The death of Chad’s President Idriss Déby threatens to plunge both Chad and the whole Sahel region into even greater insecurity.
The circumstances of Déby’s death remain shrouded in mystery. It was announced on state television on 20 April but he died the previous day. The army reported that he was fatally injured while commanding his army during the clashes with the Front pour l’Alternance et la Concorde au Tchad (FACT) rebel forces but that he was brought back to N’Djamena where he died.
Unsurprisingly FACT claimed that it was responsible for Déby’s death. He would not have joined his troops on the battlefront without the rebel incursion, but at the time he was wounded on 19 April it appears that FACT had begun its strategic withdrawal. Evidence is now emerging that Déby may have been killed at the hands of his own generals.
Announcing the death, the army’s spokesman, General Azem Bermandoa Agouna, was surrounded by the army’s most prominent members including the president’s 37-year-old son, General Mahamat Idriss Déby who will take over the country’s leadership during an 18-month transition period. Three key figures were, however, conspicuous by their absence, which is fuelling speculation in N’Djamena over their fate. Missing were: Chief of General Staff, Abakar Abdelkerim Daoud; head of military intelligence General Taher Erda Tahiro; and head of the army, General Mahamat Souleymane Ali. Adding to the confusion was the fact that two were listed in the organisational chart of the new Conseil Militaire de Transition (CMT) which was created almost immediately after Déby’s death.
According to Agouna, the president ‘drew his last breath defending national territory on the battlefield.’ On the night of 17-18 April, Déby travelled to Mao where the army was pushing back the rebels of the FACT. However, sources within Chad’s security services claim that shooting broke out during a meeting, away from the combat zone, that was attended by Déby and some of his generals on the night of 18-19 April.
During the meeting, a row broke out during which firearms were drawn and shots fired. It is unclear whether these shootings were accidental or a deliberate assassination attempt. The fact that Déby was allegedly shot in the hip and/or hand raises the question of whether he was perhaps trying to draw his firearm when he was shot. He died a few hours later, although it is unclear yet where he died. At least four officers and bodyguards apparently died during the meeting but it is still unclear whether the three above-mentioned generals were amongst those also reportedly killed.
Further evidence that President Déby died at the hands of his own generals comes from leaked details, including photographs of Déby’s autopsy. They reveal, amongst other things, that he was shot at extremely close range either by a handgun or an extremely high velocity rifle and the rebels were simply too far away. We are also receiving consistent rumours from other sources that Déby’s son, General Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, immediately ordered the execution of four unnamed Generals but there has not yet been any public confirmation of such executions.
The CMT is unlikely to remain in its initial format for very long. It is being widely rejected by civil society as well as many of Chad’s allies including France. It is also unlikely that, General Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno will remain as the country’s new leader for very long. He is both too inexperienced and close to his late father. He is also likely to face serious challenges from amongst the army generals.
The FACT rebels have said that they are ready to ‘observe a ceasefire for a political settlement that respects the independence and sovereignty of Chad and does not endorse a coup d’état.’ Meanwhile the African Union has called for an end of military rule and has said that power should be restored to civilian authorities ‘expeditiously.’ So far, however, the military seems determined to remain in power and a number of protestors have been in recent days. Chad’s immediate future therefore remains very uncertain.
Meanwhile the security situation in the whole Sahel region will be seriously threatened by the jihadists if Chad’s new rulers decide to bring home the 1.200 elite troops who were recently deployed to the Three Borders region — where Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso meet — which is the epicentre of jihadist activities.