The death of Chad’s President comes as bad news for France, of which Idriss Deby Itno was one of the toughest military allies in Africa.There is a long story between Idriss Deby Itno and France. In 30 years of reign, this son of Zaghawa shepherd (an ethnic group straddling Chad and Sudan), who went through French military schools and the ranks of rebel movements, has rubbed shoulders with five presidents who succeed one another at the Elysee Palace: François Mitterrand, Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy, François Hollande and now Emmanuel Macron.
With each of them, the Chadian has shown himself to be so useful that he had become an essential piece for France in Africa. During the launch of its Operation Serval, in January 2013, intended to drive out the jihadists from the towns they then occupied in northern Mali, Paris found no better ally than the infantrymen of the elite Chadian forces sent by Idriss Deby. The command of these troops was entrusted to officers appointed by Deby himself. Among them is his son, Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, 37, four-star general, now the country’s new strongman. The young leader has taken power in Ndjamena, at the head of a Transitional Military Committee (CMT), which has suspended the constitution, dissolved the government and the National Assembly.
Four years later, in 2017, when faced with the all-out offensives launched by the Islamists of Boko Haram in Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger, Deby sent reinforcements to push the jihadists back. A few weeks ago, 1,200 of his additional Chadian soldiers were again dispatched to western Niger territory by Deby to support the French force Barkhane. These soldiers took over from Serval in 2014 but are still struggling to eradicate jihadist groups in the Sahel, whose attacks are often very deadly like those recurring by fighters of the Islamic State in the Great Sahara (EIGS), especially in the area of the three borders between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.
Also read: Idriss Deby’s death: The army takes power in Chad
With the unexpected disappearance of Deby, who was undoubtedly one of its best military allies in Africa, France admitted having lost “a courageous friend who worked for the stability of the region for three decades,” adding that Chad has also lost “a great soldier and a president (having worked) tirelessly for the country’s security.”
In a statement posted on the Elysee website, France regrets the “ordeal” the Chadian people is going through, insisting on “its firm attachment to the stability and territorial integrity of Chad.” For his part, Jean-Yves Le Drian, French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, said Idriss will be remembered as a reliable partner of France.
After the death of the army chief of staff during a previous clash between the regular army and fighters of the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), these rebels based in Libya and who recently launched an attack aimed at taking the capital Ndjamena, Idriss Deby Itno himself had taken control of the operations. Inducted Marshal of Chad in August 2020, Deby did not survive this umpteenth trip to the warfront, as he used to do every time his army was attacked.
Also read: Chad: Idriss Deby’s funeral scheduled for Friday
France, like all other friends of the late president, was preparing to congratulate him on his re-election for a sixth new term at the head of Chad. According to a statement from the Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) made public on Monday, a few hours before his death, Marshal Idriss Deby Itno, 68, was declared winner in the first round of the April11 election with 79,32 percent of the votes.
Paris, which has always declared itself hostile to military coups, has nevertheless taken “note of the announcement by the Chadian authorities of the setting up of a Transitional Military Council.”
However, France has stressed “the importance of a peaceful transition, in a spirit of dialogue with all political and civil society actors, to ensure the return to inclusive governance based on civil institutions.”