By Victoria Ojeme
Tuesday’s death announcement of Idriss Déby, the president of Chad just after news came that he had won a sixth term, by 79.3%, in the latest provisional results on Monday sent shock waves around the world.
According to the army spokesperson, Général Azem Bemrandoua Agouna, the military had been pushed back by insurgents who were advancing on the capital, N’Djamena.
Déby, was expected to give a victory speech after receiving the provisional results, but opted instead to visit Chadian soldiers on the front lines, said his campaign director Mahamat Zen Bada.
Analysts say Déby’s death is a jolt to Western counterterrorism strategy in the Sahel, a region that runs along the Sahara Desert’s southern fringes. With help largely from France and the United States, Déby built Chad’s military into the region’s most formidable fighting force, one that is deployed alongside Western military units in interventions against Islamist militants in Mali, Niger and northern Nigeria.
But within Chad resentment brewed over ethnic favouritism and unequal sharing of mineral and oil wealth, spawning various movements to unseat Déby. Even as he was securing his latest election win, rebels based in the country’s north, where Chad borders Libya in a largely undemarcated stretch of the Sahara, had attacked army outposts and were heading toward the capital.
Gen. Azem Bermandoa, an army spokesman, said in a statement that Déby “took his last breath defending the territorial integrity on the battlefield” after visiting Chadian troops on the front lines. The exact circumstances of Déby’s death were unclear, and the military did not release information on other casualties in the battle. The death of a head of state in an active combat zone is a rare occurrence in the modern era.
Bermandoa said that a transitional military council will run the country for the next 18 months and that it will be headed by Déby’s son, Gen. Mahamat Kaka, 37. He also announced a nationwide 6 p.m. curfew and the temporary closure of the country’s borders.
However, the constitution of Chad provides that the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly is meant to lead and conduct election within 40 days in the event of the president’s death. What is happening in Chad is like a replay of the power transition from Laurent Kabila to Joseph Kabila, former Presidents of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Levi Sitati, a journalist in Kenya gave a verdict when he said “Dictators in Africa are grooming their sons to take leadership after them whether they die in power or not. They start by placing them in high ranks in the army.”
Meanwhile, the head of the African Union Moussa Faki Mahamat, a former Chadian prime minister, said he was saddened by Deby’s death, sending his condolences to his family.
“It is with great dismay and deep emotion that I learned of the death today of President Idriss Deby Itno,” said Faki, who was Chad’s prime minister from 2003 to 2005.
He called Deby a “great statesman and recognised military leader. I extend my sincere condolences to the Chadian people and his family”.
However, Professor Chidi Odinkalu, a senior team manager for the Africa Program of the Open Society Justice Initiative observed that “It looks like the African Union didn’t notice that an unconstitutional change of government, Aka, military coup, just took place in Chad. Meanwhile, the Chairman of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat is from Chad and was Gen Deby’s protégé.”
Matthew Page, a former US State Department’s top expert on Nigeria said “If the Army has abrogated the constitutional succession (rather than defended it), then it seems to me to be a coup.”
“Again, congratulations to Paris and Washington for having laid the foundations for this moment,” he said while reacting to another commentator who said “The operative sentence here is sure “the Army has said on state TV”. No sentence in history has even screamed coup quite like that one. Not a surprise, then, to read of a military council being put in place for the next 18 months, and government and parliament being resolved.”
Also, C. Chukudebelu, popularly known as Onye Nkuzi on Twitter said “France has managed two father to son dictatorial transitions; 1. Gnassingbe Eyadema to Faure Gnassingbe (Togo). 2. Omar Bongo Ondimba to Ali Bongo Ondimba (Gabon). Now a third – from Idriss Deby to his son (Chad). Congratulations France, “defender of democracy in Africa.”
He noted that even former U.S. President, Donald Trump wanted to stay in office forever. “It is human nature, but when an external power encourages dictators to stay in power forever, we are talking about an even graver offence.
“Any African dictator who wants to stay in office till he dies must constantly reinvent himself to be “useful to the West”.
For Museveni, the transition was from “development state authoritarian” to “key ally in the War on Terror”. Idriss Deby was useful in the fight against Boko Haram. For others like Ali Bongo, it is about keeping Total (and by extension, Paris) very happy. Teodoro Obiang keeps ExxonMobil (and by extension, Washington) very happy.
“Robert Mugabe’s problem wasn’t that he was brutal, but he messed around with the wrong people (White Zimbabweans). Apart from that, he’d probably be left alone – especially if he did what the West wanted to be done with Zimbabwe’s resources,” he said.
ChristopherOgunmodede, is a foreign policy analyst, warns that it is worth remembering Nigeria is no bystander to events in Chad, and Nigeria’s own instability fuels regional insecurity. “Terror attacks continue in Niger. The Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon has gone nowhere. There are some 5,000 displaced Nigerians in Pobè, Bénin Republic,” he said.
Another commentator, Geoff Porter, President of North Africa Risk Consulting, said “It’s as good a time as any to remind everyone that Idriss Déby’s younger son, and the brother of the current head of the interim military council, is a 2014 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. And this is right on track considering that the US has always supported the despots leading Chad from Hissène Habré in the 1980s. Arming and protecting them in their proxy wars against Libya and now Islamic extremists.”
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s foreign minister, Geoffrey Onyeama in a statement said Nigeria has great concerns over evolving developments in Chad.
“The interim leadership of Chad and all stakeholders, at home and abroad, including the two armed groups, still fighting must not allow the evolving developments in Chad to feed into more chaos with its attendant consequences,” the Minister said in a statement.
Nigeria is calling for urgent consideration of dialogue among all the stakeholders, which the country says it is ready and willing to guide and mainstream, within the framework of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union.
“An early return to democratic governance in Chad should be the ultimate goal, but the immediate objective is the stabilization of Chad.” The ministry said.
Geoffrey added that “The influence and relevance of Idriss Deby lay in his capacity to make Chad act as a buffer between North Africa, the Sahel, East and West Africa, and in particular, containing the negative extreme tendencies that are domiciled in these regions.”