The late Chad president Idriss Déby. Picture: REUTERS/LUDOVIC MARIN
The late Chad president Idriss Déby. Picture: REUTERS/LUDOVIC MARIN

Abidjan — Idriss Déby, who ruled Chad for 30 years, died shortly after securing a sixth term as president, and a military council headed by his son immediately assumed power. He was 68.

Déby died of injuries sustained in a battle against rebels, according to a statement read out on state television by Gen Azem Bermandoa Agouna, the army’s spokesperson. The 15-person military council intends governing for 18 months, with Gen Mahamat Idriss Déby [his son] serving as interim head of state.

The parliament and government have been dissolved and all air and land borders are closed, according to a separate statement signed by the nation’s new leader. Chad doesn’t have a deputy president and the constitution states that in the event of the president’s post becoming vacant, elections should be held in 45 days, with a maximum delay of 90 days.

“The announcement of Déby’s son as interim head of state suggests that the army moved swiftly to ensure regime continuity, especially in the context of political tensions within the military and strong opposition in the country,” Nathaniel Power, a researcher at the Centre for War and Diplomacy at Lancaster University in the UK and the author of France’s Wars in Chad: Military Intervention and Decolonization in Africa, said in a Twitter posting. “This is technically a coup since it violates the constitutional provisions for what happens when the president dies.”

Other members of the council include former army minister, Djimadoum Tiraïna, and former rebel leader and defence minister, Mahamat Nour.

Déby assumed the presidency in February 1991 after leading a rebellion against autocratic leader Hissène Habré. He secured 79% of the vote in April 11 elections, according to the official results released on Monday. The credibility of the vote was called into question after the supreme court barred seven opposition candidates from running and three others later quit the race.

Army dissidents

A group of Libya-based rebels, known as the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) and is largely comprised of army dissidents, has been fighting to overthrow Déby’s administration since 2016.

On April 16, two FACT convoys advanced towards N’Djamena, the capital. They clashed with government forces the following day, according to state-run broadcaster Télé Tchad, leading to the deaths of more than 300 rebels and five soldiers.

“The Marshal of Chad, Idriss Déby Itno, did as he does whenever the state is seriously threatened; he took charge during the heroic fight waged against the terrorist hordes from Libya,” the military council said. “He was injured in the clashes and his soul left his body as he was repatriated to N’Djamena.”

The council’s account couldn’t be independently verified, and it was unclear why Déby had gone to the battle front.

‘Violent protests’

Vipra Bhutani, an analyst at The Economist Intelligence Unit, said the army’s version of events should be treated with caution, and Déby may have been killed in a direct rebel attack or by his own people.

“Political uncertainty arising from the change of leadership will prevail in the near-term,” Bhutani said. “We expect violent protests to break out in the country against the transition, as it is led by Mr Déby’s son, and will heighten anti-regime sentiment.”

While the government said it had repelled the rebels, FACT leader Mahamat Mahdi Ali told Radio France Internationale late on Monday they had made a tactical withdrawal.

Chad has been a key contributor of troops to a multi-national effort to defeat Islamist militants in West Africa’s Sahel region. Despite being a major oil producer, the country is ranked at the world’s third-least developed by the UN Development Programme and two-thirds of N’Djamena’s population aren’t connected to the power grid.

Bloomberg News. For more articles like this, please visit us at Bloomberg.com

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