The ructions that involved the Touaregs in the north of Mali in early 2012 saw destruction and mayhem spread throughout the whole of the Sahel. Timbuktu, that centre of intellectualism for Africa and Islam in the continent, fell into the hands of machine gun wielding bandits on Toyota Cruiser pick-up trucks who ravaged the desert in a quest for what they termed rejection of the incumbent governments of the land that straddles Mali, Niger, Chad, Sudan and probably Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. This Touaregs struggle for self-determination was immediately labeled Islamist and the world screamed terrorism. The activities of Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al Shabaab in Ethiopia did not help the Touaregs’ course and the west had, once again, to resort to closing ranks.
The day was saved by the towering image and military prowess of the President Idris Deby Itno, the ruler of the Central African state of Chad. The whole of the Sahel owes its peace to Idris Deby Itno. It is the Chadian army that had to drive through to Bamako to save the democratic government and forced the MNLA leadership to denounce their declaration of the independence of AZWAD – the name of northern Mali territory that is traditionally inhabited by the Touaregs.
The Malian feat was after the Chadian army drove into neighbouring Nigeria and delivered a blow so bad that Boko Haram was rendered crippled to this day.
These are only two examples of numerous military excursions that have seen Idris Deby Itno’s ascendancy to military guru in Central Africa. The west took note of this state of affairs and duly recognised that there can never be peace in the Sahel without Idris Deby Itno. To this end, the presence of both the French Army and AFRICOM were emboldened.
Having taken power in a coup d’etat in 1991, Idris Deby Itno has, with the help of the vast oil revenues of Chad, built roads, managed to put up numerous government buildings and, more importantly, propped up the army to an efficient professional machine.
Despite the many achievements of Chad, the phantom of tribalism hung menacingly over the country. The president’s tribe, the Zaghawa, were effectively in charge of the country. The tribe were in charge of the army and they managed to quell all of the numerous attempted coups on the president. The tribe became more powerful; many of them received good education from France and Canada. The number of millionaires grew. However, the money was in the boots of the cars and in the homes. Thieving became a big business and corruption went unchecked. Today, Chad is only second to North Korea as an investment destination.
Tribalism has lingered onto Chad for the last few decades. Alluvial gold was discovered in the Tibesti Region of Chad in the last six years. It would seem, while the artisanal miners exploited gold in the ancient streams and from cracks and fissures, the French and the Libyans knew about the occurence of the primary source of the precious metal. The French were, in fact, mining uranium – which is a by-product of gold in deposits of the Sahel – in neighbouring Niger.
The indigenous tribe of Tibesti, the Toubou, have taken full advantage of gold mining in Tibesti. Fifteen year old boys have become employers in hundreds of alluvial gold mining ventures in the area. A typical Toubou in Zouar, Bardai or Wour would identify a spot and employ forty to fifty men from Darfur, Niger or anywhere in the world. His role would be to ensure that the men had food and water; in return he would share the product on a 50:50 basis. This is the reason why Tibesti boasts of the highest number of Toyota Cruisers per capita in the world.
The Toubou have resolved to retain the gold for themselves and for themselves only. The gold mining business grew phenomenally and before long a town of approximately 200 000 people developed along the Libyan border, and the town of Kouri Bougoudie was founded. Every man and his dog had a little hole and approximately a ton of gold was produced in this area.
Tibesti was a forgotten province, there is no school, no hospital and no police station. The only government presence was the Customs and Excise office in provincial capita, Bardai. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, the Toubou in Tibesti were self-governing; they had gained nothing from the government in N’Djamena. It was probably this that planted the seed of secession in the Toubou.
Notwithstanding, everyone got wealthy and the Tibesti Toubou and their cousins in both Libya and Niger became millionaires. It would seem also that there was a concerted effort to cut the Zaghawa out.
When word got aaround that the government had issued mining licences to a son in law and nephew of the president to mine in one of the country’s most lucrative areas, Minski, the Toubou went berserk. The governor in Bardai was under threat. The other government officials, like the cantons of Wour and Zouar, were Toubou and we’re 100% behind their tribe.
In response the government deployed the army. The army leadership in Bardai and Kouri Bougoudie quickly got the area under control. The miners were dispersed and the army took control. The town of Kouri Bougoudie disappeared overnight. A guerilla war developed in the area with Toubou youngsters attacking remnants of Zaghawa and Darfur miners who has not left the province. The Sahel had manifested itself right in Idris Deby Itno’s backyard.
A visit by the then Minister of Mines, Geology and Quarties – who happens to be Toubou – in September-October 2017 revealed that every member of the army deployed in Kouri Bougoudie had become a gold miner. The army was split into two factions where lucrative ground for mining was in contention. The long and short of it is that the Zaghawa were firmly ensconced in the gold mining game.
The war in Tibesti is still raging. On the face of it, it is a war between the Toubou and the Government of Chad. However, there are bigger interest in the gold and uranium in Tibesti. The deposits in South Africa are depleted and the multinationals are fast moving out. The Toubou do not understand the geology of their gold and the fun we look forward to is whether Xolobeni will repeat itself in Tibesti.
By Aubrey Somana