Chad: Who is Mahamat Idriss Déby, son of the late President Idriss Déby Itno?

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Chad: The end of an era

By Mathieu Olivier

Posted on Wednesday, 21 April 2021 12:05
General Mahamat Idriss Deby, son of the late Chadian president. Patrick Robert

As soon as the death of Chad's President Idriss Déby Itno’s was reported on 20 April, the Chadian army announced the formation of a transitional council, which will run the country for 18 months and be headed by Mahamat Idriss Déby, the son of Idriss.

“Idriss Déby Itno has just breathed his last defending the sovereign nation on the battlefield,” said army spokesman General Azem Bermandoa Agouna on the morning of 20 April. He then announced that the government as well as the National Assembly will be dissolved, and replaced by a transition government.

This transition government will lead for a period of 18 months, according to the charter adopted on that morning, by a military council headed by Mahamat Idriss Déby. The latter, Itno’s son, is a general in the Chadian army, who for many years has led the Direction Générale des Services de Sécurité des Institutions de l’État (DGSSIE) [General Directorate of Security Services for State Institutions], which includes the presidential guard.

Idriss Déby Itno’s eyes and ears

Raised by the deceased head of state’s mother, 37 year-old Déby inherited the nickname “Kaka” (“grandmother” in Chadian Arabic). Trained at the Groupement des Écoles Militaires Interarmées du Tchad [Joint military schools in Chad] during the mid-2000s, he then enrolled at the Lycée Militaire in Aix-en-Provence, France, but spent only one term there before returning home.

Appointed by his father to the DGSSIE, he has spent his entire career there. As a young officer in 2009, he took part in the Battle of Am Dam, defeating his cousin Timan Erdimi’s rebels. Erdimi has been leading rebellions ever since his exile to Doha. “Kaka” then began moving up the ranks. From 2010, he commanded the armoured division of the army’s elite corps and from 2012, the all-powerful presidential guard.

This officer, who was reputed to be discreet, slowly became his father’s eyes and ears within the army and the Zaghawa clan, both in Chad and on foreign soil. Appointed in 2013 as second-in-command of the Chadian armed forces in Mali, under the direction of General Oumar Bikomo, he has gradually grown in stature over the past few years, particularly through contact with his father’s French allies.

A man of the shadows

Déby, who refuses to be called a “daddy’s boy”, accompanied the head of state during various theatres of operation, such as in Tibesti (he had been tasked with holding dialogue with the Miski rebels, which did not go too well) and, more recently, in the Lake Chad area. “The President had put him in contact with the most influential and powerful Chadian figures, as well as with high-ranking allies. It was his way of training him for power,” said a family friend.

One of Itno’s most trusted intermediaries in the field of security and military affairs, he had recently let one of his half-brothers, Abdelkerim Idriss Déby, the president’s deputy chief of staff, take centre stage in Chad. “He has always preferred to operate in the shadows, playing the role of the president’s secret emissary. He does not wish to be put in the limelight,” says our source.

As soon as his father’s death was confirmed, at around 1am on 20 April, the army’s top brass gathered around him to lay down the groundwork of the new transition government. As head of the National Transitional Committee, Déby has committed to establishing “new institutions” and organising “free, democratic and transparent” elections.

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