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Why Chad’s rebellion and Déby’s demise could tip the region into chaos

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Chad: The end of an era
Patrick Smith
By Patrick Smith
Editor-in-Chief of The Africa Report.

Posted on Friday, 23 April 2021 13:24

Chad President Killed
Chadian soldiers carry the coffin of the late Chadian president Idriss Deby during the state funeral in N'Djamena, Chad, Friday, April, 23, 2021. (Christophe Petit Tesson / Pool photo via AP)

For once the funereal protestations of regional and international leaders at the violent death of a military leader are more than diplomatic posturing.  That much will be clear in some desperate consultations around the funeral of Marshall Idris Déby Itno in N’Djamena on Friday.

Shockwaves from the killing of Chadian leader in the early hours of 19 April reverberated across West and Central Africa to Addis Ababa and Khartoum. They reached France’s President Emmanuel Macron who is also jetting down to pay his respects in N’Djamena on Friday.

Diplomats are talking of a ‘Gaddafi moment’ when an autocrat’s exit upsets the security calculus across a vast expanse of the map and disrupts hundreds of thousands of lives.

How and why Déby was killed is shrouded in mystery. He was flanked by his troops and senior officers trying to repel insurgents at Nokou, some 300 kilometres north of the capital N’Djamena,

‘Reminiscent of city-state of Sparta’

Déby’s dominance in Chad over the last three decades, leading the most effective fighting force in the region, lent an aura of invincibility to the country reminiscent of the city-state of Sparta in ancient Greece.

For Chad’s Déby, like Sparta’s Lycurgus, military prowess translated into political strategy and power. Mythology also played its part.

Although Chad was an essential component of every alliance against insurgents in its neighbourhood, the paradox is that Déby was slain amid an internal rebellion.

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

Chad’s neighbours fear that with Déby’s passing, those alliances will be gravely weakened. At the beginning of this month, 200 Chadian soldiers led an attack at Aguelhok in eastern Mali, killing over 40 fighters linked to Iyad Ag-Ghaly and al-Qaeda affiliates in the Sahel .

In the Sahel and in the Lake Chad Basin, Déby’s troops were taking on the toughest missions. Should Chad’s army break asunder, there are reports of serial defections to the insurgents, an echoing military vacuum could open up.

Chairman of the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Moussa Faki Mahamat, prime minister and then foreign minister in successive Déby governments, knows the stakes at first hand.

Describing Déby as a ‘great statesman and recognised military leader’, Moussa Faki will have to navigate around the AU’s strictures against coup d’etats.

French President Emmanuel Macron, right, flanked by the son of the late Chadian president Idriss Deby, Mahamat Idriss Deby, left, arrives to attend the state funeral for the late Chadian president Idriss Deby in N’Djamena, Chad, Friday, April, 23, 2021. (Christophe Petit Tesson / Pool photo via AP)
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