(by Micah Albert, WashingtonTimes.com) KOUKOU, Chad – Koukou is a swampy frontier town on the southeastern edge of Chad, about 35 miles from the poorly defined border with Sudan´s West Darfur region.
There are no paved roads, and outside access this time of year – the end of the rainy season – is limited to planes using a well-worn dirt landing strip.
With too many donkeys and goats to count, people readily greet each flight delivering supplies and aid workers.
Chad is arguably the nation in Africa with the brightest prospects for the next quarter century turning the darkest in the shortest period of time. The reason: Conflict over Sudan’s Darfur region and rampant corruption have fueled an insurgency, while pushing away foreign investors interested in developing the nation’s oil reserves.
Koukou barely existed until there was an attack on several Chadian villages just miles from the Sudan border in April 2007, killing hundreds. Today, it is teeming with Chadians displaced in their own country.
“It was difficult to come here because they burned our village,” recalled Ismail Ahmat Ishach, a father of six. “We had to flee immediately, our families were scattered, and we had nothing to bring but what we wore that night.”
He was referring to the Janjaweed militias backed by the government of neighboring Sudan.
“It took us over three days to get here, and we had donkeys,” said Mr. Ishach, who added that he and his family were lucky to have made it here alive.
Tucked up against the relative safety of an impassible seasonal river, Mr. Ishach and 24,000 other displaced Chadians have relocated their lives and families to this makeshift village.
Chad remains the world´s fifth-poorest country, despite the start of oil production in 2003, an investment of $3.7 billion by a consortium of foreign oil companies headed by Exxon Mobil and the construction of an oil pipeline bankrolled in large part by the World Bank.
However, the bank froze its funding of the pipeline to ship oil from southern Chad to the Atlantic through Cameroon when the Chadian government reneged on its pledges to devote 80 percent of the revenue to development projects.
Instead, vast amounts of funds have been poured into the arms trade.
Each year, as the rainy season ends, rebels attempting to overthrow the government of President Idriss Deby are on the move from the east, where tens of thousands of refugees from Darfur and the Central African Republic languish in overcrowded refugee camps.
Along with the United States, Germany, Britain, Tanzania, Jordan and Syria, Chad ranks among the top 10 nations hosting refugees.
The ranking does not take into account the hundreds of thousands of displaced Chadians, labeled internally displaced persons (IDPs) instead of refugees.
Koukou is just one of 14 IDP sites in eastern Chad.
The problem of Janjaweed militia crossing the border to attack Chadians has become more systematic and deadly over the past year, and there is no sign that this pattern will stop.
A security vacuum exists because Chad’s army has redeployed to defend the government from Chad’s own insurgency.
The foreign minister of Chad on Monday called for a stepped-up U.N. peacekeeping presence, both in his country and in Darfur.
Moussa Faki Mahamat told the U.N. General Assembly in New York that the U.N. Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad and additional aid is needed to restore stability in eastern Chad.
While refugees are taken care of by the international community, IDPs are technically the responsibility of their own government.
Schools and basic health services are almost nonexistent in places like Koukou, which just recently received plastic sheeting for people’s huts, even though the rainy season will end in just weeks.
Arriving with her two children a few weeks ago, Khakeidja Hamat said she is “happy to be out of danger, even though we´ve left everything and don´t have much here.”
Mrs. Hamat and the IDPs in Koukou are from the Massalit tribe, one of the main tribes targeted by the Janjaweed. They also account for nearly half the Sudanese refugee population now in Chad.
What prevents Mrs. Hamat and her family from access to higher-quality services is the fact that she was born 10 miles inside Chad.
Like clockwork, the end of the rainy season brings about rumors of another coup attempt against the Chadian government and rebel activity mounting from this region. IDP sites also become targets of military recruitment.
“We are worried about our safety here in the coming months, especially for my children,” said Mr. Ishach “and won´t go home until the security situation improves.”
Copyright 2008 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times. This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization. Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com.
1. a) Locate Chad on a map. List the countries that border Chad. (Go to worldatlas.com for a map.)
b) Name the capital of Chad.
c) Who is the president of Chad?
2. List the reasons that prospects for improvement in Chad will not come to pass.
3. What is Chad’s economic ranking among the countries of the world?
4. a) Why did the World Bank freeze its funding of a pipeline to ship oil from southern Chad to the Atlantic?
b) What was the Chadian government using its oil revenue to do?
5. a) Who continues to attack Chadian civilians?
b) Why do they do so?
6. Why isn’t Chad’s military protecting its citizens?
7. a) What are IDPs?
b) Why don’t IDPs receive the same help from the U.N. that refugees receive?
c) What do you think is the best way to solve this problem?
Chad, part of France’s African holdings until 1960, endured three decades of civil warfare as well as invasions by Libya before a semblance of peace was finally restored in 1990. The government eventually drafted a democratic constitution, and held flawed presidential elections in 1996 and 2001. In 1998, a rebellion broke out in northern Chad, which has sporadically flared up despite several peace agreements between the government and the rebels. In 2005, new rebel groups emerged in western Sudan and made probing attacks into eastern Chad, despite signing peace agreements in December 2006 and October 2007. Power remains in the hands of an ethnic minority. In June 2005, President Idriss DEBY held a referendum successfully removing constitutional term limits and won another controversial election in 2006. Sporadic rebel campaigns continued throughout 2006 and 2007, and the capital experienced a significant rebel threat in early 2008. (from the CIA World FactBook)