Chad’s long-serving president Idriss Deby Itno has died from injuries sustained on the frontline, an army spokesman said on Tuesday.
The news came hours after provisional election results confirmed that the 68 year-old had won a sixth term, after three decades in power.
Deby’s 37 year-old son, Gen. Mahamat Idriss Deby, will lead a transitional military council for 18 months until “free and democratic elections” are held, the army said.
The government and parliament have been dissolved, and a nationwide curfew was extended by authorities in a decree in the country’s capital and other provinces from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. local time.
The army had beaten back a column rebels who had invaded northern Chad on April 11 and advanced on the capital N’Djamena, Chad’s army spokesperson Chérif Mahamat Zene said.
“The misadventure of mercenaries from Libya ended as announced. Congratulations to our valiant defense and security forces,” he tweeted.
Chadians went to the polls on April 11 in a process that was marred by election violence and opposition intimidation.
In February, months before the race, two people were killed in a skirmish as security forces arrested opposition candidate Yaya Dillo Djérou.
After the attack on Djérou’s house, three candidates withdrew from the race, including a key challenger to the president Saleh Kebzabo from the Union Nationale pour le Développement et le Renouveau party, who came second in the 2011 presidential election.
The election pitted the Patriotic Salvation Movement, which has won every election since 1996 and has a strong presence across the country, against a highly fragmented opposition with limited national representation, says Remadji Hoinathy, a Sahel analyst from the ISS Africa think-tank.
“The other candidates who ran against Déby were either from ally parties or novices without a real popular base or clear political programme. This meant the stakes in the election were very low, with Déby competing against opponents who were in no position to challenge him,” Hoinathy says.
Déby rose to power in a rebellion in 1990 and ruled continuously until 2021. In the run-up to the latest election, he promised to bring peace to the turbulent Sahel region, and signed a peace accord with four Sudan-based Chadian rebel groups in Libya in October.
“Chad’s geostrategic position – between the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin – and Déby’s leadership in addressing terrorism in the region mean that the socio-political situation in the country is less of a priority,” says Hoinathy.
The late president made frequent excursions to army bases on the frontline, where he had earned a reputation as a stalwart in the fight against northern rebels.
He was a staunch ally of the country’s former colonial master, France. French president Emmanuel Macron mourned the death in a statement: “France lost a brave friend.”
Chad grapples with spillover from conflicts in bordering countries, as well as the impacts of climate change, which compounds desertification and the drying up of Lake Chad, according to the World Bank.
Despite a decline in the national poverty rate from 55% to 47% between 2003 and 2011, the number of poor people in the country’s 16m population is expected to rise from 4.7m to 6.3m between 2011 and 2019, the bank says.
The oil-producer relies heavily on oil and has been locked in a two-year recession due to a drop in oil prices. GDP grew by a promising 3.2% in 2018, but is expected to drop sharply in 2020 to 0.8%, owing to the economic impact of the pandemic.
The country ranks last on the World Bank’s Human Capital Index.