Chad holds funeral for President Idriss Deby

President Idriss Deby died from wounds suffered while leading soldiers on the front line against rebels.

French President Emmanuel Macron sits in the front row next to Mahamat Idriss Deby, head of Chad's transitional military council
French President Emmanuel Macron (L) sits in the front row next to Mahamat Idriss Deby, son of the late Chadian president and new interim leader during the state funeral [Christophe Petit Tesson/Pool via Reuters]

A funeral ceremony for late President Idriss Deby has been held in Chad’s capital, N’Djamena, with thousands of people paying their respects to the leader who died of wounds sustained while leading his troops against a rebel offensive.

French President Emmanuel Macron and several African leaders were present at the ceremony on Friday, despite rebel warnings they should not attend for security reasons.

Macron pledged support for the country’s “stability and integrity”, but also urged his military successors to steer a smooth return to civilian rule.

“The people of the region enjoy a peace pact with France. We have to make sure the pact lives on – and that of liberty and independence,” Macron said.

“France will not let anybody question or threaten, today or tomorrow, Chad’s stability and territorial integrity. France will be here to ensure that the promise which was made will be realised for all patriots. Stability, inclusiveness, dialogue and democratic transition – this is what we want. We are by your side,” he added.

Paris’s support for the military takeover following Deby’s death did not come as a surprise to the region’s observers.

“The strategy has been to promote the military apparatus as the only response to the challenges raised by armed groups. Chad had the only army in the region that was willing and able to project troops elsewhere. Therefore, Chad became very important in the military Barkhane operation,” Roland Marchal, a researcher at Science Po Centre for International Studies, told Al Jazeera.

Chad’s armed forces stunned the nation on Tuesday by announcing that Deby had died from wounds suffered while leading soldiers on the front line against Libya-based Chadian rebels advancing from the north towards Ndjamena. He was 68.

Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from N’Djamena, said there was a heavy deployment of troops in the face of security concerns.

“Since Thursday, there was a deployment of troops in the streets and around the presidential palace as well as tanks to seal the major roads ahead of the arrival of heads of states,” she added.

Deby ruled Chad for more than 30 years and was one of Africa’s wiliest political survivors, holding on to power despite rebellions that reached as far as his palace gates.

Mahamat Idriss Deby, son of the late Chadian president, Idriss Deby, sits in the front row during the state funeral for his father in N’Djamena, Chad [Christophe Petit Tesson/Reuters]

Hailing from the Zaghawa ethnic group, he grew up in the northeastern region of Ennedi. He joined the army in the early 1970s, at a time when Chad was gripped by a long-running civil war, and received additional military training in France.

Deby rose to the rank of commander-in-chief of the armed forces and eventually came to power by spearheading a 1990 rebellion that overthrew authoritarian leader Hissene Habre – his one-time mentor.

He officially took office in February the following year, and went on to win elections in 1996 and again in 2001 before pushing through a constitutional change in 2018 that could have allowed him to stay in power until 2033.

Although criticised by human rights groups for his repressive rule, he established himself as a key military ally of Western powers in the international fight against armed groups.

“He liberated our country from dictatorship and gave us the opportunity to participate fully in democracy,” said Emmanuel Gaba, a young resident of the capital.

His death came a day after election officials said he had won a sixth term in office. Most of the opposition boycotted the vote. Now his son, General Mahamat Idriss Deby, 37, will lead a transitional military council for the next 18 months.

“He protected us for so long that today we have come to wish him eternal rest. A deserved rest,” said Hassan Adoum, who attended the ceremony.

On Thursday, a car with mounted speakers drove around N’Djamena telling residents not to panic if they heard cannon fire as Deby would receive a 21-gun salute.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies