Idriss Deby was known for visiting the battlefield. After the fighters from Boko Haram launched a fatal attack on a Chadian military base in the village of Bohoma in March last year, the long-time president was seen next to his troops on the shores of Lake Chad.
And the former soldier found his end on the battlefield.
On Tuesday, the armed forces of Chad stunned the nation when they announced that Deby had died of the wounds he suffered while leading soldiers on the front lines against rebels heading from the north towards the capital, N’Djamena advanced. He was 68 years old.
“The President of the Republic, Head of State and Chief of the Army, Idriss Deby Itno, took his last breath as he defended the integrity of the nation on the battlefield,” Army spokesman Azem Bermandoa Agouna said in a televised statement during he was surrounded by men in army clothing.
However, the exact circumstances of Deby’s death remain unclear.
Deby, one of the longest-serving leaders in Africa, ruled Chad for more than 30 years.
He comes from the Zaghawa ethnic group and grew up in the northeast of Ennedi. He enlisted in the army in the early 1970s, at a time when Chad was ravaging a protracted civil war and receiving additional military training in France.
Deby rose to the rank of commander in chief of the armed forces and eventually came to power by leading an insurrection in 1990 that overthrew authoritarian leader Hissene Habre after the two men’s relationships deteriorated.
He officially took office in February of the following year, winning elections again in 1996 and 2001, before making a constitutional amendment in 2018 that could have allowed him to remain in power until 2033.
Idriss Deby’s death shortened his 30-year political career. He has built a reputation as the unwavering ally of the West in the Sahel – despite allegations of authoritarianism https://t.co/iJd3wHshuV pic.twitter.com/e1H85ReCPK
– Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) April 20, 2021
The president was seen as the lynchpin in the international fight against armed groups in West and Central Africa and as an important ally of Western powers. Under him, Chadian troops became the main regional force in the fight against ISIL and Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups 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 lost a great soldier and a president who worked tirelessly for three decades for the security of the country and the stability of the region,” the French presidency said in a statement, adding that France has lost a “brave friend” .
For its part, the White House expressed “sincere condolences” to the Chadis and said the United States supports “a peaceful transfer of power under the Chadian Constitution”.
At home, Deby faced the threat of rebel groups trying to overthrow him. The rebels reached the capital in 2006 and 2008 and came close again in 2019. The President’s armed forces fought them, sometimes with the help of France, as in 2019.
The most recent uprising began on Election Day, April 11th, when Deby sought a controversial sixth term in a poll boycotted by major opposition parties. When the election results came in, members of the Chad Front for Change and Concord (FACT), a Libya-based rebel group made up mostly of army dissidents, crossed the northern border from Libya into Chad.
Tensions mounted in the weeks and months leading up to the election, when Deby was silenced as an opponent with violent raids and even a fatal attack on the home of an opposition politician. In early April, Human Rights Watch said the Chad security forces had been “ruthless” against protesters and political opposition in the run-up to the elections.
During the campaign, Deby promised to restore peace and security to a violent country after years of attacks by armed groups and rebellions on its borders.
“There are people who say that a sixth term is too much. I say you are wrong, ”Deby had told the supporters at a rally in N’Djamena. “I am confident that we will win.”
As widely expected, the electoral commission announced on Monday that Deby had been re-elected with 79 percent of the vote.
But Deby was wounded over the weekend while visiting Chadian troops on the front lines fighting FACT a few hundred kilometers from N’Djamena, said Agouna, the army spokesman.
His 37-year-old son, the four-star general Mahamat Idriss Deby, will now chair a transitional military council for 18 months before new elections are held, the army said.
Deby leaves behind his wife, Hinda Deby Itno, whom he married in 2005, and their children and children from previous marriages.