The continent was in shock this Tuesday, as Chadian Army spokesperson announced the death of President Idriss Déby Itno, following injuries he sustained during clashes with rebels in the north of the country at the weekend.
Déby’s death meant a huge a change of fate, with the announcement of his death on a day he was due to give a victory speech, after winning a sixth term (by 79.3%) based on the latest provisional results announced on Monday. Twenty-four hours ago, an election victor, twenty-four hours later, a deceased soldier.
According to Campaign Director, Mahamat Zen Bada, the 68-year-old leader opted instead to visit Chadian soldiers on the front lines, in battle against rebels from the Front pour l’Alternance et la Concorde au Tchad (FACT). Reports say FACT had arrived from their Libyan base and were advancing on the capital, N’Djamena, as at April 11.
Tuesday’s news provokes a number of questions on the circumstances surrounding his fall, despite being in the midst of over a thousand soldiers. Most importantly however, huge concerns abound for neighbours (Nigeria especially), considering the wave of insecurity in a region struggling to recover from the aftermath of Libyan Muammar Gaddafi’s death in 2011.
This concern is perhaps evident in the reaction of France, with President Emmanuel Macron hailing the late Chadian leader as a “great soldier” and “courageous friend” of his country, while Defence Minister Florence Parly, praised him as an “essential ally in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel.”
Déby, a “darling of the counter-terrorism community in Africa” contributed men to a UN peacekeeping force, as well as a 5,000-man regional army (G5 Sahel) comprising forces from Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, and Mauritania. Little wonder, Minister Parly stressed that the fight against jihadist insurgents “will not stop.”
Opinions also differ on what should truly be the legacy of the Chadian strong man; did he die as an hero or villain?
For some, it would forever remain uncommon to find a President fight alongside his troops like a true Commander-in-chief, rather than sit back to “enjoy the perks of office or travel abroad while his citizens died.” And so, dying in the battle front is nothing but the true hallmark of heroism.
On the flipside, does it come very easy to describe Déby, a graduate of Muammar Gaddafi’s World Revolutionary Centre as a hero even though he took power in December 1990 by leading a rebellion against his brother-in-arms Hissène Habré, eliminated term limits and never left power even after three decades until he was killed?
As at the time of writing this piece, a curfew is in force in Chad, the country has closed its borders with ineighbours, and a transitional military council led by Mahamat Déby, his 37-year-old son has seized power in a coup d’etat.
The transitional military council dissolved the government as well as the national assembly and has announced an 18-month rule before new elections will be held. Would Chad have been in this situation if its Field Marshal had exited power after two terms? On a later date, there would indeed, be many lessons to be learn from the fall of the
Regardless of what answers are provided, it would be difficult to take away the greatness of such a soldier who fought for his people. One who was a nightmare to terrorists in the region and one who braved all odds (fear of death inclusive) to secure victory for his people.
Is the battle truly over? Africa has to wait.
Temidayo Taiwo-Sidiq is a Journalist, Political Analyst and Satirist with major interest in Nigerian Politics, Governance and Sports.