Security Exchange News

Military takes power after President Déby killed by rebels

10 May 2021

In mid-April President Idriss Déby was killed following clashes with rebels in the north of the country. His death, aged 68, came just a day after he was officially re-elected for a sixth term in office. Rather than remaining in N’Djamena to make a victory speech, he travelled to the frontline to visit troops fighting Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) rebels, who had launched an offensive earlier in the month from neighbouring Libya. The president “breathed his last breath defending the sovereign nation on the battlefield”, army spokesman General Azem Bermandoa Agouna said in a statement.

Déby became the head of the armed forces in 1983 and led units fighting Muammar Gaddafi’s army in the ‘Toyota War’ between 1986 and 1987. However, after falling out with President Hissene Habré, he fled first to Libya and then to Sudan, where he helped to form the Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS) in 1990 alongside other defectors from the Chadian army. Déby led a successful offensive on the capital, forcing Habré to flee to Senegal. After fighting off several attempted rebellions, Déby was elected president in Chad’s first multi-party elections in 1996.

His death, after 31 years in power, has created a power vacuum in Chad and threatens the stability of the country. His son, General Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, was named as the head of a transitional military council despite criticism from the opposition, who said that the move breached the constitution (if a serving president dies in office, power should transfer to the head of the legislature). There have been protests against the military; six people were killed and hundreds were arrested in opposition-led rallies in N’Djamena and Mondou at the end of April. However, the protests were not sustained and earlier this week the military announced a new transitional government and lifted the overnight curfew imposed following Déby’s death. The council will be made up of 40 ministers and deputy ministers, including several opposition figures, while a new national reconciliation ministry has been created. It will be led by former rebel chief Acheick Ibn Oumar. The council said it will lead Chad for 18 months until elections are held.

The military has always had a significant role in Chad’s post-independence history, and many observers of the country believe that power has never fully transitioned to a civilian, democratic body. The army’s decision to override the constitution, in order to maintain a grip on power, is an ominous sign for the future. The longer they remain in control of state functions, the harder it will be for them to relinquish that power. That could put them at odds with the youth population who have been demanding democracy in Chad; poverty and unemployment rates are extremely high, both of which are drivers of public unrest.

The other major concern is the impact Déby’s death could have on the region; all of the country’s neighbours face major security challenges. Fighting continues in the Darfur region of Sudan to the east and in the Central African Republic to the south, Boko Haram and other militant groups frequently carry out attacks around the Lake Chad basin to the south-west, while to the north the ceasefire in Libya is relatively recent and multiple armed groups still operate in the country, including FACT. Chad also plays a key role in the counter-terrorism operations in the Sahel along with France and other West African states.