By Lisa Vives
European and American military leaders lost a key African ally in their fight against insurgent movements across Africa. Foreign forces face an uncertain future with the recent death of the President of the African nation of Chad.
Idriss Deby Itno died on April 20 during a firefight with militants of the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) who had crossed into Chad from Libya. His death coincided with his reelection victory for a sixth term that would have made him one of the longest-serving leaders in the world.
Deby, 68, a French-trained officer and pilot, was hailed by his Western allies for taking on Islamist extremists from one end of the continent to the other. But he was despised by his people for ruling his country with an iron fist. Experts say his death leaves behind a country impoverished despite great oil wealth and plagued by extremist groups.
A state funeral was held April 23, attended by French President Emmanuel Macron who called him a “brave friend”, DR Congo’s Felix Tshisikedi who called it a “a great loss for Chad and for all of Africa”, Mali’s President Bah Ndaw who lamented his “brutal” death, and similar encomiums from Cameroon’s Paul Biya and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa.
Col. Christopher Karns, a spokesman for the Pentagon’s Africa Command, said Chad was a major partner in an effort involving several countries in the Lake Chad basin to fight Boko Haram.
The French have been so associated with Déby — not just propping him up but also eliminating his enemies on his behalf — that they will have a hard time establishing any credibility with a successor regime that doesn’t have the last name Déby and isn’t a Zaghawa,” said Cameron Hudson, an Africa expert at the Atlantic Council.
Allies of the late president named Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, the president’s son, to replace his father—a violation of the country’s constitution under which the president of the National Assembly leads the country for a brief provisional period if the head of state dies while in office. After this period, fresh elections can be held.
But under a new “Transition Charter,” Mahamat Deby will occupy the functions of the president and serve as the head of the armed forces for 18 months.
Mr Déby’s remains will be flown to Amdjarass, a small village next to his hometown of Berdoba, more than 600 miles from the capital, near the Sudanese border.
Meanwhile, neighbouring Nigeria on April 22 beefed up its border security to avoid a sudden influx of Chadians seeking to escape from their home country. As rebels advance towards the capital, N’djamena, the conflict-ridden country is evidently on a dangerous path, experts say.