Longtime president of Chad, Idriss Déby died last Tuesday. Déby was killed during a visit to the frontline in the government’s fight against the rebel group Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT). According to the Chadian army, Déby had taken command of his troops, when he was injured by gunfire in the village of Mele, more than 300 km north of the capital N’djamena. The president was subsequently rushed to a hospital for care, but died later ‘of his injuries.
Déby’s death was announced a mere day after his sixth consecutive presidential victory was declared, following a tumultuous election. The president, who assumed power after a coup in 1990, had been accused of repressing political opponents, leading the majority of the political opposition to boycott the election.
Déby’s visit to the frontline was prompted by the military advancement of FACT in northern Chad. The Libyan based rebel-group, with a declared goal to topple Déby, crossed the northern border of Chad last weekend and has since made significant gains and advanced hundreds of kilometers south. Recent reports peg the group’s current position at the Kanem region, just 200-300 km north of N’Djamena.
Quickly after Déby’s death, his son Mahamat Idriss Déby was declared interim president in an 18-month transitional military council. A move described as a coup by political opponents, stating that Chadian law requires the parliament speaker to be instituted in case of presidential death.
We asked Roland Marchal, senior research fellow at the French National Centre for Scientific Research and at Sciences Po (CERI), and Gérard Gérold, associate fellow at Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique, for their views on the situation in Chad following Déby’s death.
What is the political situation in Chad following the death of Déby?
“The death of president Déby puts Chad in a profoundly uncertain situation, politically and security-wise,” says Gérold. Déby has spent the past thirty years instating a personal military regime designed to, above all, keep himself in power. In his efforts to consolidate power, democratic institutions of checks and balances have been both neglected and destroyed, Gérold says.
Marchal echoes the sentiment of Déby’s death presenting an immense destabilizing factor, far from being appeased by the appointment of a military council, which most Chadians consider a coup. He underlines that the majority of the population wants to see a genuine constitutional process but, as he tells The Paris Globalist, “the announced duration of a 18-month transition is an eternity indeed.”
How does Déby’s death affect the current efforts against terrorist groups in the Sahel region ?
Déby spent the past decade lending his army to foreign actors such as the United Nations, France and the G5 Sahel countries, leveraging his military aid for political, diplomatic and financial advantages, Gérold informs us. As a consequence, the Chadian army assumed an indispensable role in current fights against jihadism in the Sahel area. According to Gérold, developments in N’Djamena in the coming months will inevitably impact the collaboration with the Chadian soldiers deployed in the UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA), in G5 Sahel missions or in support of Malian and Nigerien forces. “There are already reports of some regiments deployed for the ‘Three Borders’ project returning to Chad,” he says.
According to Marchal the Chadian army will be more focused on national matters and may not be the same fighting force it used to be. The professor also stresses that the current problems in the Sahel region find their origin in poor governance rather than jihadism. “To address these issues, you need a political mind and a will to carry out reforms of the state. The military should not be the sole and principal asset in coping with crises in Sahel,” he says.
Do you think Déby’s son assuming power with the military council is a threat to democracy in Chad?
“Placing Idriss Itno as head of the Military Transition Council is a particularly unwelcome decision,” Gérold reports. With FACT having a declared goal of dethroning Déby and his clan, the move has naturally been decried by the rebel group. However, the decision is also rejected by the political class and the civil society as an attempt to instate a monarchical regime, says Gérold.
“There was no democracy under the rule of Idriss Déby,” says Marchal, adding that the self-promotion of a group of officers certainly does not constitute any further step towards a democracy. “At this time, when there is a need to demilitarise the administration of the country, the heirs of Idriss Déby test their military fatigues and want to remain and maintain the same predation as before.”
What was Déby’s relationship with the West and specifically France?
Gérold explains that the West and Chad forged an alliance out of a converged interest in opposing Libyan dictator Gaddafi during the Cold War. He further remarks that France has always guaranteed the territorial sovereignty of Chad and that the two countries have been linked by defense agreements since Chad’s independence. “The headquarters of operation Barkhane are also located in the Chadian capitol,” he says.
Marchal describes Déby as a smart player, capable of maneuvering French presidents. “Déby was a friend of Sarkozy but had to send troops to Mali in January 2013 to be accepted by François Hollande,” he says, while adding that Macron had no choice but to make Déby a close ally due to the operation Barkhane. According to Marchal, France’s presence in Chad has been highly encouraged by the French military, who since independence have done everything in their power to make French politicians share their view.