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In Chad, President's Death Leaves Lots of Questions

Military says Idriss Deby was killed on the front line
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 20, 2021 11:52 AM CDT

(Newser) – Chadian President Idriss Deby was scheduled to give a victory speech on Monday to celebrate his latest election win, one that would extend a reign already 31 years long. Instead, the military announced on TV that the 68-year-old was killed while leading a battle against rebels. The surprise news has ramifications not only for Africa but for the US and other Western nations that had teamed with Chad to battle extremists. Coverage:

  • Questions: In the capital of N'Djamena, the AP reports that the news is being met with skepticism in some camps. Why was the president on the front lines a day after declaring victory in the election? Few details about what happened have been released, leading to sentiment such as this: "The rumors that are going around about the transitional council give me the impression that some information is false," one resident tells the outlet. "So for me, I'd say it was a coup d'etat. He was killed."

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  • On the other hand: Deby, who seized power in 1990, was "a true warrior president," writes Andrew Harding for the BBC. "The former rebel and trained pilot was the opposite of an armchair general." And Reuters quotes an anonymous diplomat: "We understand from our sources that he was indeed on or near the front line. He loved going on the front line." As a leader, he had become "increasingly autocratic" over the years, notes the BBC.
  • Fallout: The Washington Post reports that under Deby, Chad was a key ally of the US and France in fighting groups such as Boko Haram and affiliates of ISIS and al-Qaeda in the Sahara region known as the Sahel. "This news has deep implications not only for Chad but for the entire region," J. Peter Pham, former US special envoy for the Sahel in the Trump administration, tells the newspaper. "Whatever else one might say about Deby, he had made himself an indispensable link in the political and security balance of West Africa."
  • Transition: Deby's son, Mahamat Idriss Deby, will lead a military council for 18 months until new elections are called, per the New York Times. That in itself rankles critics such as Ayo Sogunro, a fellow at the South Africa-based Center for Human Rights. A family member isn't supposed to fill in for a deceased president under Chadian law, he says. Instead the National Assembly is supposed to pick someone. "The army seizing power and conferring it on the son of the president ... is a coup and unconstitutional," Sogunro said. The government and National Assembly have been suspended.
(Read more Chad stories.)

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