Views from the Field: In Conversation with the Head of Delegation to Chad


Views from the Field: In Conversation with the Head of Delegation to Chad

European Commission, 23 Mar 2016

Located in Central Africa, Chad is a landlocked country recovering from conflict. While it has stabilised itself in recent years, Chad still faces many challenges, from conflicts in neighbouring countries resulting in increased migration, to the rise in popularity of Boko Haram. Denisa-Elena Ionete joined the EU Delegation to Chad last September, as EU Ambassador and Head of Delegation. In this interview she outlines the EU’s priorities in Chad and the challenges the Delegation faces when implementing them.
This article is the first in a new monthly series of interviews with Heads of EU Delegations. Over the next few months you will hear about issues from tackling migration in Uganda to implementing cookstove projects in Laos, as colleagues share their views on EU cooperation.

This first article features Denisa-Elena Ionete, who joined the European Commission in 2011 as Head of the Fragility and Crisis Management Unit, where she remained for four years before moving to Chad. (C4D): What is the current conflict context in Chad?

Denisa Ionete (DI): The situation in Chad is a very complex one in which I, as Head of Delegation, always try – for myself and for my team – to draw on the positive elements.

First of all, it’s a country which for more than five years enjoyed relative stability; there was no open internal conflict. And then Boko Haram appeared quite suddenly marring this path of hope, and somehow of optimism.

Chad’s economic prosperity had been increasing due to its oil resources, creating confidence for external investors. This was complemented by efforts to improve the governance of these oil revenues resulting in a lot of hope for the future of Chad. There is still a lot of hope, but in the last two years, two or three trends have materialised threatening this relative stability.

Decreasing oil revenues

The decrease of oil revenues led to increased domestic funding needs. In December the budgetary gap was about 150 billion Central African Francs [around €228m]. Today, three months later, it is three times more, at 450 billion Central African Francs. And the International Monetary Fund prognosis is that prices will remain low for another two, three years. So the prospects for improving the population’s access to some basic services are now extremely low.

Boko Haram

The second element is security: the threat of Boko Haram, which is creating a factor of destabilisation. Although we understand Boko Haram’s modus operandi, we still do not understand what their ‘glue’ on the population is. What happens? What changes people’s minds? What changes their behaviour? What are their relationships with the authorities, and among themselves within this group?

I listen to our Chadian partners that cannot understand how populations that used to be very peaceful, very outgoing towards other communities – now Boko Haram is recruiting young girls, practically children to carry out suicide bombings. I share their concerns in our European homelands; we too do not understand why young people who have grown up in a European environment are now becoming radicalised and fighting for ideals that have never been the ideals of the European societies.

The Regional Configuration

Just south of Chad, there is an ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic, resulting in both refugees from the country, but also Chadian returnees who had previously sought refuge there.

Then there is the destabilised relationship with Sudan. Although there are efforts in place, the situation remains volatile, with many Sudanese refugee camps still in Chad. And definitely there is the big big challenge of Libya, the threat of terrorism, of insecurity, violence and trafficking in a country in which the Northern area is 600,000 square kilometres, and Chad’s borders with Niger and Libya count for 2,200 kilometres.

So all these factors threaten this relative stability, and the way to address this is by reinforcing governance; both effective and inclusive governance. This also means mainstreaming human rights and ensuring that local authorities have the means to do this in such a large country. You cannot manage the whole country from N’Djamena.

At the end of the day the big challenge on the path from fragility to resilience lies in building a social contract and inclusive governance.

C4D: What are the EU’s other priorities in Chad?

DI: We have available a multitude of instruments from the National Indicative Programme. Although it was conceived in 2013-14, when the situation was not exactly as it is today, we are currently defining large programmes like supporting the areas with the highest child malnutrition rates.

This is done by supporting their inclusive local development; food security; access to markets; and nutritional education. So this is a complete package, which focusses on the people most in need.

Zakouma National Park

We also have a project looking at protected areas – and surprisingly enough, it’s not only about creating a beautiful natural environment, but it’s also about creating factors of stability. For example, we have Zakouma National Park. It’s not necessarily very big, but it offers beautiful opportunities for tourism and for protecting the environment through natural protected areas. But the great advantage of this park is that it contributed tremendously to limiting ivory poaching.

The retail price for Ivory is about €1,000 per kilo. In 2014, more than one ton of illegal ivory was destroyed (burnt) in Chad and the poachers prosecuted. Up to today, we’ve only had one case and the guards managed to recover the ivory – but imagine that this ivory had been sold on the black market at ten times the retail price. Where is this difference, the € 9,000 per kilo, going?

It’s going into trafficking. Trafficking of arms, of drugs, of human beings, of everything. So it’s not just a case of creating a good tourist destination, it’s about addressing also causes of conflict. Nomad guards have helped to tackle this, but also the relationship that the presence of the park creates in local communities. So directly or indirectly we try to contribute to these elements, but by understanding them better we can do more.

Fighting Boko Haram

We also have a multinational joint task force fighting Boko Haram on Lake Chad. It is a military force, which it is important that the European Union is funding. Still the military is not the solution to this problem. The military intervention has to be complemented with civilian security measures, with rebuilding stability. It doesn’t help to fight and to exterminate Boko Haram, if you leave the area empty with no opportunities for the people. Boko Haram will be able to come back.

Of course this demands an understanding of the context, coordinating amongst ourselves – and also with the member states that play an important role in some of these areas. So the ball is in our court to create a unity of effort, as opposed to creating a unity of command. Nobody will come and say do this, do that, report to this person; it’s a matter of understanding what we are doing collectively and projecting this into a long-term vision.

C4D: What challenges do you face when implementing programmes?

DI: One of the challenges that we see in Chad is in the regional approach. These threats, terrorism and trafficking – because Chad is a transit country – are not things that you can only address in Chad. You have to address these issues on a more regional and sub-regional basis. This is why in 2014 five Sahel countries created the G5 Sahel, a coalition of five countries [Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger] facing the same problems.

EU Trust Fund

They are working together and we need to adapt our instruments to this new sub-regional, geo-political configuration that is not reflected in our traditional instruments. The new EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa is a good opportunity for this, provided that we use it intelligently.

We hope that with the Trust Fund’s contribution we will be able to complement the national indicative programme, especially in areas with very little local governance. And to build resilience in the Lake Chad area, where there are 50,000 people displaced by conflict and the Boko Haram military operations. These people need livelihoods, they need to build, and to integrate into their new communities. So this is another way of using these funds – together of course with interventions for peace building – for the peaceful coexistence of different communities.

C4D: How do you tackle the regional approach?

DI: Traditionally Chad falls within the Central Africa Region, which for the time being is unfortunately in a very difficult position. You have the Central African crisis, the Burundi crisis which is impacting neighbouring countries, and also the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These countries are trying to stabilise. So the whole regional dynamic is very complicated.

But when we see that the members of the Lake Chad Basin Commission have organised a multinational joint task force; when we see the political will to move together as the G5 Sahel; this shows that our instruments should be able to adapt to this reality, and support partners where there is real political will and political appropriation.

C4D: Are you collaborating with neighbouring EU Delegations to achieve this regional approach?

DI: We collaborate very well together and exchange information. We [met in March] to discuss the comprehensive approach to the Sahel, and will also meet in April.

I think that our dynamic should accompany the dynamic of the G5 Sahel group. Currently Chad has the presidency of the G5, while the permanent secretariat is in Mauritania. So exchanging information amongst ourselves, ensuring that we are providing commensurate support is important.

The role of the Special Representative of the European Union to the Sahel, is going exactly in this direction. He now also has a mandate for Lake Chad, which acknowledges this new geopolitical configuration, which is not very clear cut. For example, two of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) countries are also members of the G5. While Cameroon, Nigeria and Benin are part of the Lake Chad Basin Commission, but not of the G5.

But this shows how important it is that we work directly with the authorities to capture the whole political dimension. This is an opportunity to work closely together, and Chad definitely has the comparative advantage of being part of these two different configurations [G5 and the LCBC]. This can help to push forward support, but also ensures coherence between them.


This information is provided in the interests of knowledge sharing and capacity development and should not be interpreted as the official view of the European Commission, or any other organisation.