President Idriss Déby of Chad died following injuries sustained in fighting against rebels in the country’s north, authorities announced April 20. The president’s son, Gen. Mahamat Kaka, is said to be serving as interim president. Déby had just been declared provisional winner of another presidential term, with nearly 80% of the vote in the April 11 election. He had been in power for three decades. The rebel Front for Change & Concord in Chad (FACT) invaded the country from its bases across the border in Libya, in an attempt to disrupt the elections. Both sides are claiming victory after clashes in the northern region of Kanem, and FACT says that its forces are advancing on the capital, N’Djamena.
FACT, led by defectors from Chad’s army, has been fighting to overthrow Déby since 2016. It is mostly made up of members of the Goran ethnic group (also known as the Dazagada, a branch of the Toubou people), to which Déby’s deposed predecessor Hissène Habré belonged. Déby is a member of the Zaghawa ethnic group, and came to power in 1990 when his own rebel alliance, the Patriotic Salvation Movement, invaded from Sudan with Libyan backing and drove Habré into exile.
As Hissène Habré faced war crimes charges before an Africa Union-backed tribunal, Déby consolidated his own authoritarian state in Chad. Under his rule, the Zaghawa have been favored and the Goran excluded from power—merely reversing the situation under Habré. In 2018, Déby pushed through a new constitution allowing him to remain in power until 2033.
In Libya, FACT has benn aligned with Misrata-based militia forces, which were in turn aligned with the Government of National Accord (GNA). It has fought against the forces of warlord Khalifa Haftar, who has been backed by foreign powers including France.
France had backed both Déby and Habré, with Chad’s former colonial ruler changing sides to adopt to political realities on the ground. Déby had in recent years become a key regional ally for Paris in its pan-Sahel counterinsurgency effort against jihadist militant groups, Operation Barkhane. (AP, NPR, NYT, AllAfrica, Africa Times, Africa News, Bloomberg, FranceInfo, RFI, BBC News, BBC News, TRAC, Global Security, Small Arms Survey)
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