An analysis of the diplomatic crisis between Cameroon and Chad: What are the implications for the Central African sub-region?

Contextual Background

It was through an official correspondence (I) from the Chadian Presidency that the government of Chad informed the international community of an existing litigation opposing them to the state of Cameroon. Both states, which share a common boundary from the North to the South, passing through Central African Republic and following mostly rivers, have in the past enjoyed moments of brotherly and inter-state solidarity mainly on political, economic, and humanitarian fronts. They equally benefit from membership in the Economic and Monetary Community of Central African States (CEMAC), a sub-regional organization, and have a significant number of bi-lateral agreements.

In spite of this, relations have grown tense between both states as Chad is witnessing an attempt by the government of Cameroon (through the National Hydrocarbons Corporation, a major state parastatal) to usurp and control the supply chain of its largest and primary source of revenue, petrol, by buying 10% share capital in Cameroon Oil Transportation Company (COTCO). (II) COTCO operates the Cameroon section of the Chad-Cameroon export pipeline project. Chadian President, General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, had previously initiated a series of corridor discussions with his leadership counterpart, President Paul Biya, by the sidelines of the recent CEMAC conference of Heads of States(III). They wanted to sound an early warning of the unfriendly actions by some Cameroonian authorities, which targeted national interests of Chad.

Furthermore, Chad wrote to all CEMAC member states raising concerns and seeking clarifications over the maneuver carried out by government officials in Cameroon. This, however, met no response from Cameroon. Consequently, Chad has proceeded to recall its Ambassador to Cameroon for consultations (IV), a gesture usually perceived as a sign of protest or discontentment against a foreign government.

This paper aims to shed light into situations that triggered the diplomatic crisis between Chad and Cameroon (I), examine implications of this crisis on the sub-region (II), and propose recommendations on what can be done to avoid e-escalation. (III)

What happened?

Chad and Cameroon launched a project in October 2000 to construct an underground pipe-line expected to transport oil from Chad through Cameroon to an offshore export loading facility(V). This was largely due to the landlocked nature of Chad, which does not grant them access to maritime transport. The project ownership consisted of three actors, Exxon/Mobil, and the governments of Chad and Cameroon, which both held a combined 3% stake in the project. The pipeline is operated by 2 venture local companies, COTCO for the geographical delimitation that concerns Cameroon and Tchad Oil Transportation Company (TOTCO) covering Chad.

Both countries draw significant benefits from the project. While taxes are paid to both governments, royalties are paid to the government of Chad and transit fees to the government of Cameroon. Exxon, a principal actor in the project, responsible for marketing oil deposits overseas, closed the sale of its operations in Chad and Cameroon in a $407 million deal in December 2022 (VI), leaving UK’s Savannah Energy as the new proprietor with full rights previously owned by Exxon. Chad had earlier contested the sale of these operations to Savannah Energy expressing doubts about the company and therefore proceeded to nationalize assets left by Exxon including the 621 mile pipeline from Chad to the Atlantic Gulf of Guinea where oil is exported.

A recent report highlights information whereby Savannah Energy decided to sell its 10% stake of the share capital of COTCO, which operates across the Cameroon section of the pipeline project to Cameroon’s national hydrocarbons corporation, (SNH) (VII) against the will of Chadian authorities and in contradiction to the status of the pipeline company. Having reached out to Cameroon to raise concerns about these unfriendly actions by some Cameroonian authorities and Savannah Energy, the government of Chad has recalled its Ambassador to Yaounde for consultations and alerted the international community in a bid to defend and preserve their interests.

The government of Cameroon, just like the international community, have tabled no reactions or made no declarations on these concerns as the situation remains unattended to and likely to infringe on significant bilateral relations between both countries.

What are the implications for the sub-region?

Cameroon and Chad both enjoy membership in a common sub-regional organization, CEMAC and have been striving across the years to enhance cooperation especially geared towards collective security and regional integration. Both countries are equally plagued by war opposing them to the Islamic Sect, Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin.

Consequently, soldiers from both countries jointly constitute what is nowadays regarded as the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) to eradicate Boko Haram. (VIII) A likely consequence of this crisis might be for Chad to withdraw its troops from the MNJTF thereby fragilizing the task force and creating a significant void in operations hence, another security crisis. Further to these, Chad and Cameroon are signatories to several bilateral political and economic accords which could now be strained as a result of the crisis, thereby drawing aback the much sought after regional integration process within the CEMAC zone and the African continent at large.

Cooperation between both countries equally goes beyond security and economic issues as they are faced with growing humanitarian concerns, compelling them to adopt corporate humanitarian response mechanisms. The implementation of these mechanisms could hence be affected and further impact humanitarian situations in both countries.

What should be done to avoid escalation?

Besides critical economic situations, both countries are already bearing the effects of violent internal conflicts and growing humanitarian concerns. Having drawn the attention of other CEMAC member states, the government of Chad has sought for an arbitration at the International Chamber of Commerce in conformity with the status that binds both countries in the Chad – Cameroon pipeline project (IX). It is expected for the chamber to launch investigations into any possible violations carried out by Savannah Energy and/or the government of Cameroon and pronounce a verdict defining the responsibilities and violations from both actors.

In anticipation of a verdict on this case, the state of Cameroon which hasn’t made any official declarations thus far must clarify its position in this crisis by equally launching an investigation to unravel any possible abnormalities or violations carried out by Cameroonian officials in the transactions between Savannah Energy and SNH. It is uncertain how the case may turnout but, a favorable judgement might compel Savannah Energy to reverse its transaction with SNH and repair damages incurred by Chad.

In the likelihood of no response or any favorable judgement, it is possible for the crisis to take a different twist. Considering that the crisis is still in its early stage, it is desirable for all actors involved to privilege a diplomatic settlement through negotiation in in a bid to avoid further de-escalation.

Conclusion

Every diplomatic crisis is a threat to peace and potential cause of conflict. While it is not unusual in International Relations for states to be involved in a diplomatic crisis, the situation between Chad and Cameroon is quite critical. It touches on the strategic interests of two neighboring and friendly countries and poses a critical security threat to the sub-region at large.

It will also further delay or complicate the much sought after integration process at sub-regional and regional levels. All actors must privilege a diplomatic option in remedying the crisis and demonstrate proof of good faith in the conduct of bilateral relations.

Antem Anthony
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Antem Anthony is a Policy Analyst in peace & security at the Foretia Foundation. Prior to joining the Foundation, he served as conflict, policy and security assistant at the International Crisis Group, Kenya. Anthony is a certified administrative and operations professional from the United Nations University for Peace and the Pan African Institute for Development, West Africa (PAID-WA)

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