Life, Africa

PROFILE - Idriss Deby leaves behind legacy marred with conflicts

Chad’s president died with boots on, fighting armed rebellion

Aurore Bonny   | 21.04.2021
PROFILE - Idriss Deby leaves behind legacy marred with conflicts

LOME, Togo

Chad’s President Idriss Deby Itno, who was recently re-elected for a sixth presidential term, died with his boots on, fighting a heavily armed rebellion in the north-central African country.

Even after his death, Deby received controversial tributes for the personality he embodied from his country and the African continent.

Announced the winner of the April 11 presidential election with more than 79% of the vote, Deby succumbed to injuries received in a fight against the rebels. The news was made public on Tuesday by the Chadian army.

For 30 years, the Chadian soldier, who died at age 68, led the destiny of Chad after a successful coup against his predecessor in 1990. With a scientific baccalaureate, he joined the military training in N'Djamena between 1975 and 1976 and then obtained a professional degree in aeronautics from France.

He returned to his country in February 1979 and was appointed as the chief of staff of the armed forces of the North in 1980 after having demonstrated his military capabilities.

Promoted as colonel, he returned to France to attend the Inter-Army War College between 1986 and 1987. Upon return, he was appointed as an adviser to the presidency of the republic on defense and security.

In his rebellion against Hissein Habre, the then head of state, the Patriotic Salvation Movement was born in 1990.

Deby overthrew Habre and was appointed as the president on Feb. 28, 1991, with the adoption of the National Charter. He was re-instated as the president the following year after the first multi-party elections in Chad.

He kept the presidential chair until his death despite strong protests from his opponents and civil society. His candidacy for a 6th term in office triggered a wave of protests to which the authorities under his command responded with violent defense condemned by human rights defenders.

‘Marshal’ draws criticism, praise

He leaves "a legacy of repression and violations of social and economic rights in his country," said Illaria Allegrozi, a Human Rights Watch researcher.

Survie, the French association that campaigns for a clean-up of Franco-African relations, remembers "France's friend" as "a dictator," "a great criminal" who supported French imperialism by allowing French interference in Chad.

Deby's African counterparts, however, are full of praise for the man whose "bravery" and "great feats of arms" in the ongoing struggle for peace and stability in Africa have been crowned with the title of "Marshall." This was on Aug. 11, 2020, after a majority vote in the National Assembly.

He was "a great pan-Africanist, committed with conviction and determination to the fight against terrorism in the Lake Chad basin and the Sahel," acknowledged Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, the president of Burkina Faso.

Under Deby's rule, thousands of Chadian soldiers were sent to support Sahelian countries against terrorists.

He was involved with Western and African partners, and also active in repelling the threat of destabilization from Libya since the death of Muammar Gaddafi, the former Libyan president.

It was in a final battle against rebels from Libya that the veteran warlord made his last stand, according to sources.

For Faure Gnassingbe, his Togolese counterpart, Deby's commitment "to the stability of the Sahel was constant."

Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairman of the African Union Commission, described him as a "great statesman and military leader."

Fight against Boko Haram

The death of Deby will create a "big vacuum" in the efforts to jointly confront Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa Province, said Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari.

"We must now strive to mobilize even greater collaboration to defeat the terrorists."

Faced with a growing threat from Boko Haram, Deby had increased Chad's participation in the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), a combined multinational formation comprising units from Niger, Nigeria, Benin, and Cameroon.

Headquartered in Chad's capital, the MNJTF is mandated to bring an end to the Boko Haram insurgency that has killed more than 30,000 people and displaced nearly three million others.

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