The Next Setback in the Sahel

Chad accuses German ambassador of fomenting tensions within the country and expels him. German diplomacy is thus embroiled in crisis in yet another Sahel country.

BERLIN/N’DJAMENA (Own report) – By expelling the German ambassador, Chad is the next Sahel country heading for confrontation with EU states. According to reports, the government in N’Djamena accuses the German ambassador of fomenting tensions with comments that interfere in Chad’s internal affairs. Berlin is defending its diplomat and praises his activities as “exemplary,” and has ordered, in a tit-for-tat response, Chad’s ambassador in Berlin to leave the country. The relations between the Federal Republic of Germany and Chad have been considered comparably unimpressive: The country is part of Françafrique, France’s direct sphere influence in its former colonies, over which, it has long maintained neocolonial control, whereas first Bonn, and later Berlin, have never succeeded in establishing a strong influence of their own. The escalation of the dispute with N’Djamena follows other severe setbacks for Germany, France and the EU in Mali and Burkina Faso, which have forced the withdrawal of French troops operating on their territories. The EU powers’ influence in the Sahel is beginning to wane.

Expulsions of Ambassadors

On April 7, the government of the central African nation of Chad ordered the German ambassador Jan-Christian Gordon Kricke, to leave the country – the official justification of the measure being the diplomat’s “impolite attitude” and “lack of respect for diplomatic customs.” It was reported, that, in talks, including with European residents of Chad, Kricke had repeatedly accused Chad’s government of discriminating against the Christian part of the population and of splitting the country. In N’Djamena this was seen as an attempt to foment tensions in Chad.[1] The German foreign ministry declared the accusations to be “absolutely incomprehensible,”[2] and, following his expulsion, praised the ambassador, who previously had served as the German foreign ministry’s head of the Sahel Task Force in Niger, for his “exemplary work.”[3] The German government in turn, ordered Chad’s ambassador to leave the country – “rapidly,” as the French press emphasized.[4] Chad’s diplomatic mission in Berlin is one of the country’s only three embassies within the EU.

A Typical Françafrique Nation

Chad is considered a typical nation of Françafrique, the former French colonies in Africa.[5] According to a study on the region, the persisting neocolonial dependence – even after official independence – is being sustained by “highly personalized networks, which guarantee French access to the resources and markets in Africa.”[6] This refers to a kind of “backyard” („pré carré”), which, through “clientelist and corrupt activities,” facilitates “the maintenance of political and economic control,” akin to a “colonial relationship.”[7] This can also be seen in socioeconomic data: Chad is considered one of the poorest countries in the world, with 2 million people (of its nearly 18 million inhabitants) facing severe food shortages, according to the World Food Program, and 42 percent of the population living below the poverty line.[8]

Early Relations

Chad officially achieved independence from France, the colonial power, in 1960 under the conditions of Françafrique. Already in the first year of this limited independence, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) established diplomatic relations with the new nation.[9] After Chad’s government diplomatically recognized the German Democratic Republic (GDR), Bonn symbolically scaled down its relations. As a consequence of the FRG’s “Hallstein-Doctrine,” wherein West Germany claimed it was the sole legitimate representative of the German people, the FRG no longer had an ambassador in N’Djamena in 1971 and 1972. However, relations between the two countries were not suspended.[10] The “Basic Treaty” between the GDR and the FRG signed in December 1972, terminated the FRG’s claim to being the sole legitimate representative of the German people.

First Break in Relations

In the spring of 1974, rebels from northern Chad kidnapped the West German development aid employee Christoph Staewen, a nephew of the German President at the time, Gustav Heinemann (SPD), and killed his wife, Elfriede.[11] To obtain Staewen’s release, the government-financed international broadcaster Deutsche Welle broadcast a message from the rebels. The government in N’Djamena broke off diplomatic ties with the Federal Republic of Germany, and expelled all West Germans from the country.[12] Following a payment of DM 2.2 million (approx. €1.2 million), the rebels liberated Staewen.[13]

Pawn between Berlin and Paris

In the context of their EUFOR (EU Forces) Chad/RCA (Republic of Central Africa) in 2008 – 2009, more than 3,000 soldiers had been stationed in Chad. The Bundeswehr, at the time, explicitly rejected dispatching troops, because they would have been in support of the reign of Idriss Déby, the head of state loyal to France. Top-ranking West German politicians, such as the spokesperson of the Greens in the EU Parliament, Angelika Beer, criticized the mission, saying, this is “merely a French mission, bearing a European label.”[14] The EUFOR Chad/RCA was discontinued after a year in operation, because a group of EU states – including Germany – refused to support the mission.[15]

Hardly any Relations

Due to Chad’s close ties to France, Germany has only very limited relations with that country. For example, for the years from 2018 to 2020, the Germany Trade and Invest (gtai) foreign investment agency registered imports and exports in hardly mentionable quantities. In 2018 Germany imported a mere €1.3 million worth of commodities from Chad.[16] Just recently, the German government announced it would continue its activities in the Sahel region, even after the Bundeswehr’s withdrawal from Mali. Germany’s Minister of Development Svenja Schulze (SPD) announced a “Sahel Initiative,” in which “the development policy engagement will be even [expanded].”[17] Currently, however, bilateral technical and financial cooperation between Germany and Chad have been suspended.[18]

Increased Military Contacts

Since 2014, the armed forces of the Sahel region (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauretania, Niger, Chad) have been cooperating in the context of the organization G5 Sahel. The Chadian Army is among the most combat-tested armed forces.[19] In the course of the Bundeswehr’s mission in Mali, German and Chadian troops were at times working together. Parallel to the EU and UN mandated military missions in Mali – EUTM Mali and MINUSMA, from 2014 to 2021, France was on the ground in several of its former colonies in West and Central Africa with its Opération Barkhane. Within this context, French troops were cooperating with soldiers from five Françafrique-nations. The main base of operations for Opération Barkhane was a base In N’Djamena.[20] France uses Chad as a staging area to militarily secure its neo-colonial dependencies throughout the Sahel region.

Precarious Dependency

In February 2019, the French Army intervened in Chad’s Civil War to an extent not seen in a long time. French troops independently bombed those rebel groups opposing the authoritarian rule of the head of state Idriss Déby, who had been in power since 1990. Previously, France had usually concentrated on providing support to Chad’s Army.[21] In April 2021, Idriss Déby died of injuries sustained under circumstances never really elucidated. According to the official version, he had been wounded during a visit to the front lines in a rebel held area. His adoptive son, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno succeeded him as President of the Military Transitional Council and, therefore, is Chad’s de facto President. Initially, after 18 months of junta rule, elections were supposed to be held, however, in October, the Military Transitional Council issued a two-year postponement.[22]


[1] Pourquoi Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno a renvoyé l’ambassadeur allemand. 12.04.2023.

[2] Deutscher Botschafter ausgewiesen. 08.04.2023.

[3] Germany expels Chad’s ambassador in tit-for-tat response. 11.04.2023.

[4] Pascal Thibaut: L’Allemagne annonce à son tour l’expulsion de l’ambassadeur du Tchad. 12.04.2023.

[5] Xavier Hussein: Françafrique: Alive and Well in Franco-Chadian Relations. 23.05.2021.

[6] Ian Taylor: France à fric: the CFA zone in Africa and neocolonialism, in: Third World Quarterly, Jg. 40 (2019), Nr. 6, S. 1064–1088 (hier: S. 1065).

[7] Maja Bovcon: Françafrique and regime theory, in: European Journal of International Relations, Jg. 19 (2011), Nr. 1, S. 5–26 (hier: S. 6/7).

[8] Chad’s junta delays elections by two years, allows interim leader Deby to stay in power. 02.10.2022. Sowie: Chad.

[9] Torben Gülstorff: Resetting the Relevance of the Berlin Wall – German Public Diplomacies on the African Continent During the Cold War, in: Óscar J. Martín García/Rósa Magnúsdóttir (Hgg.): Machineries of Persuasion – European Soft Power and Public Diplomacy during the Cold War, München 2018, S. 85–104 (hier: S. 90).

[10] Sonderbare Laufbahn, in: DER SPIEGEL 36/1978.

[11] Nathaniel K. Powell: The ‘Claustre Affair’ – A Hostage Crisis, France, and Civil War in Chad, 1974–77, in: Jussi M. Hanhimäki/Bernhard Blumenau (Hgg.): An International History of Terrorism – Western and Non-Western Experiences, Abingdon/New York (NY) 2013, S. 189–209 (hier: S. 194).

[12] Tschad weist alle Deutschen aus, in: DIE ZEIT 26/1974.

[13] Sonderbare Laufbahn, in: DER SPIEGEL 36/1978.

[14] See also Militär für Afrika (II).

[15] See also Transatlantische Front.

[16] Wirtschaftsdaten kompakt: Tschad. Mai 2021.

[17] Weiter Anti-Terror-Kampf im Sahel. 10.04.2023.

[18] Deutschland und Tschad: bilaterale Beziehungen. 14.04.2023.

[19] Philippe Leymarie: Frankreichs Krieg im Sahel, in: Le Monde diplomatique, 11.02.2021.

[20] Philippe Leymarie: Militärische Optionen, in: Le Monde diplomatique, 12.07.2018.

[21] Rémi Carayol: Die Rückkehr der Generäle, in: Le Monde diplomatique, 11.07.2019.

[22] Chad’s junta delays elections by two years, allows interim leader Deby to stay in power. 02.10.2022.