In Chad, factionalism is creating uncertainty over the central African nation’s leadership following this week’s sudden death of longtime President Idriss Deby Itno.
On Wednesday, a transitional military council named Deby’s son — 37-year-old General Mahamat “Kaka” Idriss Deby Itno — as its interim head. The announcement came a day after the army announced his 68-year-old father died from injuries sustained over the weekend while visiting troops on the front lines.
They were battling the Front for Change and Concord in Chad, a Libya-based rebel group known by the French acronym FACT that has advanced in recent days toward the capital, N’Djamena.
In comments posted on the presidency website Wednesday, the younger Deby said the military council aimed to restore civilian rule and would hold democratic elections in 18 months.
“The military council has no ambition to govern the country alone,” Deby said in a speech to political party representatives, according to Reuters news service.
The council put forth a new charter, replacing Chad’s constitution and granting Deby presidential powers, as well as control of the military, Reuters said.
Meanwhile, cracks are emerging among Chad’s military leadership, General Idriss Mahamat Abderamane Dicko told VOA in a phone interview Wednesday.
Dicko said he represents “the national republican army.” He said the younger Deby was appointed by “a small circle of military friends,” and he accused them of wanting “to leave the legal framework to perpetrate a little coup d'état.”
Dicko said his group has asked the council “to return to reason” and sit down with representatives of “civil society, trade unions — all the organizations that represent the Chadian people … for an inclusive dialogue” to develop resolutions that could guarantee a transition leading to “independent, free and inclusive elections.”
“Sovereignty is in the hands of the people,” Dicko said.
On Monday, the elder Deby was declared the winner of Chad's April 11 election with 79% of the vote, which would have given him a sixth term in office. But most opposition groups had boycotted the poll, citing arrests and a government ban on opposition rallies.
Deby — whose burial is planned for Friday in his eastern Chad hometown of Amdjarass — came to power in a December 1990 coup, making him one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders. Opponents called him an autocrat and criticized his management of Chadian oil revenue. In 2008, a different rebel force reached N’Djamena and came close to toppling Deby before French and Chadian army forces drove them out of the city.
In the West, however, Deby was seen as an important ally in the fight against Islamist extremist groups in West Africa and the Sahel region like Nigeria-based Boko Haram.
FACT attacked a border post on the day of the election and then moved hundreds of kilometers toward the capital. On Monday, the Chadian army said it had inflicted a heavy loss on the rebels, killing more than 300 of them.
The U.S. government is closely watching developments.
At a State Department daily briefing Wednesday, spokesperson Ned Price said, “We continue to stand with the people of Chad during this difficult time. We condemn recent violence and loss of life in Chad. … Obviously, developments in recent days and hours are a cause for concern, but we will continue to call for and support peaceful, democratic transition to a civilian-led government.”
Richard Moncrieff, who leads the International Crisis Group’s Africa research program from Nairobi, told VOA he saw challenges on at least two fronts.
Chadian troops have “lost their commander-in-chief,” he said. And though the younger Deby is a career soldier, “a very important question at the moment is whether the new military committee that has taken over the country has full ability to deploy soldiers and command the army.”
Also, FACT rebels “have stated their determination to continue to fight to overthrow” the new military council and have continued their advance, Moncrieff said.
“So, that is fraught with risk, because it is a significant, well-armed rebel group with a significant rear base in Libya,” Moncrieff said. He added that it’s unclear whether FACT “may be able to bring onboard other rebel groups based in Libya … or launch complementary attacks in other parts of the country.”
Jerome Tubiana, a journalist and researcher in France who has studied Chad extensively, also questioned the Chadian military’s efficacy going forward.
“There were indications of fractures in the army in recent years,” he said. “The army remobilized to fight in the last days, but it's not sure that it will remain as mobilized now that Deby's dead. I'm not sure the army will fully support the rapidly established transitional military council.”
Tubiana, when asked about the elder Deby’s decision to risk going to the battlefront, told VOA, “It's customary in Chad to do that. And people say that the troops don't fight if the big officers are not in the ‘first car’ – basically on the front line.”
“I think Deby really wanted to make sure that his army would actually fight and remain mobilized and not betray him, because in recent years there's been a lot of dissatisfaction growing within the army,” he added.
André Kodmandjingar contributed from N’Djamena for VOA French to Africa. Jason Patinkin and James Butty, both of VOA English to Africa, reported from Washington.