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[Exclusive] Chad: The last hours of President Idriss Déby

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

By Mathieu Olivier, Vincent Duhem
Posted on Thursday, 22 April 2021 12:23

Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno during Operation Wrath of Bomo, late March 2020
Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno during Operation Wrath of Bomo, late March 2020. Rights reserved / Chadian Presidency.

The death of the Chadian president was announced on 20 April. We have reconstructed here the details of the Marshal's final battle.

Saturday 17 April. Night has fallen on N’Djamena and most Chadians have only one thing on their minds: breaking the Ramadan fast, which began less than a week earlier. Idriss Déby Itno (IDI) is thinking of something else. Since 11 April, columns of rebels have entered Chadian territory from Libya.

According to the latest French and Chadian intelligence in his possession, the rebels of the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) had made a breakthrough in Kanem. They are north of the town of Mao, some 300 kilometres from the capital.

The Marshal has sent reinforcements, but the insurgents are well armed and have military equipment, some of it Russian, amassed in Libya. IDI has his doubts. As is often the case, he decides to go to the front. As in 2020 on the shores of Lake Chad, he intends to show himself and galvanise his troops.

At the stroke of 10pm, he climbs aboard an armoured Toyota vehicle.

Armoured presidential convoy

IDI is accompanied by his aide-de-camp Khoudar Mahamat Acyl, brother of the First Lady Hinda Déby Itno. His son Mahamat Idriss Déby (known as Kaka) is waiting for him, while Generals Taher Erda and Mahamat Charfadine Abdelkerim are on their way. The presidential convoy heads for the Mao area, where his army is waiting for him, having set up camp a few dozen kilometres from the town.

During the night, the president stopped to take stock of the situation with some of the senior officers of the front. Idriss Déby Itno listens to the latest information, takes to the road again and then, in the early hours of the morning, arrives at the theatre of operations, in the vicinity of Nokou, forty kilometres north-east of Mao.

The Chadian army seems to be gradually gaining the upper hand, helped by French intelligence, which tracks FACT movements from the air. One column of rebels was routed by troops led by Mahamat Idriss Déby, but another managed to bypass them.

These rebels are holding on as best they can. With their backs against the wall, they are attempting a final coup de force. The fighting intensified, raising fears of a reversal of the balance of power.

In the afternoon, Idriss Déby Itno decides once again to try to tip the balance. As he had already done in the past, to the great displeasure of some of his generals, he got into a vehicle and ordered its driver to take him to the front. His bodyguard follows, both to protect him and to fight the rebels.

The president’s column meets that of the FACT survivors. Idriss Déby Itno is wounded in the manoeuvre, by a bullet in the chest, which may have hit his kidney. He is immediately evacuated to the rear, while the troops led by Mahamat Idriss Déby continue the offensive. The rebel advance is broken.

A well-kept secret

Idriss Déby Itno’s injury is serious. The prognosis is vital. A medical helicopter was immediately called to N’Djamena. But the aircraft arrived too late at the Chadian army camp, near Mao. The Chadian marshal succumbed to his injuries.

During the night, the helicopter reached N’Djamena with the president’s body on board. It landed in the presidency, where the body of Idriss Déby Itno was taken off. Only a very small circle of the head of state’s family knew the news. The rumour only began to circulate on 19 April, in the late afternoon, in the best informed families.

Meanwhile, Mahamat Idriss Déby returned to N’Djamena. Discussions then began on the transition period that was beginning, where different generations of high-ranking officers and relatives of the Zaghawa clan wanted to make their point of view known. A few hours later, a consensus was reached on the creation of a transitional military council, headed by the president’s son and composed of the main army pundits.

At the stroke of 9pm, the Independent National Electoral Commission (whose members were probably not informed of the death, which would not be made public until the following day at around 11am) announced that IDI had won the first round of the presidential election of 11 April, with 79.32% of the vote.

But, against all odds, the post-Idriss Déby Itno era has already begun. The funeral of the Marshal will take place on Friday 23 April in N’Djamena, before the body of the deceased is transported to his village of Amdjarass, where he will rest.

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