EU needs to address Chad turmoil to reduce Sahel instability

Following half a year of escalating clandestine crossings into Europe, predominantly from Africa, EU ministers came one step closer to ratifying a “migration pact” between Member States this month after floating the idea of a new approach during a Home Affairs Council meeting, which would involve piecemeal preliminary agreements to help align European sentiments on the divisive issue.

Finding a unified approach to the migration issue has been a hot-button topic since 2015 and is seen as a requirement for a more determined response that would also include easier repatriation and rejection of migrants’ asylum demands. This is hoped, a least in part, to disincentivize people from starting the perilous journey to Europe in the first place. However, while the proposed legislation may well lead to greater rejections and repatriations, the underlying reasons for why migrants undertake these journeys persist undisturbed: ongoing instability Africa’s Sahel, marked by civil war and terrorist insurgent groups.

The need to prioritise African stability is recognised in Brussels, yet has thus far failed to lead to concrete action on the ground nor tangible effects, both in terms of pacifying the region and curving migratory flows. However, recent developments in one Sahel country in particular – Chad – could add more fuel to the fire.

Key in securing regional stability, Chad has increasingly become a regional hub for those hoping to reach Europe. Historically, while Chad was neither a transit node nor a departure country to Europe, ethnic fighting in Sudan has turned into the primary cause for refugee streams into Chad, especially in moments when the ever-smouldering West Darfur conflict is increasing in intensity. At the same time, civil war in the Central African Republic (CAR) has been a constant concern along Chad’s Southern border, and there is no indication that the war will come to an end soon. When the growing menace of Islamist terrorist groups operating in the Sahel are added into the mix, it is clear that Chad is a central piece in the complex web of factors that need to be considered if the region is ever to find peace.

While the unexpected death of Chad’s president Idriss Déby Itno, who was shot by rebels in April, briefly increased concern about sudden instability in the country, the issue was swiftly resolved when his son, Mahamat Idriss Déby, was picked by the military to fill the leadership void. Announcing a transitional government to steer the country for 18 months, Déby is stepping into his father’s footsteps, who had been a crucial ally for France – and indeed Europe – especially in the fight against Islamist groups.

Chad’s new administration was quickly recognised by several African countries, as well as the United States. French president Emmanuel Macron was quick to speak out in support for Déby’s military council and democratic transition early on, in contrast to EU High Representative Josep Borrell who has merely offered vague and tentative backing for Chad’s new administration. Given the long-standing role of Chad in the region as well as alignment with European interests, Brussels would do well to overcome this period of wavering and support the government quickly in order to build close relations with Chad in this crucial time.

A commitment to Déby and Prime Minister Albert Pahimi Padacke, could well strengthen the Sahel, at a time when the EU’s current primary anti-migration policy toolkit – the Emergency Trust for Africa (EUTF) which focuses on North Africa, the Horn, and the Sahel region – has proven to be of limited effectiveness. Based on the idea that development assistance reduces factors pushing people to head for Europe, the EUTF programme has invested €5 billion in 250 migration-related programs. But these funds, which will dry up in December, have been grossly inadequate to tackle entrenched issues in such a vast and explosive region.

It’s obvious that more is needed than merely development assistance, namely active stabilising efforts. Brussels would do well to look beyond stopgap solutions to disincentivize migration and focus on helping those on the ground to secure stability instead, above all else.


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