests in Chad is also related to France’s declining prospects in some African countries like Mali, from which Paris decided to withdraw its troops in February in the face of growing anti-French public anger. Mali’s military junta also recently declared to quit its defence deals with France. 

“As France is getting kicked out of Mali, Chad is becoming a central base for France’s African military presence,” says Louati. Chad’s capital, N’Djamena, hosts the central headquarters of France’s counter-terrorism operations against extreme groups across the West Africa region. Nearly 1,000 French troops are stationed in the Chad capital, according to security sources. 

Analysts like Louati believe that the increasing local anger toward French troops might force Paris to reconsider its military presence in Chad. 

Louati thinks that Macron’s “arrogant” foreign policy is marked by “an anachronistic reading of world affairs”, which disregards changing power dynamics in regions like West Africa where France was once influential. “This applies to Chad all the way to the South Pacific,” he says. 

According to Louati, increasing anti-French sentiment across Africa is partly the result of France’s pro-NATO policies in the continent in recent years under both Macron and his successors like Nicholas Sarkozy, a right-wing politician. In the past, politicians like Charles De Gaulle, who emphasised France’s independent foreign policy, and Jacques Chirac “refrained from fully pegging Paris’s interests to those of the US”, he says.

While France’s opposition to the Iraq war in 2003 got the wrath of the US, it also brought popular support and massive soft power across the Arab world to France, Louati says. But with Sarkozy’s coming to power, France began engaging in conflicts according to US political designs, he says. 

In recent protests from Mali to Niger, there were calls for increasing military connections with countries like Russia. Prior to its withdrawal, France accused Mali’s military junta of working with the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary group. Some reporters also claimed to see a Russian flag in the ongoing anti-French Chad protests. 

Unlike China, France is not treating Africans like economic partners, says Louati. This sentiment is one of the reasons why France is facing rejection in African nations, according to Louati. Even worse, France sees Africa “as a private backyard to plunder resources while bombing civilians in the name of fighting terrorism or stability, and supporting autocrats”, he says. 

“The impunity and brutality of French soldiers is no longer acceptable for many Africans. And this is what French elites have failed to understand. France is doing 21st century foreign policy with 19th century mentality.” 

Seeing much backlash over its policies in Chad and other African countries, France recently urged Chad’s military rulers to hold national talks to pave the way for civilian rule. “To improve its connection with the region, France has already started getting more responsive towards the local perceptions of France and making more objective statements on Chad’s internal policies,” says Pehlivan. 

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