Africa Crisis Management Security & Defense

Fast Thinking

April 20, 2021

FAST THINKING: After the death of its president, Chad is on the brink

By Atlantic Council


More tumult is coming to the Sahel. After three decades in power, Chadian President Idriss Déby was killed following clashes with insurgents, state media announced Tuesday. What’s next for the country after the fall of its long-ruling autocrat? And what does Déby’s death mean for French and US military involvement in the region? Our Africa experts are here to sort through the fast-shifting news.


  • Cameron Hudson (@_hudsonc): Nonresident senior fellow at the Africa Center and former director for African affairs at the US National Security Council

What’s at stake

  • The nation of sixteen million “has largely been viewed by Western powers as a critical state in staunching the spread of radical Islam and terrorism from the western Sahel region” Cameron says, “and as a buffer to the long-term instability coming from Sudan’s Darfur region on Chad’s eastern border” and from its northern border with Libya since the overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
  • But in recent days, thousands of anti-Déby rebels from the Front for Alternation and Concord in Chad (FACT), entering Chad from Libya, have been seizing territory and advancing toward the capital, N’Djamena. The country’s poor economic condition and low voter turnout in Déby’s recent re-election—“widely seen as fraudulent,” Cameron notes—suggest “FACT could well be successful in tapping into pent-up frustration from within the military and civilian ranks,” he adds.

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The French connection

  • France, which once ruled Chad as a colonial power and has been active in fighting Islamist militants throughout the Sahel, openly backed Déby by unleashing airstrikes against an incursion by FACT rebels in 2019. Rama points out that the entire Chad-based French military mission in the Sahel, which has been going on for nearly a decade, will now come under greater scrutiny.
  • “The military response is clearly not enough to overcome the terrorist threat,” she says, despite the financial and military backing of the United States. The United States, France, and other international actors need to “tackle one of the main weaknesses of foreign intervention: the lack of results on the economic and social-development fronts. It is urgent to address the roots of terrorist contagion.”

The scenarios ahead

  • Déby’s thirty-seven-year-old son, Mahamat Idriss Déby, a four-star general, will rule for the next eighteen months ahead of elections, according to the government. But that’s no sure bet, according to Cameron: “There is a great deal of uncertainty around how events in Chad will unfold: whether the army will stay loyal to Déby’s son and continue the effort to repel the advancing rebels; whether Chad’s citizens, fed up after thirty years of Déby’s rule and on the heels of his sixth re-election, will join the rebels to undo the current political dispensation. Either scenario presents a high risk of civilian casualties and a likelihood that fleeing civilians or soldiers could export Chad’s instability to neighboring states.”
  • France and the United States, which has its own military presence in the Sahel, must now also decide whether to stick with the younger Déby. “Advancing Western security interests and supporting a civilian-led transition in Chad are not mutually exclusive goals,Cameron advises.
  • “Chad is not just Déby,” Rama reminds us. “The country can write a new page of its history provided that the transition is not confiscated by his family or by a clan.”

Further reading

Related Experts: Rama Yade

Image: Chad's President Idriss Déby shown after a meeting with French President Francois Hollande at the Élysée Presidential Palace, in Paris, on February 14, 2014. Photo by Stephane Lemouton/ABACAPRESS.COM via Reuters.