The death of a dictator: Unrest in Chad and beyond

Source: Wikimedia Commons, Idriss Déby at the 6th World Water Forum

Cassius Hynam

On April 19 2020, Chadian President, Idriss Déby won a sixth consecutive election. The result extended his iron-fisted rule over the central African nation safely into a fourth decade. That same day, while visiting troops fighting rebels in the country’s west, Déby sustained wounds that led to his shocking death.

The response was swift. An interim military council was immediately announced, claiming that it would lead the nation for 18 months until a ‘free and democratic’ election is held. The council, headed by Déby’s son, is an unconstitutional coup d’état. Yet the council immediately received backing from major strategic allies, even in spite of mass protests, arrests, and deaths.

Déby’s sudden death will be significant. Civil rights and opposition leaders have already demonstrated that they are ready to fight for fair and democratic elections. In the meantime, civil unrest and lack of clear leadership will threaten the stability of the region in the fight against Islamic extremists, and Chad’s efforts to hold off rebels approaching the capital. The fallout from Deby's sudden death should also force Western countries to reconsider their blind pegging of ‘security’ on individual leaders who, in most circumstances, are responsible for exacerbating instability in their own countries.

What does this mean for Chad?

Déby’s death will almost certainly bring unrest to the nation. In the long term, political groups long suppressed under Déby will vie to carve out a position in the country’s political future. More immediately, the announcement that an interim military council will lead the country has angered civil groups, leading to mass protests and the accusation of a coup d’état. A fractured government could undermine the integrity of the Chadian military currently holding off rebel groups just 300km from the capital, N’Djamena. It is a volatile situation.

Protests against the unconstitutional takeover have gathered mass support. Demanding an earlier transition to democracy and expressing their anger at the French backing of the regime, protesters have been spurred into the streets. For many, Déby’s death represents a chance to start anew. Under Déby, the country languished economically, performing as one of the worst nations globally in key economic development measures. With the prospect of fresh leadership, protesters are concerned that the military council will not follow through on their promise for free and fair elections. It would not be the first time an African leader overstayed their welcome.