Idriss Deby was known to have visited the battlefield. After Boko Haram fighters launched a deadly attack on a Chadian army base in the village of Bohoma in March last year, the longtime president was seen marching on the shores of Lake Chad in side of his troops.
And it was on the battlefield that the former soldier met his end.
Tuesday, the Chadian armed forces stunned the nation by announcing that Deby had death from wounds suffered as he led the soldiers on the front lines against the rebels advancing from the north towards the capital, N’Djaména. He was 68 years old.
“The President of the Republic, Head of State, Supreme Head of the Army, Idriss Deby Itno, has just drew his last breath by defending the integrity of the nation on the battlefield,” said the spokesperson. word of the army Azem Bermandoa Agouna in a televised statement surrounded by men. in army fatigues.
The exact circumstances of Deby’s death, however, remain unclear.
One of Africa’s oldest rulers, Deby ruled Chad for more than 30 years.
Originally from the Zaghawa ethnic group, he grew up in the northeastern region of Ennedi. He joined the army in the early 1970s, at a time when Chad was in the throes of a long civil war, and received additional military training in France.
Deby rose to the rank of commander-in-chief of the armed forces and eventually came to power leading a 1990 rebellion that overthrew authoritarian leader Hissène Habré, after the two men’s relations deteriorated.
He officially took office in February of the following year, and won elections in 1996 and again in 2001 before pushing through a constitutional change in 2018 that could have allowed him to stay in power until 2033.
“Have you ever seen a Head of State take up arms and fight?” Deby said at an annual press conference in 2018. “You think I’m doing this because I’m brave? Because I am brave? No, I do it because I love this country and I would rather die on the battlefield than for disorder and misery to befall the country.
Idriss Deby’s death cut short his 30-year political career. He has carved out a reputation for himself as the West’s staunch ally in the Sahel – despite accusations of authoritarianism https://t.co/iJd3wHshuV pic.twitter.com/e1H85ReCPK
– Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) April 20, 2021
Deby was seen as a pivot in the international struggle against armed groups in West and Central Africa and a key ally of the Western powers. Under his command, Chadian troops became the main regional force in the battle against groups linked to ISIS and Al-Qaeda in the western part of the Sahel and Boko Haram in the Lake Chad basin.
Last year Deby added “Marshal” to his official title.
“Chad has lost a great soldier and a president who have worked tirelessly for the security of the country and the stability of the region for three decades,” the French presidency said in a statement, adding that France had lost a “brave friend”.
For its part, the White House offered its “sincere condolences” to the Chadians and declared that the United States supported “a peaceful transition of power in accordance with the Chadian constitution”.
At home, Deby faced the threat of rebel groups attempting to overthrow him. The rebels reached the capital in 2006 and 2008 and moved closer in 2019. The president’s forces fought them, sometimes with the help of France, as in 2019.
The most recent uprising began on election day April 11, when Deby sought a controversial sixth term in a vote boycotted by the main opposition parties. As the election results began to pour in, members of the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), a Libya-based rebel group made up largely of army dissidents, crossed Libya’s northern border into Chad.
The tensions were on the rise in the weeks and months leading up to the election, Deby was seen as silencing opponents with violent crackdowns and even a deadly attack on the home of an opposition politician. In early April, Human Rights Watch said Chadian security forces “ruthlessly” suppressed protesters and political opposition ahead of the elections.
During the election campaign, Deby pledged to restore peace and security to a country steeped in violence after years of attacks by armed groups and rebellion encroaching on its borders.
“There are those who say that a sixth term is too much; I say they are wrong, ”Deby told his supporters at a rally in N’Djamena. “I am convinced that we will win.”
Indeed, as was widely expected, the Election Commission announced on Monday that Deby had been re-elected with 79% of the vote.
But Deby was wounded over the weekend while visiting Chadian troops on the front lines battling FACT a few hundred kilometers from N’Djamena, said Agouna, an army spokesman.
His 37-year-old son, four-star General Mahamat Idriss Deby, will now lead a transitional military council for 18 months ahead of new elections, the military said.
Deby leaves behind his wife Hinda Deby Itno, whom he married in 2005, and their children, as well as children from previous marriages.