Son of Chad’s autocratic president takes over after father’s death

Idriss Déby had been in power since 1990, after ousting the dictator Hissène Habré

The son of Chad’s 30-year president has been appointed to govern the country in the wake of the death of Idriss Déby (68), days after he was re-elected for a sixth term.

The army said Mr Déby died after sustaining injuries in northern Chad, on the front lines against a rebel group called the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), which is usually based in southern Libya.

An official said Mr Déby “breathed his last defending the sovereign nation on the battlefield”.

Mr Déby had been in power since 1990, after ousting the dictator Hissène Habré. Chad held presidential elections on April 11th. Many civilians refused to take part, following a call for a boycott by opposition, who condemned it as a sham election.


On Monday, Mr Déby was announced as the winner with nearly 80 per cent of the vote. A new constitution would have allowed the autocratic ruler to stay as president until 2033.

Ahead of the election, the opposition spoke out about the repression they were facing. In February, opposition presidential candidate and former rebel Yaya Dillo said five members of his family were killed, including his mother, after police tried to arrest him at his home.

In the wake of the president’s death, the army announced that Mr Déby’s son, 37-year-old Mahamat Idriss Déby, will lead a 15-member transitional military council for 18 months. After that, they say elections will be held. Mahamat Idriss was previously in charge of the presidential guard.

Calls for civilian rule

FACT has rejected the imposition of Mr Déby's son, saying "Chad is not a monarchy". The group said it would halt its current military advance in respect of the two-week period of mourning.

Activists and human rights groups are calling for the country to be returned to civilian democratic rule.

"The potentially explosive consequences of President Déby's death cannot be underestimated – both for the future of Chad and across the region," said Ida Sawyer, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“Chad’s regional and international partners should closely monitor the situation and use their influence to prevent abuses against civilians. Chad’s transitional leaders, with support from regional and international partners, should work toward reversing Chad’s downward human rights trajectory. They should ensure a prompt and peaceful transition to civilian government, based on Chadians’ free exercise of their wishes in a fair election,” he added.

Chad, a west-central African country of roughly 16 million people, is a former French colony. It is one of the largest oil reserve holders in Africa, yet roughly 40 per cent of people live below the poverty line.

Strategically, Chad is in a key location, bordered by countries including Libya, Nigeria, Sudan, and the Central African Republic. The region has experienced ongoing Islamic insurgencies from Boko Haram and other groups linked to Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Mr Déby was seen as a western partner against those militants.

Chad also shelters nearly half a million refugees who have escaped other conflicts.

On Wednesday, French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said that France's president Emmanuel Macron will attend Mr Déby's funeral.

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports on Africa