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7.3.2021 : 22:34 : +0100

‘Guns for Hire’ in the Chad–Sudan–Libya Triangle: New Report from the Small Arms Survey and Conflict Armament Research


The chaos that engulfed Libya following the collapse of the Qaddafi regime has attracted fighters from northern Chad and Darfur, placing the Chad–Sudan–Libya triangle at the centre of a regional system of armed conflicts. This has led to the re-emergence since 2011 of a regional market for cross-border combatants. These ‘guns for hire’ offer their services as militiamen, rebels, mercenaries, traffickers, and bandits. The repeated failures of peace agreements and rebel reintegration processes in the region, the lack of economic opportunities, the absence of political alternatives in Chad, Libya’s ongoing instability, and the chronic violence in Darfur are among the many factors leading to the internationalization and growing autonomy of armed factions in the triangle.

The Teda (or ‘Tubu’) of Chad, inhabiting the Tibesti Massif in Chad’s far north (as well as southern Libya and north-eastern Niger) are central to the region’s security dynamics. Tubu Trouble: State and Statelessness in the Chad–Sudan–Libya Triangle, a Working Paper from the Small Arms Survey and Conflict Armament Research, provides an overview of their recent and largely undocumented conflict dynamics. It reviews the evolution of Tibesti’s socio-political environment over the past few decades, including their most recent rebellion and its effects, and the tentative and partial redeployment of Chadian state authority in the region since 2011. It further discusses the repercussions of regional gold rushes since 2013, the prospects for a renewed rebellion in northern Chad, and the consequences of the fall of the Qaddafi regime in neighbouring Libya for regional security.

The Teda have spent more time under the control of armed opposition movements than the Chadian state since independence in 1960. Indeed, Teda communities have played central roles in rebellions in all three countries they inhabit. Their last insurrection in Chad was that of the Mouvement pour la démocratie et la justice au Tchad (MDJT). Its fighters laid down their weapons in 2011, leading to a period of relative stability, but the failure of a substantial financial development programme launched the same year led to resentment towards the Chadian state. A more concrete economic opportunity appeared from 2012 in a series of gold rushes stretching from Darfur in Sudan to southern Algeria, including northern Chad. The gold rush in Chad caused violent tensions between prospectors coming from outside Tibesti and local communities. The mobilization of the latter also evolved into new opposition to the Chadian state.

Since 2011, easy access to Libyan weapons has contributed to the militarization of Chadian Teda society. In the absence of effective socio-economic interventions in Teda areas there is a heightened risk of communities becoming further marginalized and engaged for hire in Libya and elsewhere. Geographically peripheral, historically marginalized, and culturally resistant to outside interference, Teda-inhabited areas deserve national and international attention. 

Among the paper’s key findings:

  • Since Chad’s independence in 1960 the north of the country has experienced successive rebellions. Relative stability and security have prevailed since the MDJT rebels laid down their weapons in 2011, although isolated outbreaks of opposition to the state have recently resurfaced. These have occurred as a response to gold rushes, violent conflicts between gold miners and local communities in 2014–15, and the state’s (mis)management of related tensions.
  • From 2012 onwards the discovery of gold caused an influx of prospectors into the region. This triggered conflicts between the Teda and the miners. Related tensions increased local hostility to Chadian authorities because the latter belonged mainly to the ethnic group of President Idriss Déby (the Beri or Zaghawa). The Teda self-defence militias that formed to protect the region slowly transformed themselves into an autonomous force that increasingly rejected the central state.
  • On either side of the Chadian–Libyan border (as well as in Niger) the Teda have multiple and fluid identities. Marginalized under Qaddafi, who instrumentalized their claims to Libyan citizenship, those living in Libya played an important role in the 2011 uprising in that country. Since then their claim to Libyan citizenship has been viewed with hostility by the powers in northern Libya and rival Arab and Tuareg communities in southern Libya.
  • The Teda militias of southern Libya operate under distinct commands and mostly operate as autonomous armed groups that opportunistically align themselves with other forces.
  • From a regional perspective the continuation of the Chadian–Sudanese entente since 2011 has enabled both countries to focus on dangers on their borders, in particular those emanating from post-Qaddafi Libya. Meanwhile, their respective armed opposition groups have established themselves on Libyan soil, hoping to obtain support from Libyan forces hostile to their governments.
  • Armed opposition groups from Chad and Darfur and Sudanese ‘janjawid’ militias have regularly crossed the region’s borders. Since 2011 they have been observed in Libya, in particular. Some offer their services as mercenaries, while others are involved in trafficking and banditry.
  • Between 2011 and 2013 illicit weapons flows from looted Libyan arsenals transited through northern Chad. These flows seem to have dried up, but flows of individual weapons persist and supply the local market in northern Chad. Easy access to Libyan weapons has further contributed to the militarization of Chadian Teda society.

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