After acting head of state Idriss Déby, who had ruled the country since December 1990, won the presidential elections in Chad on April 11, the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) militias that had taken refuge in unstable Libya supported the opposition forces and invaded Chad. The rebels said their goal was to take the capital of Chad and replace Idriss Déby.
Much of the protest movement in that country has been growing recently because of dissatisfaction among some sectors of the country with the way the Déby government has handled Chad’s oil and other resources. Recall that oil production in Chad began in 2003, at the same time was completed construction of a pipeline worth $4 billion, which connected the fields with oil terminals on the Atlantic coast. Chad’s oil industry has been repeatedly accused of corruption.
On April 17, 300 kilometers north of the capital, the main rebel force was defeated by Chadian government troops.
A day after the preliminary election results were announced, Idriss Déby arrived at the front a few hundred kilometers north of the capital, N’Djamena, where he visited Chadian army fighters who are opposing the FACT movement. But, as a result of the fatal wounds suffered there during the clash with the rebels, the president of Chad, Idriss Déby, soon died. Due to the death of the president, the government and parliament of Chad have been dissolved. The country is under strict curfew and the borders are closed.
For the next year and a half, the country will be ruled by a military council headed by the son of the deceased president, 37-year-old General Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno. At the same time, the army promises “free democratic elections” at the end of the transition period.
Idriss Déby, 68, was in power for 30 years, one of the longest terms of power among African and world leaders. He was an army officer and came to power in 1990 through an armed uprising. He has established himself as a longtime ally of France and other Western powers in the fight against jihadists in the African Sahel region.
In this regard, former diplomat and director of African affairs at the US National Security Council, Cameron Hudson, said that the murder of Idriss Déby would have tangible consequences for France and security policy in the Sahel for years to come. He noted that both Paris and Washington, which had maintained a strong relationship with Déby, had turned a blind eye for decades to his poor human, civic, and political record. “Friend of the West,” as C. Hudson described the deceased in his article for the Atlantic Council website, “ruled with an iron fist a country strategically located between the Sahel and the Horn of Africa. Western powers saw Chad as largely a key state to stem the spread of radicalism and terrorism and an insurmountable barrier to contain instability in Sudanese Darfur.”
Déby, who trained in military tactics and aviation in France, received special recognition from the West for his role in Operation Barkhan, which was launched in 2014 under the leadership of Paris. Its purpose was to combat armed groups in the Sahel region, as part of the so-called Group of Five forces, a US-European-African security mission deployed mainly in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. Shared borders with Libya have made Chad an important part of a regional strategy to contain the effects of deteriorating security since the West overthrew Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011. Under his command, the Chadian army helped neighboring Nigeria against the terrorist group Boko Haram (banned in Russia) and deployed forces to Mali and Niger. In addition, Chad has a strong influence on events in the territory of its southern neighbor, the Central African Republic.
The rebel group FACT was created by former army officers, its base is located in the mountains of the Tibesti plateau in the north, near the Libyan-Chadian border. She accuses President Déby of repression. Déby was reportedly wounded by FACT rebels in the Kanem region, north of the capital. On the day of the presidential elections in Chad, they attacked the border post, after which they launched an offensive southward toward the capital. Given that previous clashes with rebels took place much to the north, in the Sahara and near the Libyan border, this could mean that the rebels have since moved south.
According to information received so far, the Chadian regime, now under the command of Déby’s son, remains in control of the situation inside the country. Commenting on the latest clashes between the rebels and the army, a Chadian general told Reuters that 300 rebels were killed and 150 captured. The army lost 5 soldiers killed and 36 wounded, he added. However, it is impossible to verify the reliability of these figures.
In light of the events, the embassies of some Western countries in the country’s capital have advised employees to leave Chad. In particular, the United States has already announced the evacuation of embassy staff, and Britain has also called on its citizens to leave the republic. According to reports from eyewitnesses, tanks have been lined up along the main streets of N’Djamena in recent days.
The transitional military council created after the assassination of President Idriss Déby is not recognized by the armed faction of the Front for Change and Reconciliation in Chad. The group stated that it is not satisfied with the actual appointment of Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, the son of the deceased president, as head of state to head the emergency governing body. The rebel leadership declared that Chad was not a monarchy, so there should be no “hereditary transfer of power,” and therefore the armed opposition does not recognize the military council as a whole.
However, the Chadian army, one of the most powerful armies on the African continent during the reign of Idriss Déby, is unlikely to have any serious results against the authorities of the country. The Chadian army was largely shaped by the famous “Toyota War” and is famous for its soldiers, hardened in all kinds of wars, for whom the only goal in life is war. The army has excellent weapons, the nomenclature of which is balanced for the Sahel, featuring, in particular, the famous French “Panars,” cannon armored vehicles designed for counter-guerrilla operations in desert terrain. The Russian wheeled BRDM-2 and Brazilian EE-9 “Cascavel” were added to them, thanks to profits from oilfield development.
Considering that 20 years ago Chad was foretold of a famine due to the draining of Lake Chad and the advance of the Sahara Desert, today, thanks to its actively developing relations with France, the United States and the European Union, it is quite a successful state for the region. Observers note in particular the growth of welfare and patriotism of the population, a relatively sane political life with a multi-party system under the “ruling role” of the party of Idriss Déby and his family, the Patriotic Salvation Movement.
Nevertheless, we cannot rule out the possibility of increasing political instability in the foreseeable future, further activation of the internal opposition and strengthening their ties with the FACT rebel forces. This, among other things, can lead to the activation of terrorist activities of militants of the banned in Russia organizations DAESH and al-Qaeda, as well as other local jihadists, who in fact have already created a shadow Islamist caliphate in the vicinity of Lake Chad.
Vladimir Danilov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook“.