Funeral Held for Former Chad President Amid Political Turmoil

Former President of Chad, Idriss Déby Itno, was buried on Friday following his death from wounds he suffered while visiting the front lines of a military offensive against rebel insurgents. Following his death was the controversial decision to appoint his son, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, a four-star military general, to Interim President for an 18-month period, bypassing the constitutionally laid out process whereby the Speaker of the National Assembly takes power before organizing a new election. But Speaker Haroun Kabadi has endorsed the move, stating that it was a necessary decision because of the “exceptional security reasons needed to ensure the stability of this country.” The Interim President has promised to hold democratic elections following his 18-month tenure. In the meantime, he will lead within a transitional council composed of himself and 14 other Chadian generals. 

French President Emmanuel Macron, who attended the late President’s funeral, emphasized France’s continued support for their close ally in a speech given at the ceremony. Per Reuters, Macron stated, “France will not let anybody put into question or threaten – today, or tomorrow – Chad’s stability and integrity.” But opposition parties have condemned the move as a “dynastic coup,” and the rebels responsible for the President’s death attacked the decision, saying that Chad is “not a monarchy.” 

Chad has faced numerous rebel uprisings in recent years, most attempting to overthrow President Déby, who himself took power after leading a rebellion against the government in 1990. Currently, Chad faces a threat from the rebel group known as the “Front for Change and Concord in Chad” (or “FACT,” from the French “Front pour l’Alternance et la Concorde du Tchad”), whose goal was to topple the Déby government. Following Déby’s death, a FACT spokesperson stated that the rebels are “ready to observe a ceasefire,” but experts are concerned about continued conflict should Déby’s son refuse to relinquish power. 

FACT is a military group founded by Mahamat Mahadi Ali, a lifelong rebel who split off from the “Union Forces for Democracy and Development” (UFDD), the largest rebel group in Chad, which previously came close to overthrowing Déby in 2008. FACT is rumoured to be supported by the Libyan National Army, under Commander Khalifa Hafter, but both groups have denied this partnership. After crossing into Northern Chad from Libya, FACT launched an attack on a Chadian border post, then began moving toward Chad’s capital city, N’Djamena. It was on this offensive where President Déby was killed. 

As of April 24th, a FACT spokesperson has said that they are “preparing to advance” towards N’Djamena, despite continued resistance from the Chadian military. 

Chad is an important strategic partner for many Western countries in the fight against Islamic extremism in Africa. Under Déby, and with support from Western countries like France and the United States, the Chadian military has consistently engaged in battles against militants from al-Qaeda, ISIL, and Boko Haram, among others. The transition of power to Déby’s son raises hopes that this partnership will be continued, hence the support given by the West, but also raises questions about the future of said partnership, if and when the military relinquishes control of government and holds democratic elections. There is also concern that the death of Déby may incentivize other armed rebels in the area to partner with FACT in order to capitalize on any perceived weakness the Chadian government may show following this political upheaval. 

The priority moving forward will be for the Chadian government to resist further rebel conflict, and it appears they are not willing to do so through negotiation. In a statement released Sunday, a spokesperson for Chad’s military council said, “the time is not for mediation, nor for negotiation with outlaws.” Meanwhile, opposition parties and Chadian citizens will continue to push for the transition back to a civilian government, but only time will tell whether this promise is kept.