Chad’s military has said President Idriss Deby has died from wounds sustained during a visit to front-line soldiers battling a rebel group, just after being declared the winner of a presidential election that would have handed him a sixth term in office.
Deby’s son, Mahamat Idriss Deby, was swiftly named interim president by a transitional council of military officers, army spokesman Azem Bermendao Agouna said on state television on Tuesday.
“The president of the republic, head of state, supreme chief of the army Idriss Deby Itno just drew his last breath while defending the nation’s integrity on the battlefield,” Agouna, wearing a red beret and army fatigues, said surrounded by soldiers.
The sudden news of Deby’s death, as well as the lingering questions over its exact circumstances, opens a period of uncertainty in the country.
Here is what the army announced about the post-Idriss Deby era:
“The National Council of Transition reassures the Chadian people that all measures have been taken to guarantee peace, security and the republican order,” Agouna said.
Mahamat Deby is best known as a top commander of the Chadian forces assisting a United Nations peacekeeping mission in the restive north of neighbouring Mali.
Under Chad’s suspended constitution, the speaker of the now-dissolved legislative assembly would have been the one to exercise provisional presidential powers and lead the country’s transition.
Nathanial Powell, author of France’s Wars in Chad: Military Intervention and Decolonization in Africa, said the military’s move to suspend the constitution, as well as dissolve the government and the national assembly, was “not surprising at all”.
“That is technically a coup, but it is signalling to Chadians but also the international community that there is an absolute commitment to regime continuity,” he told Al Jazeera. “That sends a very strong message to France and to Chad’s other international partners that they can expect continuity. I think that’s the message they’re trying to send – whether they can sustain that is another question.”
Powell, a researcher in the Centre for War and Diplomacy at Lancaster University, also said the decision to name Mahamat Deby head of state was in line with what was expected to happen in the event of Deby’s overthrow or death.
“For a long time there’s been discussion about what would happen if Deby were to die – he was notoriously in bad health, or for a long time people thought he might be in bad health – so the question was who would replace him. For several years he has been grooming his son, Mahamat, to take the ‘throne’ after he died,” he said.