Chad president relies on new wife to overcome family issues

CHAD: As Chadians go to the polls, Emily Wax in N'Djamena examines the difficult family life of the president, Idriss Deby

CHAD: As Chadians go to the polls, Emily Wax in N'Djamena examines the difficult family life of the president, Idriss Deby

The first family of Chad, by its own admission, has issues.

President Idriss Deby's twin nephews - Tom and Timan Erdimi - were once part of their uncle's inner circle but defected and started a rebel movement earlier this year. They are, at times, loosely allied with hardened fighters such as Mahmoud Nour, a former military confidant of the president, who orchestrated an April 13th coup attempt.

At the same time, the rest of Deby's family is no longer speaking to the president after he held a secret meeting outside the capital last year in which he said he wanted his son Brahim to take over the presidency. And that's just the start of "Deby's dysfunctional family", as Chadian newspaper cartoonists have called it.


Deby (53), a French-trained helicopter pilot, is so afraid of being assassinated that he admits to using doubles when travelling. His relations grew so tense with various relatives that he decided to add "Itno" to his family name to remind his tribe of his roots - Itno was reportedly his grandfather's name, from the elite Zaghawa tribe. Recently he declared: "Henceforth, the president's name is Idriss Deby Itno." Fresh T-shirts were then made and posters changed to carry the initials, "IDI!"

When nothing seemed to work to restore his fortunes, Deby did what many other men have done when confronting a mid-life crisis: he bought a new car and took a new wife.

The wife, 29-year-old Chadian beauty Hinda Deby, has captivated the capital in a way unseen before in this male-dominated society. Well-spoken and dressed in flowing designer gowns and matching headscarves, Hinda is seen nearly always at her husband's side.

She's the "fourth lady" of Chad. Or the 13th, depending on whom you ask. (Deby has had many wives and divorces and has at least a dozen children.)

"She's so beautiful," cooed the normally rough-mannered president. "She helps advise me with every single decision I make."

Educated in Morocco, France, and a college in Montreal, she was friendly with Brahim, Deby's son, who dabbled in college courses.

Although the capital is abuzz with reports of Hinda's beauty - she has clear coffee-coloured skin and almond-shaped eyes - the marriage may be strategic, as many are here.

Hinda hails from one of Chad's Arab tribes, and the match was widely seen as a way to connect the families and extend Deby's support during a vulnerable period, diplomats and Chadian journalists have reported.

"His own family distrusts him," Tom Erdimi, one of the twin nephews, said in a telephone interview from Texas, where he is now living.

"Taking a totally new wife was clever. She can reach out to her extended family to assure them of his powers."

Deby, sitting on a sagging sofa at his campaign headquarters for an interview, brushed off suggestions of family dysfunction and called those against him "worthless traitors, not worth another sentence."

When rebels in pick-up trucks entered the capital on April 13th, Deby said, he was waiting for them, "listening to the cannon fire, because we knew they were coming, as we took our breakfast of strong coffee and warm croissants."

Hinda nodded in agreement. "We were enjoying our morning when they attacked," she said. "We weren't at all nervous. My husband is in full command."

Hinda said she wouldn't mind ruling one day, but was careful to temper her ambitions in front of her husband, who recently changed the constitution so he could run for a third term in the elections yesterday.

Asked whether she was the power behind the throne, she smiled, raised her eyebrows and said, "Ask my husband."