The Good, the Chad, and the Ugly

Why is Sahel nation banned from US?

US administration surprises international community by including Chad and dropping Sudan in its new travel ban.

Soldiers participate in the opening ceremony of Flintlock 2015, an exercise organized by the US military in Ndjamena February 16, 2015. The “Flintlock” manoeuvres unfold as Chad and four neighbouring states prepare a taskforce to take on Boko Haram, the biggest security threat to Africa’s top energy producer Nigeria and an increasing concern to countries bordering it

Perhaps never before were the decisions of a US president so difficult to understand.

In another episode of Donald Trump’s travel ban soap opera, last week the head of state unveiled a new list of countries that will be subject to restricted travel to the US. This happened on the day his previous controversial travel ban came to a close.

This time the list of countries barred from entry is longer. North Korea, Venezuela, and Chad were added to the list. They will join Somalia, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Iran when the ban comes into force on October 18, with no final date established.

It is hardly surprising that North Korea, a country that Donald Trump spends a long time criticizing as a sort of terrorist rogue state, and Venezuela, a country the US president considers a socialist dictatorship, were included in the ban, but what of Chad?

Chad is often recognized as the US’s greatest ally in fighting terrorism in the Sahel, the arid band of land that stretches across Africa from Mauritania to Eritrea and Sudan.
The official statement by the White House is not particularly enlightening. It starts by recognizing Chad’s efforts to fight terrorism:

“The government of Chad is an important and valuable counterterrorism partner of the US, and the US government looks forward to expanding that cooperation, including in the areas of immigration and border management. Chad has shown a clear willingness to improve in these areas.”

It then proceeds to say that this is not enough:

“Nonetheless, Chad does not adequately share public-safety and terrorism-related information and fails to satisfy at least one key risk criterion”, the statement adds.

It is true that, like the statement suggests, “several terrorist groups are active within Chad or in the surrounding region, including elements of Boko Haram, ISIS-West Africa, and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.” However, these groups are active in many neighboring countries, generally more intensely than in Chad.

Boko Haram, for instance, originated in Nigeria, but its activities have partially spilled over into Chad and Niger over recent years. Al-Qaida and ISIS are also much more heavily present in Mali and Algeria, which have not been included in the US ban.

The government of Chad has already asked for an explanation from Washington, while the African Union Commission went even further by expressing “bewilderment at the imposition of the unjust travel ban on the Republic of Chad, in particular, given its important role in the fight against terrorism in the Lake Chad Basin, Northern Mali, and the Sahel.”

Chad has in fact played a very important role in controlling terrorist threats in the region. It incorporates the recently created counter-terrorism force composed by the Sahel G5 states, which also include Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, created specifically to advance the fight against Islamic terrorism in the region.

This task force will train 4,000 troops to fight terror threats. In addition, Chadian nationals make up the bulk of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (Minusma), which has largely taken over counter-terrorism responsibilities in the region. Chad’s coordination with the US in security matters has been largely praised over time too.

In fact, Chad was a participant in the Flintlock 2017 exercise in March, an event involving coordinated military exercises among African nations and promoted by the US military. According to the Department of Defense, it “strengthens security institutions, promotes multilateral sharing of information, and develops interoperability among counter-terrorism partners from across Africa’s Sahara region.”

The logic behind the extension of the ban to Chad is truly difficult to understand in this context. Some analysts suggested it could have had something to do with a USD74-billion tax evasion fine that Chad imposed on US oil company Exxon-Mobil, where Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was once CEO. However, the two parties resolved the issue and reached a settlement months ago.

Worst off, the Chadian government, in a statement, said that it “doesn’t want to be forced to use the principle of reciprocity, which could undermine interests of the two countries.” This suggests that US interests in Chad’s petroleum resources could be negatively affected.

It is also difficult to fathom why Sudan was dropped from the list this time. The administration has failed to explain what has changed in the effectiveness of the Sudanese counter-terrorism strategy over the past six months.

After all, the US still classifies Sudan as a sponsor of terrorism, alongside Syria and Iran. It is possible that lobbying by the UAE has contributed to the decision, due to Sudan’s contribution to the war effort in Yemen.