Slain Chad leader's son takes power as rivals slam 'coup'

Thursday April 22 2021
Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno

Four Star General and head of the Republican Guard in Chad, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, 37, son of Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno is seen at a polling station in N'djamena on April 11, 2021. PHOTO | AFP


Chad faced an uncertain future Wednesday as the son of slain leader Idriss Deby Itno took power in what the opposition called a coup and Western allies that rely on the country's military might pleaded for stability.

Deby had ruled the impoverished desert state for three decades before the army announced his death on Tuesday from wounds suffered while leading troops in battle against rebels.

The shock demise of the 68-year-old led to immediate concerns of a power vacuum in Chad, which sits at the heart of the troubled Sahel region and is key to the West's anti-jihadist efforts.

Deby's death was announced only a day after provisional results declared him the winner of an April 11 election giving him a sixth term in office.

The outcome was never in doubt, with a divided opposition, boycott calls, and a campaign in which demonstrations were banned or dispersed.

Allies of the late leader moved swiftly to assure power remained in their hands, installing Deby's 37-year-old son Mahamat Idriss Deby as president and head of a transitional military council while dissolving parliament and the government.


They tore up Chad's constitution and established a "Transition Charter" that lays out a new basic law for the country of 16 million people spanning western and central Africa.

The charter proclaims that Mahamat, who had been head of the powerful presidential guard, will "occupy the functions of the president" and also serve as head of the armed forces.

The transition period is meant to last 18 months and lead to democratic elections, though it can be extended once.

'Illegitimate decisions'

Chad's main opposition parties were unconvinced, denouncing an "institutional coup d'etat" in a statement and calling on citizens "not to obey illegitimate decisions" by the military council.

Beyond that, the threat remained from rebels who launched an incursion into northern Chad from Libya on the day of the April 11 election despite army claims they had been defeated.

The rebel group, known as FACT, told AFP on Tuesday it would pursue its offensive after a pause for Deby's state funeral on Friday.

"We categorically reject the transition," FACT spokesman Kingabe Ogouzeimi de Tapol said. "Our troops are en route towards N'Djamena."

Gun-toting soldiers in fatigues and members of the red-bereted presidential guard were seen patrolling the capital in the aftermath of Deby's death.

But on Wednesday, banks, markets and most shops were open while the national flag flew at half-mast on public buildings.

A night curfew has been eased and the borders have reopened.

For Western countries, particularly former colonial power France, the death of Deby meant the loss of their staunchest ally in the fight against jihadists in Africa's Sahel, where myriad Islamist extremist groups operate.

France's 5,100-strong Barkhane anti-jihadist force is headquartered in N'Djamena, while Chad's military has led successful raids against Islamist extremists.

Deby had in the past gone to the frontlines to lead troops into battle himself, including during a 2020 raid against the Boko Haram extremist group.

'Key partner'

The European Union and France, whose President Emmanuel Macron will attend Deby's funeral on Friday along with 10 other heads of state, have called for a peaceful transition limited in timeframe.

The EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell will also attend the funeral as part of a regional trip intended to show that "the Sahel remains high on the European agenda", he said in a statement Wednesday.

"My visit is testament to our continued engagement in this region whose stability, security and development are priorities for the European Union," said Borrell, who will fly into Chad from Mauritania before heading to Mali. 

He had earlier called however for the transition period to be "limited", to respect human rights and allow for "new inclusive elections". 

The United States meanwhile urged a peaceful transition that abided by the constitution -- a demand that has already been ignored.

Some analysts expressed concern over whether Deby's death could unleash new violence and said divisions within Chad's powerful security apparatus could emerge, particularly with an inexperienced strongman at the helm.

Only days ago the army had claimed a "great victory" against fighters from FACT, or the Front for Change and Concord in Chad.

The military said Monday it had killed more than 300 rebels and captured 150 others, with the loss of five soldiers -- without mentioning Deby's injuries.

"The potentially explosive consequences of president Deby's death cannot be underestimated -– both for the future of Chad and across the region," said Ida Sawyer of US-based Human Rights Watch.

"Chad's regional and international partners should closely monitor the situation and use their influence to prevent abuses against civilians."