Africa and Nigeria have questions to answer: Will they quietly accept the coup d’état and the 18-month transition period announced in Chad? What has happened to the African Union’s tradition that in situations of coup d’états, especially involving the killing of Heads of State, they would generally intervene swiftly against the putschists..?
On December 2, 1990, Deby shot his way into Chad’s presidential palace after an epic battle with his former boss and mentor turned enemy, Hisene Habre. For his 30 years in power, it was a series of rebellions, bloody conflicts, intrigues and coup attempts. Alongside the instability, elections have been holding and he was killed the day after he was declared winner of the recently concluded election, and was to be sworn in for his sixth term. Alas, the self-declared Field Marshall is no more. But then as we all know, old soldiers never die, they only fade away; so his 37-year old son, General Mehemet Idriss Deby, organised a coup the same day, suspended the Constitution, dissolved Parliament and set up a ruling military council, for which, he is the supreme commander.
Human rights groups and opposition parties in Chad and other African countries immediately opposed the coup, in conformity with the Charter of the African Union. The African Union was quiet. The French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, immediately justified and supported the coup, due to what he called the “exceptional circumstances” in the country.
Maybe there can be no deep sentiments that a coup had occurred in Chad because there was no democracy in the first place. Nonetheless, we cannot continue to talk about zero tolerance for unconstitutional change in power and openly or tacitly support coup d’états. In the run up to the recent election, Deby set the tone by killing a political opposition leader and presidential candidate, Yaya Dillo‘s 80-year old mother, in a brazen attack on his home on February 28, while wounding five other family members. Dillo got the message and immediately withdrew from the contest.
Chad’s security forces ruthlessly cracked down on protesters and the political opposition in the lead-up to the country’s April 11 presidential election, making it clear to Chadians that the choice was between death and re-electing Deby. The people are never stupid, they re-elected him, after all, almost the entire opposition and human rights leaders who had not fled the country, were in jail. Seventeen candidates submitted their applications to contest the presidential election. On March 3, Chad’s Supreme Court stated that only 10 of them were qualified, rejecting the remaining candidates on grounds that their parties were not “legally constituted”. Following the deadly raid on Dillo’s home, most of the remaining candidates withdrew.
The outcomes of the Deby years have been instability, repression and death. Chad has an appalling rate of poverty, despite the country’s vast oil resources. Chad came last in the World Bank’s 2020 Human Capital Index, while the United Nations Development Programme ranked Chad 187 out of 189 countries in its 2020 human development index. The president and his many children, who occupy virtually all the plum positions in the country’s governance structure are, however, extremely wealthy, which is a banal statement, after all is this not the African reality?
Deby’s death is bad news for Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger because Boko Haram may become emboldened and increase its attacks. Last year, Deby personally led his troops to the Lake Chad zone after some attacks on Chadian soldiers, he battered the insurgents and the remnants ran back to Nigeria where, apparently, they feel more at home.
Deby only knew war and was a graduate of Muammar Gaddafi’s World Revolutionary Centre. He had made his reputation in what was known as the “Toyota War” between Chad and Libya, which lasted for nine months from December 1986 to September 1987. That was just one of the long running series of conflicts between both countries that stretched back to 1978. It was a decisive victory for the heavily outnumbered Chadian forces and the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, was impressed by Deby’s military skills, so he recruited him, with the offer of support to seize power in Chad in exchange for Libyan prisoners of war. In November 1990, Deby attacked Hissène Habré’s government from Sudan, and by early December, had seized power.
The Chadian army has remained extremely strong as a fighting force and has been playing a significant role in the fight against the insurgency in the Sahel. We should remember that when the Jihadi insurgents were marching to takeover Bamako, the Malian capital, it was French and Chadian troops that stopped them, and Africa has since regretted the end of Nigeria’s capacity as a fighting force to help its neighbours. In the Lake Chad countries, Chad has also been noted for the effectiveness of its battles against Boko Haram, even if it had been unable to win the war.
Deby’s death is bad news for Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger because Boko Haram may become emboldened and increase its attacks. Last year, Deby personally led his troops to the Lake Chad zone after some attacks on Chadian soldiers, he battered the insurgents and the remnants ran back to Nigeria where, apparently, they feel more at home. Niger then negotiated for the deployment of Chadian forces in the country to contain the activities of the insurgents.
ISWAP, which is the Boko Haram faction operating in the Lake Chad zone, might use the opportunity to consolidate the area as a staging area for the insurgents, from where attacks would be launched on towns and military bases. Over the past couple of months, there have been repeated attacks on Damasak and Dikwa, the Nigerian towns close to the Chadian border.
President Deby had visited President Buhari on March 28, for bilateral talks around security issues in the region. His death, at a time when Boko Haram attacks are increasing, is concerning. The rebels from Libya currently marching towards the Chadian capital are engendering an even higher level of concern.
Deby, the son, apparently has real challenges securing his power. The rebel forces that apparently killed his father have announced that they will continue their march on capital and rout out the Deby clan from power. Meanwhile, we are just assuming that Deby was killed by the rebels, as there are rumours of internal fights within his own regime that might have led to his death, even if this thesis is still a speculation fuelled by the lack of information on the circumstances that led to his death.
President Deby had visited President Buhari on March 28, for bilateral talks around security issues in the region. His death, at a time when Boko Haram attacks are increasing, is concerning. The rebels from Libya currently marching towards the Chadian capital are engendering an even higher level of concern. Do they have links with other jihadist groups in the Sahel and what would their attitude be towards Boko Haram?
One year before his death, Deby had led his men on an offensive to the Goje-Chadian area of Sambisa forest, a stronghold of Boko Haram, killing many of them, and recovering a lot of their arms. The success of the war against Boko Haram is dependent of effective collaboration within the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF). Increased instability in Chad can only harm the effort. The Chadian rebels seeking power may also increase the arms flow in the sub-region.
Africa and Nigeria have questions to answer: Will they quietly accept the coup d’état and the 18-month transition period announced in Chad? What has happened to the African Union’s tradition that in situations of coup d’états, especially involving the killing of Heads of State, they would generally intervene swiftly against the putschists, even if in this case, there is the complication that the rebels, who might have killed the President, were not the ones that took over power? Will the African Union read continuity of father to son, even if the son is a coup maker?
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