Deby’s Death Still Fueling Internal Cracks in Chad

Internal political chasm is still deepening in Chad despite the assassination of the country’s late President, Idriss Deby.

Informed sources say Deby’s death is promoting an internal uprising against his son, feeding off the population’s unhappiness over his father’s alleged abuse and mismanagement of the country’s oil resources.

The war lord Deby, 68, who allegedly misruled Chad for 31-years, died after sustaining injuries in clashes between FACT rebels and his troops, the country’s military said.

FACT (Front for Change and Concord in Chad), is however, a political-military group based in northern part of the country founded by dissident army officers in 2016.

Deby allegedly died of his injuries following clashes with FACT in the northern part of the Central African country. Quite recently, FACT attacked a border post in the north of the country on election Day and claimed independence of Chad’s northern Tibetsi region, which is close to the Libyan border.

The group, like opposition politicians and rights groups in Chad, accused Deby of repression in the run-up to the election.

FACT is based in Libya, where it has a non-aggression pact with warlord Khalifa Haftar, who controls much of the country’s east. Made up mainly of the Saharan Goran people, FACT clashes regularly with the Chadian army.

They built up their base in Libya in the Tibesti Mountains which straddle northern Chad and part of southern Libya. They are even claiming that they have captured garrisons near Chad’s northern borders with Niger and Libya.

FACT has advanced hundreds of kilometres south through the vast country in a few days. But, the Chadian military appears to have slowed its advance about 300 kilometres from N’Djamena.

The American and British embassies issued warnings about a possible assault on the capital during the previous weekend.

At the moment, Deby’s death is not leading to any noticeable peace in the oil-producing country of 15 million. Guarded whispers have it that FACT leader, Mahamat Mahdi Ali, is translating into a real political currency capable of overrunning the Chadian capital, N’Djamena, in a matter of time.

The 37-year-old new Chadian leader, a four-star general, and son of the late president is said to be regrouping the army for a face-off. The way things are unfolding, analysts say the internal and geopolitical context of Deby’s death is not particularly promising.

The late President Deby went to the frontline, several hundred kilometres north of N’Djamena, with the bravado of a leader launching a decisive assault to end FACT, the rebel group seeking to overthrow him since 2016 in reaction to his last re-election.

He just “won” his sixth mandate with 79 percent of the vote in polls allegedly marred by fraud, intimidation and boycott by the opposition. Leading opposition figure, Saleh Kebzabo, withdrew from the vote following a deadly shoot-out at another candidate’s home.

That was Deby’s first military command since he made himself Marechal du Tchad last August to mark the country’s 60th anniversary. Perhaps, he needed to show the world that he was in control. It must have been a reflection of how serious Deby took FACT’s advance to N’Djamena.

FACT which has been amassing weapons and personnel in Libya since 2016, entered Chad on April 11, the day Deby ‘won’ his sixth term after 30-years in power. It was perhaps, an act the late president probably took as an affront to his legitimacy.

On the other hand, FACT’s rival UFR, which is overwhelmingly made up of mainly Zaghawa fighters from Deby’s own ethnic community and led by Deby’s own nephews, the twin brothers Tom and Timane Erdimi, is supported by Haftar’s rival’ militias in Misrata, Benghazi and elsewhere.

Top aide de camp to Deby during the 1990 coup d’etat, the twin brothers Tom and Timane Erdimi have held the most sensitive and lucrative portfolios in Chad, including oil and cotton, until 2005 when Deby started his “life presidency project.”

While Tom relocated to Houston in the US, Timane, who is in exile in Qatar (from where he has been remotely commanding his rebellion) first tried to overthrow his uncle in 2008, and again in 2009 after forming the UFR and recently in 2019. Yet on each occasion, France came to Déby’s rescue. France has had a military cooperation agreement with Chad since 1976.

Qatar, which has backed Timane’s rebellion – leading Deby to sever relations and expelling its diplomats – is also providing cash and equipment to the United Nations-backed national government in Tripoli against Haftar.

Both Haftar and Deby are actually Paris’ darling strongmen in the region. For France, Haftar’s control of Libya’s strategic eastern borders prevents influx of heavy weapons as well as fighters from Libya and further afield from joining jihadist groups attempting to overrun the Sahel, including Burkina Faso and northern Niger, northern Mali as well as Chad itself.

Because of this, Paris has turned a blind to Haftar’s self-declared Libyan National Army’s (LNA), which has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for allegations of war crimes or, if you’d like, “war on terror” in Benghazi and elsewhere in Libya.

For Haftar, FACT is seen as central to minimising threats UFR and its jihadists backers in Misrata and Benghazi from surrounding and attacking his position from northern Chad. Indeed, in 2018, UFR ridiculed Haftar, claiming that Deby had “subcontracted” him to attack their bases in southern Libya.

A Franceafrique pillar, Deby, on the other hand, was seen in Paris as a key regional counter-terrorism partner; contributing a majority of forces in the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali as well as to fight Boko Haram in the Lake Chad basin and other jihadist groups in Sahel.

But Deby’s designs didn’t go quite as planned. Unlike in 2019, when Elysee intervened militarily to bail him out – or, in the word of French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian, “to prevent a coup d’état” as UFR convoys moved towards N’Djamena – this time Elysee refused to bail out Deby even though French fighter jets are based near N’Djamena.

In-spite of Chad’s army claim that it had “completely destroyed” a column of rebel pick-up trucks that attacked the country on April 11, a brutal and bloody FACT offensive left Deby severely injured.

Chad’s former colonial power France paid Deby tribute, calling him a “courageous friend” and “great soldier,” while urging stability and a peaceful transition in the African country.

His 37-year-old son, Mahamat Idriss Deby, was immediately named transitional leader in violation of the country’s constitution. Expectedly, both the government and parliament were dissolved, leaving him to rule unchecked for the next 18 months. A nationwide curfew has also been imposed and the borders have been shut.

Many of the 14 generals the young Deby has tapped as members of his governing council are said to be wondering if Deby as head of the elite presidential guard could not protect his father, will be able to protect them against Ali’s determined and re-energised advancing FACT rebel.

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