NEWS FROM NDJAMENA, CHAD: THE PRESIDENT IS DEAD!

Ludovic Lado SJ

Last Tuesday, April 20 2021, I was on a zoom call in my office when three of my colleagues insistently knocked at the door before opening and wanting to interrupt. But I waved to them to let them know that I was busy and will talk to them later. When I finished with the call, I opened the door and found them still chatting. One of them said, there is an emergency. I said “about what?” and he answered: “The President is dead”.  Then I replied “Which President?” He said, “President Deby”! I could not believe it. Then they told me that it had just been announced on public media. That is how I learned about the passing away of President Idriss Deby Itno who has run Chad with an iron fist for the past thirty years. The night before, the National electoral commission had just announced that he had won presidential elections for a sixth term by almost 80% of votes. The undemocratic conditions in which these elections where organized coupled with strong opposition, including an armed rebellion, to this sixth term are definitely the root causes for his death which has now plunged the whole country into uncertainty. 

Indeed a few months before elections, the presidential camp organized a simulacra of national forum during which the Constitution was modified mainly to exclude a number of influential political figures from running for the presidential seat and ensure the re-election of Idriss Deby who, for the past thirty years, has managed to build a ruling system based mainly on family ties and the support of his clan. Most Chadians have grown tired of bad governance and the related ills.  Opposition leaders then team up with civil society organizations to mount a fierce internal resistance against what was definitely going to be another electoral hold-up. But this resistance was consistently and persistently met with brutality and repression, by a crack on public freedoms. Ultimately elections took place on April 11, 2021 and Idriss Deby was declared a winner a few weeks later to nobody’s surprise. Only that the next day, he was also declared dead. 
 
According the military officers who announced his death on public media, he was fatally wounded by rebels in a battle about 300 km away from Ndjamena, the capital city of the country. What was he doing there? Idriss Deny Itno is a soldier by training and was a colonel when he took power by a Coup d’Etat in the early 1990s. But he then made himself a general and was recently honored pompously with the title of Marshall. So we were becoming used to him been called “Marshall Idriss Deby Itno” (MIDI). And whenever a rebellion was threatening his power, he will put on his soldier uniform and join the troops to direct the operations. Only that this time, he didn’t come back alive.  He was tragically injured by enemy fire from a rebel movement coming from the northern front and radically opposed to his sixth political term as head of state. He was a close and efficient ally of the main western powers (France in particular) in the fight against jihadism in the Sahel and, for this reason, he could count on their complacency regarding his undemocratic and repressive policies. 

The sudden death of Marshall Idriss Deby Itno came to the population as a shock and has plunged the entire country into uncertainty about the future. According to the Constitution, the vacancy of power is filled by the President of the Parliament. But, as usual, the fourteen military officers, among which at least 10 are his family members or of his clan, upon announcing his death also announced that the government and the parliament were dissolved and replaced by a Military committee for Transition which was going to run the country for the next 18 months before another elections. This military junta is run by one of the sons of the defunct president, General Mahama Idriss Deby Itno. Many people are angry about this turn of event. It is a de facto Coup d’Etat which is now again being fiercely opposed by a vast array of political and civil organizations which are requesting the restoration of the constitutional order and the organization of an inclusive national dialogue effect a number of institutional reforms before future elections. In the meantime, the same rebel movement which killed Marshall Idriss Deby is planning to march on Ndjamena, the capital city, in the next few days if the junta does not dissolve in favour of the constitutional order. The Catholic Church has just added her voice to that of many calling for a cease fire, a national inclusive dialogue and the restoration of the civilian constitutional order. 

The former president will be buried today Friday April 23, 2021, in the presence of Emanuel Macron, the President of France, and surely a number of other regional personalities.  But nobody knows what will happen thereafter, when internal and external forces, including an armed rebellion, coalesced to oppose the current ruling junta. A similar scenario occurred in 2008 and caused a lot of damages and trauma. Many do not want to suffer another trauma. Schools are closed, a number of people are sending their children to their parents in the provinces, public and private services are running on a slow mode, etc. The city of Ndjamena looks calm, but people are prudent, because the storm might be on its way.  

Jesuits run a number of institutions in the city of Ndjamena including a hospital where some of us are relocating, a school, and a social center. We are hoping and praying that dialogue prevails over violence and bloodshed in the coming days. May God help Chad and Chadians to finally break with a long history of political violence in favor of democracy and integral human development. 
 
Ludovic Lado SJ

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