• 2021-04-21

For people like Idriss Deby Itno, a true soldier would rather die on his feet than live on his knees. Surrendering to the enemy was not an option to consider, a real warrior remains accountable until the end. And so it happened, that Chad’s President and former soldier, who ruled the landlocked country for over 30 years and fought off several rebellions to stay in power eventually met his end on the battlefield. His demise was announced in a televised statement on Tuesday, 21st April 2021. According to the report, he died from wounds suffered while leading soldiers on the front line against rebels advancing from the north towards the capital, N’Djamena. “The president of the republic, head of state, supreme chief of the army, Idriss Deby Itno, just drew his last breath while defending the nation’s integrity on the battlefield,” said the army spokesman.  

Idriss Deby was not the type of leader who sat comfortably in his presidential office whiles his country goes to war with the enemy. He always wanted a piece of the action. During his reign, he once said at an annual conference, “Have you ever seen a head of state take up arms and go into battle? You think I do this because I’m brave? Because I’m courageous? No, I do it because I love this country and I prefer to die on the battlefield than for disorder and misery to descend on the country.” For three decades, Deby faced the threat of rebel groups trying to overthrow him, and he always succeeded in silencing his adversaries, until this year’s rebellion took away his life. Idriss Déby came to power in 1990 when he led a revolution that ousted authoritarian leader Hissene Habre. He officially took office in February the following year and went on to win elections in 1996 and again in 2001 before pushing through a constitutional change in 2018 that could have allowed him to stay in power until 2033.

Despite accusations of authoritarianism, Deby was a key player in the international fight against armed groups such as Boko Haram, ISIL- and al-Qaeda-linked groups in West and Central Africa and a close ally of Western power. Prior to this year’s election, Deby was accused of using a ruthless crackdown to silent his political opponents. Tensions were on the rise in the weeks and months before the election. And though provisional results showed he won a sixth term in office with 79 percent of the vote, he met his end in a battle against the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), a Libya-based rebel group made up largely of army dissidents, that crossed the northern border from Libya and into Chad.

Following the death of Idriss Déby, a Transitional Military Council (TMC) chaired by his 37-year-old son, General Mahamat Idriss Déby, dissolved the government and National Assembly. The TMC vowed that new institutions would emerge after "free and democratic" elections in a year and a half. Mahamat Idriss Déby has appointed the 15 generals who make up the CMT. However, the war is far from over. The rebels have vowed to take the capital. "Chad is not a monarchy. There can be no dynastic devolution of power in our country,” they said in a statement.

The Big questions: Does General Mahamat Deby possess a lion’s heart like his father to survive many face-offs against rebels? Would the Chadian army swear its allegiance to the young ruler? Can General Mahamat restore peace and security in a country wrapped in violence after years of attacks by armed groups and rebellion encroaching on its borders? Well…the reign of General Mahamat Idriss Déby has just begun. The quest is not to rule forever, but to create a legacy that will live on.