Mahamat Idriss Déby, centre. File photo: REUTERS/CHEICK DIOUARA
Mahamat Idriss Déby, centre. File photo: REUTERS/CHEICK DIOUARA

The son of late Chadian President Idriss Déby took control of the oil-producing nation after the death of his father, a key ally of western efforts to quell Islamist insurgencies, as the US urged a lawful transition of power.

Gen Mahamat Idriss Déby will head a 15-member military council that will lead the former French colony for the next 18 months, army spokesperson Gen Azem Bermandoa Agouna said on state television. The announcement circumvents Chad’s constitution, which requires that elections are held within 90 days in the event that the president’s post becomes vacant.

“We support a peaceful transition of power in accordance with the Chadian constitution,” US state department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.

Chad is one of the main contributors of troops to US and French-backed efforts to restore stability to West Africa’s Sahel region, where Islamist militants have been carrying out an increasing number of attacks. Déby’s death could trigger domestic unrest, and raises the risk of the government repatriating forces fighting the insurgents, which in turn could delay plans by France to withdraw its soldiers from the conflict.

Idriss Déby died on Tuesday of injuries sustained in a battle against rebels, Agouna said. His death at the age of 68 came shortly after he secured a sixth term as president in disputed elections that were preceded by a crackdown on anti-government protests. 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.

Debt prices

Claims over Chadian debt traded on the secondary market fell to about 40c on the dollar on Tuesday, from about 60c before, said a person familiar with the matter. The decline reflects concern of increased instability in the wake of Déby’s death that could hamper oil production and impair negotiations with creditors about restructuring the nation’s debt.

In 2020, Chad became the first nation to request relief under the Group of 20 common framework, which aims to gather Chinese and private lenders into a global debt-relief push. Its publicly guaranteed loans stood at about $2.8bn at the end of 2019, with commercial credit from commodity trader Glencore accounting for 39% of that amount, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Chad pumps about 127,000 barrels of oil a day, making it the seventh-biggest producer in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. It’s ranked as the world’s third-least developed nation by the UN Development Program and two-thirds of the population in N’Djamena, the capital, are not connected to the power grid.

Déby became president of the former French colony in February 1991 after leading a rebellion against autocratic leader Hissène Habré. A group of Libya-based rebels, known as FACT, the French acronym for the Front for Change and Concord in Chad, and largely comprising army dissidents, has been fighting to overthrow Déby’s administration since 2016.

Rebel clashes

On April 16, two FACT convoys advanced toward the capital. They clashed with government forces the following day, according to state-run broadcaster Tele 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 could not be independently verified, and it was unclear why Déby had gone to the battle front.

FACT leader Mahamat Mahdi Ali told Radio France Internationale Déby was injured at the front and evacuated from the battlefield by helicopter.

“The heavy shelling indicated Deby was there on the battlefield. So we attacked and he was injured,” Ali said. “He was there at the front, like an army commander. When we saw he was injured we pulled back.”

– Bloomberg News. For more articles like this please visit Bloomberg.com.

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