Idris Déby: The Death of A Shrewd Politician, Warlord and Businessman

“Valar Morgulis, including those whose sins God must remember” Idris Déby Itno survived many coups and rebellions but the luckless warlord died of an assassin’s bullet to the cranium. Until his death, he leads a generally unstable country. The one he claimed to love – a claim he uses to justify leading his troops into battle. But was Déby a hero or a villain? “It all depends on perception” First he was a patriot, a military officer and a fighter pilot who was generally loyal to the leadership of President Hissene Habré who is of different ethnic stock. In the 80s, he fought against the Libyan invaders in the North, inflicting heavy casualties on enemy forces. When Habre

went berserk and began a systemic purge of the Zhagawa ethnic group from the government, Déby fled to Sudan and later Libya. It was in Libya that Déby became allies with Muammar Ghadaffi. With help from Ghadaffi, he launched a campaign to militarily topple the government. In December 1990, he succeeded and became president. “An enlightenment man?” In 1996, he organised a sovereign national conference that lead to the first election in which he participated, gaining a huge victory. Afterwards, he also became authoritarian.

First, he adjusted the term limits for the presidency, he added some changes that allowed the president to change the constitution. This move leads to the 2005 civil war and general instability across the country. During the war, the government committed war crimes [not unlike the rebels] pillaging, raping and detention in some of Africa’s worst prisons. The war saw the intervention of the Janjaweed [allied with the rebel groups] against the southern Christian population. The war was a complicated issue that involved Sudan funding the rebel groups in order to prevent Chad from funding the rebel groups in Sudan. Déby also converted state resources for personal use and gave out aid to civilians in exchange for loyalty.

“Support for Boko Haram” In October 2014 a ceasefire agreement was brokered by Déby between Boko Haram and the Nigerian military. The ceasefire agreement only successfully deceived the army into letting down its guard, leading to the capture of several towns by the insurgent groups. Afterwards, Déby ghosted. He refused to see any Nigerian delegation. On one occasion he claimed he to be sick. The Déby-led Chadian government came under serious scrutiny by the Nigerian government for allegedly providing support for Boko Haram. It remained a mystery how Boko Haram got a steady supply of weapons. In the same line, the insurgent group had attacked the Niger Republic and Cameroun but seems to be a little reluctant to attack Chad.

The Nigerian government also kept wondering how the insurgent group remained strong enough to continuously threaten the country for many years- with military-grade weapons [only available to sovereign entities] such as surface-to-air missiles that were threats to the Airforce. An intelligence report in 2011 from field officers within the MNJTF confirmed that members of the Boko Haram sect are sometimes kept in the Abeche region in Chad and trained before being dispersed. Doing the mathematics, Chad is complicit. “What would Déby get in exchange for destabilising Nigeria?” A senior military officer told TheCable that Chad might be eyeing control of the Chad Basin in Borno state, which is believed to be very rich in hydrocarbon reserves.

For two years, Nigeria committed around 30 billion naira to facilitate oil and gas exploration in the North East [Chad Basin] which had oil in commercial quantity. But the insurgency has been a distraction. All to the advantage of Déby who’s provided with unfettered access to oil under Nigeria’s soils through 3D oil drilling from within its territorial borders, which the country exports. “Boko Haram has murdered more than 40 thousand Nigerians.” In early 2020, Déby was seen leading his troops to battle against Boko Haram. This came upon the attacks on Chadian military posts by the sect or – depending on who you believe – after the Nigerian government paid him to attack the sect within his territory. Perhaps an attack on his own soldiers was staged in order to provide an impetus.

He routinely leads his men on the front lines. “Verily, all men must die.” In 2021, he was fatally shot in the head weeks after re-election and after 30 years in power. He was replaced by a military junta led by his son. It is unclear whether the present situation was his intended succession plan. West African governments like neighbouring Nigeria have kept mum over the junta. Buhari only limited his condolence message to the death of Chad’s strongman for decades.

Further reading:

  1. https://www.counterpunch.org/…/unraveling-the-mystery…/
  2. https://www.premiumtimesng.com/…/168053-exclusive…#
  3. https://www.thecable.ng/exclusive-chad-fuelling-boko…

Ojo, Aderemi Ibadan, Nigeria. ojderemi@gmail.com @realojoaderemi


Ojo, Aderemi is a Historian, teacher, public speaker, writer, politician, and community organiser. He was trained at the University of Ibadan and was President of the Students Union.

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