UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Idriss Déby Itno

Idriss Déby Itno Chad's President Idriss Deby Itno died on the battlefield after three decades in power, the army announced on state television on 20 April 2021. Although Deby was hardly known to be a great democrat, “he was a real soldier and in some ways, this was a worthy death for him. To die involved in the battle was better for him than to die in his bed from Covid. His main maxim is that ruling is far more challenging than rebelling. "Being a rebel is rather simple," he said. "You have men with arms and your objective is clear, to rule a country. But this is a very difficult country to run."

The rebels that launched the offensive against the regime rejected the transition government led by one of Deby’s sons, and vowed to pursue the offensive. The stunning announcement about the president's death came just hours after electoral officials had declared Deby, 68, the winner of the April 11 presidential election, paving the way for him to stay in power for six more years. Idriss Deby Itno, who was on course for a sixth term as Chad's president before he died from injuries sustained in battle, had earned a reputation as a stalwart French ally in the fight against jihadist insurgencies in the Sahel – despite accusations of authoritarianism. The 68-year-old son of a herder would have been one of the longest-serving leaders in the world, after provisional results showed him winning re-election in April 2021. But his shock death cut his 30-year political career short and threw Chadian politics into disarray.

Like the country he led, Déby's family was vast and varied. He had many wives (5 to 13, depending on who is asked), even more children (a couple of dozen or so) and an extended family that had long held a firm grasp both on the military and the most important government ministries. Within Déby's Zaghawa clan are a variety of subclans jockeying for supremacy.

President Idriss Déby Itno had been in office since 1990, and was re-elected for a sixth five-year term in April 2021. Chad is formally a multiparty democracy, but the President’s party the Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS) and its allies dominate the political process. A new Constitution came into effect on May 4, 2018 that created a 4th Republic that further consolidated power in the Presidency.

Idriss Deby was born 18 June 1952 [or maybe 1953 or 1956] in the village of Berdoba, approximately 190 kilometers from the remote Fada oasis in Ennedi, north-eastern Chad. His father was a poor semi-nomadic herdsman of the Bidyat clan of the Zaghawa ethnic group. He added "Itno" to his surname in January 2006. Chadian opposition leader Yorongar le Moiban and Jean-Marie Darmina, once Deby's superior officer and later his biographer, Deby was born in the town of Kornoy in the Darfur region of Sudan, his father's homeland, but was raised in Chad, his mother's homeland. Deby himself has claimed to have been born in Chad's capital N'Djamena. But he also has a third birth certificate reporting his birth in Fada itself. In any events, most acccounts agree he was raised in the Central African Republic.

He entered the French school in Fada, after having attended the Koranic School of Tiné. His studies then took him to the Lycée Franco-Arabe in Abéché and the Lycée Jacques Moudeina in Bongor. Holder of a Scientific Baccalaureate, he began his military training at the School of Active Officers of N'Djaména (Promotion 1975-1976) before entering the Aeronautical Institute of Amaury la Grange in Hazebruk (France). He returned to Chad in 1976 a paratrooper graduate, with a professional helicopter pilot certificate, becoming a transport pilot.

A career army officer, he remained loyal to the army and to President Félix Malloum until central authority crumbled in 1979. His military qualities are quickly noticed on the ground, which earned him being appointed in 1980 Chief of the Defense Staff Armies of the North (FAN). When these took control of the capital, IDRISS DEBY ITNO was at the head of the first column which entered N'Djaména. Deby helped Hissen Habre topple Goukouki Oueddei in 1982. Commander-in-Chief of the Army, IDRISS DEBY ITNO was also a member of the Command Council of the Armed Forces of the North (CCFAN). Promoted to the rank of Colonel, he went to France where he attended the courses of the Inter-Armed War College (1986-1987).

Back in Chad, he was appointed Adviser to the Presidency of the Republic in charge of defense and security, and at the same time, Commissioner of the Armies, then of Security within the Executive Office of the Central Committee of the National Union for Independence and Revolution (UNIR), the party in power at the time.

By 1983 CIA belived that if Chadian President Hissein Habre were to be killed inbattle or die in an accident, his two most likely successors would be his Minister of Internal Affairs and Security, Taher Guinassou, or his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Idriss Miskine. CIA believed Guinassou had the edge over Miskine. Neither these two men -- nor the handful of other potential successors -- had Habre's leadership abilities, however, and would probably be unable to hold together the fragile government in N'Djamena.

Idriss Deby was Commander-in-Chief of the Chadian National Armed Forces (FANT) -- the national army. Deby previously served as FAN chief of staff. He was not highly regarded by the southern factions that supported Habre, and Habre himself was reported to doubt Deby's loyalty. The southerners believed that Deby typified the qualities of many of the officers from Habre's FAN -- a good guerrilla fighter but incapable of commanding large bodies of troops in regular warfare. Deby was a Muslim from the Zaghawa tribe, which is ethnically related to Habre's Touboutribe and centered in the Biltine area.

Rivalry between Hadjerai, Zaghawa, and Gorane groups within the government grew in the late 1980s. Under President Hissein Habre (a Gorane), members of Gourane, Zaghawa, Kanembou, Hadjerai, and Massa ethnic groups dominated the military. Idriss Deby, a member of the minority Zaghawa-related Bidyate clan and a top military commander, revolted and fled to Sudan, taking with him many Zaghawa and Hadjerai soldiers. April 1, 1989, in disagreement with HISSEIN HABRE, IDRISS DEBY ITNO and some companions decided to leave N'Djaména in direction of the East. The path was perilous; the small column must fight several battles in situation of numerical and material inferiority. Only IDRISS DEBY ITNO reached Sudan. The Survivors create "Action of April 1" which joined other formations in struggle against the dictatorship to form in March 1990 the Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS). In December 1990, with Libyan assistance and no opposition from French troops stationed in Chad, Deby's forces successfully marched on N'Djamena. At the end of a dazzling offensive, IDRISS DEBY ITNO and his men defeated [Deby's official biography claims "butchered"] HISSEIN HABRE on 01 December 1990. The forces that Deby led into N'Djamena on December 1, 1990 to oust President Habre were mainly Zaghawa (including a large number of Sudanese), many of whom were recruited while Deby was in the bush. Deby's coalition also included a small number of Hadjerais and southerners.

President of the Patriotic Salvation Movement since its creation, IDRISS DEBY ITNO was brought to the Presidency of the Council of State from the victory of the Patriotic Forces (December 04, 1990). After 3 months of provisional government, Deby's Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS) approved a national charter on February 28, 1991, with Deby as president. In the following 2 years, Deby faced at least two coup attempts. Government forces clashed violently with rebel forces (including the Movement for Democracy and Development, MDD, National Revival Committee for Peace and Democracy (CSNPD), Chadian national Front (FNT), and the Western Armed Forces, FAO) near Lake Chad and in southern regions of the country. Earlier French demands for the country to hold a national conference resulted in the gathering of 750 delegates representing political parties (legalized in 1992), the government, trade unions, and the army to discuss creation of a pluralist democratic regime.

Unrest continued, however, sparked in part by large-scale killings of civilians in southern Chad. The CSNPD, led by Kette Moise and other southern groups, entered into a peace agreement with government forces in 1994, which later broke down. Two new groups, the Armed Forces for a Federal Republic (FARF) led by former Kette ally Laokein Barde and the Democratic Front for Renewal (FDR), and a reformulated MDD clashed with government forces 1994-95.

Talks with political opponents in early 1996 did not go well, but Deby announced his intent to hold presidential elections in June. Deby won the country's first multi-party presidential elections with support in the second round from opposition leader Kebzabo, defeating General Kamougue (leader of the 1975 coup against Tombalbaye). Promoted to General of the Army Corps on February 21, 1995, IDRISS DEBY ITNO was invested President of the Republic on August 08, 1996 at the end of the first pluralist elections in Chad. Deby's MPS party won 63 of 125 seats in the January 1997 legislative elections. International observers noted numerous serious irregularities in presidential and legislative election proceedings.

In May 2001, Deby won a flawed 63% first-round victory in presidential elections after legislative elections were postponed until spring 2002. Six opposition leaders were arrested (twice), and one opposition party activist was killed following the announcement of election results. However, despite claims of government corruption, favoritism of Zaghawas, and security forces abuses, opposition party and labor union calls for general strikes and more active demonstrations against the government were unsuccessful. In May 2004, the National Assembly voted in favor of an amendment to the Constitution that would allow President Deby to run again. The amendment was approved in a national referendum June 2005 and abolished presidential term limits.

Deby had no respite from challenges to his rule since his return to N'Djamena 11 November 2005 after an extended stay in eastern Chad. He had spent weeks in his redoubt in Abeche seeking to stamp out a rebellion by deserters led by Yaya Dillo, his young cousin and a former coup plotter. Having relieved his army chief of staff of his duties for refusing orders to fire on the rebels, Deby only just avoided the unpardonable offense in Zaghawa culture of shedding the blood of his fellow clansmen. Instead the two sides successfully executed a charade with the army pretending to fight and the renegade forces pretending to defend themselves. In the end, the insurgents were allowed to escape across the border into Sudan unscathed. Perhaps the most stinging challenge to Deby personally was the release 08 December 2005 of the manifesto by the twins Tom and Timan Erdimi, his cousins and respected family elders, declaring open opposition to his regime.

Deby was defiant in his response. After the attacks on the military compounds in N'Djamena and Koundoul, Deby dissolved the Republican Guard, the military branch that was supposed to be an elite force but had actually been the seedbed for the plots against him in May 2004 and Yaya Dillo's more recent attempt. He pointedly accused Khartoum of aiding and abetting Chadian rebels against him.

In 2006, Sudan sent an invasion force of Chadian rebels to seize Ndjamena. France increased the size of its force in Chad and helped the Chadian military fend off the rebels. By early May 2006, Deby had beaten back a rebel assault on N'Djamena, reached a truce with the World Bank, pulled off a flawed presidential election, and learned of the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement that promised to stabilize his volatile eastern border with Sudan. In 2007, France took the lead in authorizing and leading an EU force (EUROFOR) to provide protection for the regime of President Idriss Déby and tens of thousands of refugees from Darfur.

President Déby was re-elected for a 5th term in April 2016. Unlike the 2006 and 2011 elections, the opposition participated in 2016 in the electoral competition, presenting 12 candidates against the outgoing president. The campaign was notably marked by a strong mobilization of collectives from civil society. The voting operations took place on April 10 in a calm environment and were also characterized by a good turnout of Chadian voters (66%). The results, proclaimed on May 3 by the Constitutional Council, gave victory to the outgoing president with a score of 59.92%, ahead of Mr. Saleh Kebzabo (UNDR) at 12.77%.

Based on the recommendations of the National Forum organized in March 2018, a new constitution was adopted by parliament on April 30, 2018. The ordinance establishing the 4th Republic was signed by President Déby on May 4, 2018. Elected for a term of six years, renewable once, the President of the Republic is, according to the new constitution, head of state and heads the government (abolition of the function of prime minister).

On April 20, 1991, President IDRISS DEBY ITNO received the UMBERTO BIANCAMANO European Prize. President IDRISS DEBY ITNO has also received several other honorary distinctions. This is how he was preached "Artisan of peace" by the Superior Council of Islamic Affairs on March 10, 2010. He was made Commander of the international order of Academic Palms by the African and Malagasy Council. IDRISS DEBY ITNO also received the "Paul Harris Fellow Medal" from the Rotary Club on June 9, 2010. On July 8, 2010, the CEN-SAD Students and Youth Union awarded him the "Price for Stability and Development" ". Rotary International awarded Head of State IDRISS DEBY ITNO the "Champion Polio Eradication Prize" on August 8, 2010 in NDjamena. To crown his commitment and his multiple actions in favor of youth, the President IDRISS DEBY ITNO was made "Doctor honoris causa" on October 05, 2010 by the King Fayçal University. The President of the Republic IDRISS DEBY ITNO also received the diploma of DOCTOR HONORIS CAUSA from the University of Abomey Calavi on July 7, 2011, title which was awarded to him by the scientific council of the University of Abomey Calavi (UAC ).

Raised to the rank of Honorary President of the African Federation of Parents and Students Parents Associations (FAPE) and designated as the best parent of an African student, the Head of State IDRISS DEBY ITNO received on April 25, 2012, the gold medal and the diploma of honor of the said organization of parents of African pupils and students. This honorary distinction from FAPE aims to salute the efforts made by Chad in the field of education. He was raised on May 5, 2012, to the Dignity of the Grand Cross of the National Order of the Central African Republic, symbol of a gesture of recognition towards him.

On May 17, 2013, the Senegalese newspaper "NOUVEL HORIZON" de Dakar awarded the President of the Republic IDRISS DEBY ITNO the "SEDAR SPECIAL" prize for his commitment to the cause of his country and that of the entire continent but also for his leadership and his pan-Africanist vision. The "SEDAR SPECIAL" prize was awarded to him in Dakar, on the occasion of the 10th edition of SEDAR, named after the former Senegalese President the late Léopold Sédar Senghor. On July 22, 2013, during a solemn ceremony at the Presidential Palace in N'Djamena, the President of the Republic IDRISS DEBY ITNO was elevated to the supreme dignity of Grand Cross of the International Order of Academic Palms (OIPA) of the African and Malagasy Council for Higher Education (CAMES). The supreme dignity of the OIPA / CAMES Grand Cross was awarded to the Head of State IDRISS DEBY ITNO on the sidelines of the 35th session of the CAMES inter-African advisory committees held in N'Djamena from 15 to 23 July 2013.

Idriss Déby has several children from different marriages, as is the custom within the Zaghawa, though his official biographical materials make no mention of this face. On October 2, 2005, Hinda Mahamat abderahim Acyl married the President of the Republic, Head of State, and she is depicted as the First Lady on the official website. Hinda Mahamat was born on April 02, 1980 in N'Djaména, of Mahamat and Mariam Abdérahim Acyl. Her father had 9 children from his 2 wives including 6 from Mariam Abderahim Acyl. Insurance controller at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, then diplomat stationed at the Chadian embassy in Washington in the United States. She studied finance and accounting at the Institute of Applied Engineering (IGA) in Rabat, Morocco in 2003. On January 20, 2012, he married Amani Moussa Hilal, daughter of Moussa Hilal, a famous Janjaweed militia leader. Other wives include Anda Ali Bouye, Souad Zakaria Abdallah, Haoua Toldjei Tchou, and Acheick Oumar.

No one in Chad was better at intimidating, out-scheming, or buying off his rivals. His survival prospects were shaped by four factors: his health, his family, his army, and his relations with Khartoum. Despite a bad liver, war wounds, and libertine personal habits, his public appearances suggest that he remained in fighting trim. Despite even the defection of the Erdimi twins, he can count on his family knowing that if he falls, it falls too. Thus he knows the family will not rashly risk a violent rupture. Despite desertions and attacks by isolated bands of dissidents, Deby's core base of support in the army still seemed to remain in place, albeit tenuously.

Chad was committed to the settlement of the Sahel crisis. Chad was asked in early 2013 by the Malian government to intervene militarily in the north of the country. Chad paid a heavy price during the operations of the Chadian Armed Forces of Intervention in Mali (FATIM), carried out in the Adrar des Ifoghas alongside the French forces. Chad continued its military engagement in Mali within the framework of MINUSMA (1,480 personnel in September 2018).

Idriss Deby Itno was the unacknowledged cause of much of the war and mayhem in central Africa. He was responsible for ethnic violence against his own people; the instigation of two wars in Sudan; the removal of the democratically elected presidents of the two neighboring countries; involvement in war in the Democratic Republic of Congo; an international counterfeiting operation; and the theft of diamonds and property across the region. Deby commits crimes against humanity, subverts election law and his nation's constitution, and was largely responsible for the Darfur and Central African Republic crises. He has not been held responsible by the international community, and the French government in particular seemed to trust him to protect its regional economic interests, regardless of the human cost.

It is not necessarily the best time to try to talk with a leader about democratic change when he is fighting for his life and still thinks he has a chance at surviving. In the fierce desert culture he grew up in and lives in still, pride and honor are everything. The threats against him only made him more determined to fight. The French, who tried to tempt Deby with offers of sinecures and handsome apartments, were convinced he will never leave Chad. As some describe him here, he is like a baobab tree: he will remain upright as long as he can and topple only after he is dead or pushed over.

In August 2020, the National Assembly named him field marshal, the first in Chad's history, after he led an offensive against jihadists who had killed nearly 100 troops at a base in the west of the country.

On 20 April 2021, the US State Deparment stated "On behalf of the United States, we offer the people of Chad our sincere condolences as they mourn the passing of President Idriss Deby Itno. We condemn recent violence and loss of life in Chad. The United States stands with the people of Chad during this difficult time. We support a peaceful transition of power in accordance with the Chadian constitution." Amid the confusion, some observers have been swift to point out that the circumstances surrounding Deby's death remain suspiciously unclear. Former minister Faustin Facho Balaam, who has lived in exile since 2008, does not believe Deby died in battle as first reported. "Deby was killed by people from his own circle," he told DW. "He had become unbearable and the military did not want to fight the rebellion…I think it is a coup d'etat, not a death on the front line." It is clear that the rule that says 'whoever rules by the sword will perish by the sword' applied to Idriss Deby.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 26-04-2021 12:38:05 ZULU