The latest version of President Donald Trump’s travel ban has sparked confusion from officials and residents of Chad, many of whom are baffled at the country’s inclusion on the list.
Chad, a central African nation that has enjoyed a mostly positive relationship with Western allies like the United States, was by many accounts taken aback Sunday night when the ban was announced. In its original form, the ban targeted refugees and residents from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, and Yemen. Iraq was later removed from the ban’s second version, following outcry. That version of the ban, weighed down by legal action and lawsuits, expired Sunday, something the Trump administration prepared for, dropping a new version before the day’s end.
That new ban is arguably far more severe than its predecessor, which was a 90-day suspension. Instead, the updated version is indefinite. It has also altered its scope — Sudan is now off the list, but citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia are still banned, as are citizens of Chad and North Korea. Venezuelan government officials and their families are also included.
Trump’s original ban was widely referred to as a Muslim ban because of the nations it targeted. Adding North Korea, an atheist state, and Chad, where only slightly more than half the population practices Islam, as well as Venezuelan officials, has been largely seen as an effort to increase the new ban’s legal odds. But that decision has unleashed a new cycle of criticism and questions. Pointing to North Korea, experts have noted that the few people able to escape the country’s authoritarian regime will now be barred entry to the United States. Then there’s Chad.
“Chad is totally puzzled and baffled by President Trump’s decision to slap this ban on Chadian nationals,” journalist Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reported for NPR. “Chad is not happy, because it feels that it has done its utmost in the fight against terrorism.”
Chad, a very large and poor country rarely mentioned in international politics, has long been praised for its efforts to counter extremism, as well as its interest in working with countries like the United States. The nation’s geographic location puts it near prominent militant hubs, including Nigeria, where Boko Haram is based. But that proximity hasn’t translated to much — of Boko Haram’s 120 attacks in 2016, only four were in Chad. Another group, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, also has a small presence in Chad, but a far larger one in nearby Mali.
But militancy within Chad’s borders hasn’t impacted U.S.-Chad relations much before now. Washington and N’Djamena enjoy regular communications and U.S. military personnel are a frequent presence in the country, largely because of its regional proximity to nations with larger extremism struggles, as much as because of its friendly relationship with the United States. Moreover, the rule of Idriss Déby, Chad’s authoritarian leader, has arguably gone mostly unquestioned by Washington in large part because of the country’s willingness to collaborate on counterextremism efforts.
But that relationship doesn’t seem to have spared Chad from the ban. In a statement released by the White House, Chad was praised for “an important and valuable counterterrorism partner” and lauded for its efforts in fighting extremism. But that same statement later chastised the country, saying it “does not adequately share public safety and terrorism related information.” That contradiction is one baffling experts.
“It’s a head-scratcher and also strange for diplomatic reasons,” Michael Shurkin, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, told NBC. “In terms of security, Chad is actually relatively capable.”
Chadian officials have been emphasizing that fact, pointing to the country’s history of cooperation and compliance.
“The Chadian Government expresses its incomprehension in the face of the official reasons behind this decision,” a statement read. “Reasons that contrast with the efforts and the ongoing commitments of Chad in the fight against terrorism.”
Chadian civilians themselves also greeted the news with alarm as much as shock. “The reaction has been astonishment and then indignation,” said Nour Ibedou, director of the Chadian Human Rights Association. “We do not understand how our country achieved this lack of trust from the United States.”
Citizens of Chad are arguably in agreement with a number of U.S. officials. Numerous figures in both the State Department and Pentagon reportedly objected to the addition, said to have been suggested by acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine C. Duke. According to the New York Times, a number of diplomats and administration officials cautioned that the move would hurt U.S. interests, unraveling years of work spent building close ties. But Trump’s senior policy advisor Stephen Miller reportedly supported the addition — culminating in Chad being added to the ban. (Miller, along with former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, also overruled State Department and Homeland Security guidance on the first version of the ban, claiming that green card holders from the targeted countries should also be banned from the United States.)
The internal debate over adding Chad is one officials have acknowledged.
“That list is not fixed,” Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster said on Monday. “On Chad, there was a real debate.”
The African Union Commission (AUC) panned the decision, releasing a statement condemning Chad’s addition and advocating for its removal (Chad is notably leading the AUC this year.) But while regional officials work to push back on the ban, Chadians themselves are seeking answers — something they’re unlikely to get.
“It’s bewildering,” human rights lawyer Reed Brody told the Atlantic. “I’ve been trying to explain to Chadians that there’s no reason.”