Merkel wants to expand ties with Chad | Africa | DW | 12.10.2016
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Merkel wants to expand ties with Chad

Barely off the plane after meeting Ethiopia's Hailemariam Desalegn, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, continues to confer with Africa's authoritarian rulers. She held talks in Berlin with Chad's Idriss Deby.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has promised Chadian President Idriss Deby humanitarian aid and close military cooperation. Chad will receive 8.9 million euros ($9.8 million) for food aid and water supplies. Merkel also said that they had spoken "intensively" about military equipment.

Chad is seen as an ally of the West in the struggle against terrorism. The country heads the UN stabilization mission in northern Mali (MINUSMA) to which Germany contributes 650 troops. Deby said that 120 Chadian soldiers had already been killed in Mali. "Chad is shouldering the greatest burden within the MINUSMA mission to bring peace to Mali," he added. The Chadian president also said his country was hosting some 800,000 refugees, the third largest contingent in the whole of Africa.          

Questioned about human rights at a joint press conference with the German chancellor, Deby rejected reports that 20 soldiers, known to be critical of the government, had disappeared. "Not one single soldier has disappeared, been taken prisoner or died," he said.      

This was the first visit to Berlin by a Chadian president since the country gained independence in 1960.

Berlin Merkel trifft Tschads Präsident Idriss Deby Itno (picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Schreiber)

President Idriss Deby (left) and Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to intensify economic ties between their two countries

Focus on migration

Merkel has just returned from a three day trip to Africa, which took her to Mali, Niger, and Ethiopia, and was dominated by efforts to reduce migration flows by combating their cause at the source.

The German chancellor wants to sign deals on curbing migrant flows with transit countries in Africa, similar to an agreement already sealed with Turkey.

Chad's long border with Libya makes it a country of transit for migrants seeking to reach Europe.   

Deby said the international community "should mull over what needs to be done to ensure that the children of Africa stay on the continent."

Is Merkel playing with fire?

Many Chadians are critical of the German chancellor's overtures to their country's leader. "It is a scandal that Idriss Deby is being welcomed as a guest in Berlin. Merkel is about to multiply the problems rather than to solve them," Chadian human rights activist Abdelkarim Yacoub Koundoungoumi told DW shortly before Deby's arrival. Koundoungoumi has lived in exile in Paris for the last ten years and travelled to Berlin to demonstrate against the presence of the Chadian president in the German capital.

Berlin Demonstration Anti Idriss Deby (Aabdelkerim Yacoub Koundougoum)

Demonstrators in Berlin protest against Deby's visit


The German chancellor has been holding talks with a man who has caused huge difficulties for the Sahel, Koundoungoumi said. "Yet she has designated him as the one who could solve the region's problems. In other words, she's appointed a pyromaniac as a fireman. She's chosen the wrong man," he said.

The "wrong man" is considered to be one of Africa's most powerful statesmen. He has an "unquenchable thirst for power," Koundoungoumi said. "Idriss Deby is almost the 'Sultan' of the Sahel. He is president of Chad, president of the G5 Sahel - that's the regional organization consisting of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso - and also president of the African Union. He wants to be president of everything and have a finger in every pie," the Chadian rights activist added.

Koundoungoumi is a member of "Trop, c'est trop" (Enough is enough), an umbrella organization of Chadian civil society groups. The organization wants to draw the attention of not only the German government  but also of the German population to the true nature of this autocrat. That is why Koundoungoumi organized a demonstration on Berlin's Alexanderplatz - a large public square in the German capital - and a protest march to the foreign ministry nearby. A small but determined group of some 20 demonstrators did indeed assemble in Berlin on the eve of Deby's visit. "We want to ensure that the Germans and in particular Angela Merkel understand that the solutions they have proposed for peace and security in Africa simply won't work. There can be no solutions hand in hand with dictators," Koundoungoumi said.

Tschad Armee Soldaten Zeremonie (picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. Delay)

Chadian troops form part of a regional force combating the Boko Haram militant Islamist group

Human rights violations

The human rights situation in the Chad is regarded as extremely serious. Arbitrary arrests and restrictions on freedom of expression are part of everyday life in the Central African country, rights groups say. Idriss Deby, 26 years after having seized power in a coup, has built a ruthlessly efficient apparatus of repression, which keeps the population in check. Elections are just a facade and there is no real opposition in the country, which also suffers from severe economic and social problems.

 Martin Zint, a journalist specializing in Chad and development policy, told DW that half of the population live below the poverty line despite the country's oil wealth. Seventy percent of the country are also illiterate. Yet President Deby is a welcome guest among Western democracies, Germany included.  So what is Berlin expecting from the Chadian dictator? "I expect that they will try and flatter him so he closes the borders to Libya and Algeria," Zint said, speaking before Deby's Berlin visit. On the other hand nobody can really ignore the manner in which he treats his own population. "The methods with which he muzzles civil society are brutal and they, of course, drive people out of the country, turning them into migrants.  The oil revenues, which are substantial, are not used to fight poverty but to fund the military," the journalist said.

Bildergalerie 10 Jahre Ölförderung im Tschad (Christof Krackhardt)

Analysts say Chad suffers from serious social and economic problems despite its oil wealth

Military strength

Over the last ten years Deby has turned the Chadian army into the most effective fighting force in the region. Chad's military - or rather its strength - opens doors for Deby in the West. Western governments know he can enforce law and order, can keep the population calm, though it is, of course, the eerie calm of the graveyard. It won't last, of course, because in ten or twenty years the oil will have run dry and Deby's backers may disappear just as quickly.

Antonio Cascais contributed to this report      


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