President of Chad Idriss Déby effected a mini-reshuffle of his cabinet January 11, while also conducting a tour of his home Ennedi West province in the country’s remote northeast. In both cases, the Chadian president intends to ensure sound discipline over two areas of geopolitical stress as his government begins what could be another volatile year.
Déby reshuffled his petroleum and energy minister (as well as his communications minister), replacing Michel Boukar with Allali Mahamat Abakar, a trusted and experienced financial manager who has risen rapidly through the ranks of the country’s economic portfolios. Over the course of the latter half of 2018, Abakar had the unenviable task of managing the country’s finance and budget portfolio sustaining widespread austerity measures that earned the government persistent public sector and civil society unrest.
The popular outlook for the Chadian economy in 2019 is not much more encouraging, as a salary increase the country’s union-backed civil society had hoped for in its extensive deliberations with the government to resolve its workforce disputes is not budgeted for. Accommodating a greater wage bill amid government concerns for already high levels of domestic debt and insufficient sources of income generation puts the Chadian treasury under unsustainable strain.
Though the Chadian government favors efforts to promote economic diversification, foreign exchange earnings remain greatly dependent on proceeds from the country’s hydrocarbons sector. With higher costs to government, as a result of an increase in the tariff it pays to neighboring Cameroon to use its pipeline to export crude to the Kribi terminal on the Gulf of Guinea coast, to challenges in expanding oil exploration drilling programs in the country, to being susceptible to oil production interruptions, to the difficulty of managing a resource whose pricing is not only highly volatile but outside the Chadian government’s control, there isn’t great flexibility when it comes to trying to absorb an expansionary budget.
Abakar’s relative success at maintaining fiscal discipline during a difficult 2018 undoubtedly factored into Déby appointing him to manage the Chadian government’s critical petroleum portfolio. His likely priorities will be to ensure Glencore and other producers optimize production levels, that Chad’s entitlement interest is maximized, and that frontier operators continue their exploratory drilling programs. After having faced sustained trade union and civil society opposition in 2018, Abakar should be well prepared to engage assertively in 2019 with international oil companies working in Chad.
The Déby administration is also mindful that in addition to civil society unrest over the economy’s underperformance are national insecurity challenges requiring scarce government resources and attention. Déby’s three-day visit to his home Ennedi West region was likely to ensure trust and loyalty among his tribesmen who are crucial to disrupting northern Chad from becoming a gateway for a coherent rebel threat against his southern-located government. While 2018 saw several attacks by the Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic (CCMSR) rebel group, and while the attacks disrupted what is an area of artisanal gold mining, these attacks were isolated to the northwestern Tibesti region that neighbors Libya (and which is the rearguard sanctuary for Chadian rebels).
But the history of Chad is that disaffected northern Chadian tribesmen, often with military backgrounds, are the fount of successful national rebellion campaigns. Déby, for all his authoritarian style of regime governance, needs to assert discipline over his administration so that it extracts maximum value from what are limited economic tools at its disposal, tempers demands on a strained treasury, and favors constructive ethnopolitical ties in the country’s remote northern and eastern border regions, so as to defend his government’s stability.