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Chadian President Idriss Deby. Photo: AP

Chadian President Idriss Deby killed while visiting troops fighting rebels

  • Deby came to power in a rebellion in 1990 and was one of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders, having secured a sixth term earlier this week
  • He was a reliable Western ally in a turbulent region. His death is a blow to France, which based its counterterrorism operations in the Chadian capital

Chad’s President Idriss Deby has died while visiting troops on the frontline of a fight against northern rebels, the country’s army said on Tuesday, the day after Deby was declared the winner of a presidential election.

Deby’s son, Mahamat Kaka, was named interim president by a transitional council of military officers, spokesman Azem Bermendao Agouna said in a broadcast on state television.

Deby, 68, came to power in a rebellion in 1990 and was one of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders. He and his army have been seen as a reliable Western ally in a turbulent region afflicted by jihadists.
His campaign said on Monday he was joining troops on the frontline after rebels based across the northern frontier in Libya advanced hundreds of kilometres south toward the capital N’Djamena.

The exact cause of death was not yet clear but a European diplomatic source said he had been killed.

“A call to dialogue and peace is launched to all Chadians in the country and abroad in order to continue to build Chad together,” Bermendao said, surrounded by several officers.

“The National Council of Transition reassures the Chadian people that all measures have been taken to guarantee peace, security and the republican order.”

Some observers immediately questioned the chain of events leading up to Tuesday’s stunning announcement.

Ayo Sogunro, a Nigerian lawyer and fellow at the South Africa-based Centre for Human Rights, said that under Chadian law the term of an incumbent president who dies is completed not by family members but by the National Assembly.

“The army seizing power and conferring it on the son of the president ... is a coup and unconstitutional,” Sogunro tweeted, calling for the African Union to condemn the transfer of power.

Deby, whose opponents accused him of repressive rule, pushed through a new constitution in 2018 that would have allowed him to stay in power until 2033 – even as it reinstated term limits.

He took the title of “Marshal” last year and said before last week’s election: “I know in advance that I will win, as I have done for the last 30 years.”

Chadian President Idriss Deby conducting a news conference from the presidential palace. Photo: AP

He was dealing with mounting public discontent over his management of Chad’s oil wealth and crackdowns on opponents.

But in the election results announced on Monday, Deby was credited with 79 per cent of the vote, handing him a sixth term in office. Several leading opposition figures boycotted the poll.

Western countries have seen Deby as an ally in the fight against Islamist extremist groups, including Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin and groups linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State in the Sahel.

Over the years Deby had survived numerous armed rebellions and managed to stay in power until this latest insurgency led by a group calling itself the Front for Change and Concord in Chad. The rebels are believed to have armed and trained in neighbouring Libya before crossing into northern Chad on April 11.

His death is a blow to France, which had based its Sahel counterterrorism operations in the Chadian capital, N’Djamena. Chad announced in February the deployment of 1,200 troops to complement 5,100 French soldiers in the area.

“France lost a brave friend,” French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said in statement. “It expresses its strong attachment to Chad’s stability and territorial integrity.”

Deby’s death could mean tremendous uncertainty for Chad, said Nathaniel Powell, author of a history of French military involvement in Chad.

“The swift announcement of the establishment of a military council and naming his son Mahamat as head of state however indicates regime continuity,” Powell said.

“This probably aims to counter any coup-making efforts from within the security establishment and to reassure Chad’s international partners...that they can still count on the country for its continued contributions to international counter-terrorist efforts in the Sahel.”

Additional reporting by Associated Press