During his first six years as president, Habré's style of governing was essentially to juxtapose spheres of influence, including the Council of Ministers, a few close advisers, and personal friends and relatives, all of whom sought to influence presidential decision making. Habré was at the center of these spheres, each of which coalesced around his agenda. His political strategy was based on a segmentary model that exploited Chad's traditionally fluid, factional political dynamics.
Habré understood factional dynamics on several levels, first as one of the Toubou herdsmen among whom he was born and whose livelihood had for centuries depended on manipulation of the social system to their advantage, and as a Western-educated member of a small elite, whose political longevity depended on his ability to broker alliances. Habré used this traditional and modern background in his efforts to craft a stable nation out of a divided state torn by factional strife.
That people were tired of war also contributed to Habré's political successes in his first six years as president. A combination of resignation and opportunism brought former opponents into alliance with the president, who often was simply more tenacious than they were. To most of these former opponents, Habré's authoritarian regime was preferable to a return to civil war. Factional disputes were not always resolved; sometimes they were submerged and could be expected to recur.
Habré's military style was characterized as smart, tough, and decisive. Observers described him as a pragmatic military leader, undeterred by bureaucratic and political niceties and undistracted by sentiment, ideology, or foreign entanglements. Although he had a sizable following among civilians, as of 1988 he still governed largely as a military officer. He had not made the shift in style from supervising a military bureaucracy, in which orders were given and obeyed, to overseeing a civilian government that required broad consensus formation. Political communication was generally one directional, from the president down.
Habré established a reputation for ignoring seniority in making assignments, and, as a result, officers sometimes reported to their juniors when working on specific projects. One military commander, Hassane Djamouss, whose 1987 successes led to the rout of Libyan forces from much of the north, became a well-known example of this feature of Habré's style. Djamouss was a former minister of the civil service, trained as a livestock technician, but correctly judged by Habré to be a master strategist.
Habré also developed the reputation as a manager who set overall goals for his subordinates and left the mechanics of accomplishing those goals to lower-level managers. This decentralized responsibility and decision-making authority accorded well with traditional values of individualism held by many Chadian ethnic groups, and it had worked well in many military settings. A by-product of this feature of Habré's style was that officials with delegated responsibility commonly bypassed bureaucratic regulations in order to accomplish their goal. Adhering to the chain of command was not the measure of success in Chad's government of the 1980s.
Habré made several cautious attempts to bring peripheral ethnic groups into the political process. Most high civilian and military appointments were from his own or a closely related ethnic group, but he appointed southerners and other non-Toubou civilians to several executive and administrative positions, despite occasional bureaucratic snarls that resulted from these attempts at national reconciliation.
Faced with internal threats to his regime, Habré's reaction was essentially repressive. Political opponents were often imprisoned or had their travel restricted. He broadened intelligence-gathering networks within the military (in 1986, for example, in response to growing opposition within the army) and expanded the power of the Presidential Guard. At the same time, he believed in his own power to "rehabilitate" and co-opt former opponents and was sometimes successful in gaining a measure of their trust.
During its first nearly three decades of independence, Chad had a strong president and weak state institutions, but it also enjoyed some benefits of the weakness of the state. It had been spared much of the flamboyant political posturing that was evident in a few more peaceful and prosperous nations. Habré had not squandered public resources on grandiose monuments to himself, nor had he encouraged a sycophantic cult of personality. Public office was not yet synonymous with extraordinary wealth, and, as a result, public cynicism toward government in the 1980s was surprisingly low.
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