Chadian President Idris Derby: A product of war; killed on his own sword


Chad is an African country that occupies the heart of North Central Africa. The country gained independence from France in 1960. Since then, Chad has experienced four (4) civil wars; with the latest one claiming the life of sitting President, Idriss Deby.

Deby was assassinated during a frontline visit to loyal soldiers who are battling a rebel group, days after being declared a landslide winner of a presidential election that would have ensured his sixth term tenure as president of Chad.

In the midst of the political haze, Deby’s son, Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, a Four Star Army General was sworn-in as interim president by a military transitional council that is overseeing to the administrative running of Chad.

Significantly, Deby a product of war, was killed by the same sword (gun) that propelled him to power. Chad has gained notoriety as a proto-type war zone since gaining independence from France, her colonial masters in 1960.

Chad has been engulfed in civil unrests from 1965, till date. The country’s first political, civil riots and insurgency were staged against her first president, Francois Tombalbaye, who according to many international groups, was authoritarian and failed to heed to democratic due process.

Such democratic distortions have continued to be the bane of Chad’s governance structure with each one of the country’s presidents, including Deby, continuing same as the country’s first president, Tombalbaye. In a similar political script, each of these presidents paid a huge price for their high-handedness; and the latest to suffer same fate, is Idriss Deby.

The Chadian wars have immediate and remote causes. Aside what is usually perceived as the lack of co-existence between Muslims and Christians, the predominant cause has been Chad’s lack of trust and perceived enemies in France, Libya, The Sudan, Zaire/Congo, and lately the United States.

It’s the belief of some Chadians, in many cases the ruling class and their supporters, these countries have fueled Chadian insurgencies by supporting anti-government rebels with funds.

The first civil war in Chad occurred from 1965-1979; the second from 1979 to 1982; third from 1998-2002 and the fourth, 2005 till date. The country’s President, Idris Derby who was voted for a sixth term office, was consumed by the current war.

The current running war, which started in 2005, according to government forces, has some external influence. Deby’s government accused Sudan of backing rebel forces, some with bases within Chad and others with pitched camps in Sudan's Darfur Region.

Like other civil wars, the current civil war also a direct confrontation between two religions: The Arab-Muslim North and the Southern Sub-Saharan Christians. The Chadian presidency has therefore revolved around the Muslim North and the Christian South axis. One side starts revolutionary civil war when one side is in power.

Chad’s turbulent political system somewhat stabilized in the 1990’s and in exactly 1996, Idriss Deby, the slain President who is from the Muslim-North, became the President in Chad’s first democratic elections; the only one after her immediate post-colonial 1st Republican elections.

After two years into Deby’s presidency, an armed rebellion began in his northern stronghold. It was led by his former Defence Chief, Youssef Togoaimi. Attempts by Libya, Chad’s northern neighbours to broker peace in 2002 proved abortive.

Conflict in Sudan’s Dafur region escalated the Chadian civil war. This was after refugees from the Dafur region and other parts of Sudan joined Chadian civilians who were fleeing wars in their countries to settle in refugee camps, either in Chad or Darfur.

It’s the belief of the Deby administration that some of these Chadian refugee-turned rebels, received weapons and assistance from the Sudanese government; conversely, the Sudanese refugee/rebels also got assistance from the Chadian government.

The insurgency on Deby’s administration got to a head in 2008, when three rebel forces teamed up to launch a virtual siege of capital N’Djamena and the presidential palace. The attack was however repulsed by troops loyal to President Deby and other allied forces, including France, who sent out troops to back the beleaguered Deby.    

Interestingly, many of the rebels are former allies of President Deby. They accused the President of betraying his trusted allies who have backed him through his turbulent insurgencies till he became president.

Deby’s former allied turned rebels, also revolted against him because he changed Chad's constitution to run again for the country’s presidency, which he won, in a highly disputed election in 2006; and immediately arrogated to himself, the power to change Chad’s constitution.

The move even irritated other immediate Deby faithful to join forces with other rebel groups to launch a sustained insurgency against the Chadian leader.

Recent & other remote causes of Deby’s obvious downfall

Deby’s fall was seen coming. It was only a matter of time. In December 2005, there were signs in Chad’s capital N’djamena that Idriss Deby, was about to witness rebellious attacks, perhaps, unprecedented in his presidency.

In the years preceding the rebel attacks, the Sudanese government tried to overthrow President Idris Deby for granting amnesty to some Sudanese political agitators. The Oumar al-Basir administration in Sudan used the Chadian rebels who had then been displaced in their own country as decoy for the Sudanese onslaught.

Sudan thus supported the three Chadian armed groups to launch its attacks on the Deby administration. It was a direct retaliation for what the Sudanese government considered as Deby's support of rebels from the Dafur region in Sudan that operated under the umbrella name— the Justice and Equity Movement (JEM).

That notwithstanding, many international observers observed that the Chadian war was influenced by other distinctive factors. The first was the obvious continuation of the conflicts in Darfur and Chad as stated, and which is closely related to the brawl for power in the two countries.  

There was also the internal Chadian conflict resuscitated by the Deby’s decision to resort again to a one-man dictatorship after giving hope to many Chadian political groups with his democratic reforms in the 1990’s.

Deby resorted to political high-handedness, using his tribal kinsmen and the use of state funds to pursue his parochial political agenda. He was also accused of distributing aids to Chadians, he considered loyalists at the expense of other tribes in Chad.

According to international observers, these loyalists at some point, felt betrayed by Deby after helping bring him to power in 1990. Deby, used the Darfur region, as a strategic point in his fight to gain control of Chad and also to manage how to deal with other surrounding countries that supported his number one political nemesis at the time, former Chadian strongman, Hussein Habre.

The intriguing political climate of the Central African region also influenced the rebel insurgencies in Chad. Almost all countries bordering Chad have their own political rebel-related upheavals. These include the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Rwanda and even Asmara.

Deby’s cosmetic reforms in Chad

Although Deby promised political reforms, it was not done with the speed and sincerity that many had anticipated. He made that promise in August 2007 in agreement with other opposition parties in Chad.

That notwithstanding, Deby’s forces continued with the arbitrary arrest and detention of civilians, suspected to be rebels. Such arbitrariness was done on the basis of ethnicity; with targeted persons thrown into Chadian prisons that can only pass for slave dungeons.

He also controlled and manipulated the country’s judicial system which led to the lack of will power to investigate and prosecute excesses perpetuated by troops loyal to Deby. There were serious abuses like wanton killings, rape and other inhumane acts carried out by Deby’s men and his tribesmen that went unpunished.