General Idriss Déby Itno, a military powerhouse and one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders was born in 1952 into a family of herders of the Zaghawa ethnic group in northeastern Chad.
A young Déby joined the army In the early 1970s when the country was in the midst of a long-running civil war to later leave for France where he obtained a military pilot license.
His return in 78 saw him get behind Hissène Habré — then serving as prime minister, who was also head of one of the rebel groups.
Déby was instrumental in the coup that brought Habré to power in 1982 — distinguishing himself a brilliant military strategist which garnered him the position of Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.
Relations soured with Habré and the young militant with political aspirations fled into exile before returning to N’Djamena in late 1990 to seize power by force.
A national conference was held in 1993 to establish a transitional government, and Déby was officially designated interim president.
1996 saw a new constitution approved, and Déby was elected president in the first multiparty presidential elections held in Chad’s history — albeit amid allegations of electoral fraud.
A position he would occupy for the next three decades — attaining re-elections under similar controversial political circumstances during his lifetime presidency.
When Déby was reelected in 2001, it was again amid allegations of widespread voting irregularities.
A 2005 constitutional referendum that eliminated presidential term limits was denounced by critics as another means of supporting the president’s increasingly autocratic rule. Nonetheless, the referendum passed, clearing the way for Déby’s reelection in 2006 in a poll that was boycotted by most of the opposition.
He was reelected in 2011, again in a poll that was boycotted by the country’s most prominent opposition figures.
President Déby’s administration was criticised for corruption, misuse of natural resources and brutally repressing individual freedoms.
Nevertheless, in his later years Cerca 2011 as Chad’s leader, President Idriss Déby Itno was internationally lauded for building a formidable army, known as one of the most capable in Africa.
Forces considered indispensable in the fight against terrorism who have intervened in the Central African Republic confronted Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in Mali and won significant battles against Boko Haram.
Throughout his presidency, Déby repeatedly faced resistance in the form of coup attempts and rebel activity that ultimately saw the end of his life on the battlefield — true to his legacy as the Chadian military strongman that he was, to many both on the African continent and within the international community.
Ally of France and the West
Nestled in between Libya, Niger, Central African Republic, Sudan, Nigeria and Cameroon, Déby signified Chad’s position as a strategic outpost for France and the United States in the fight against Islamist militants across the Sahel and Boko Haram in Nigeria as well as for monitoring political instability in neighbouring countries.
Déby has in recent years stepped into a void left by Africa’s traditional heavyweights and turned his desert nation into a powerbroker as France sought to disengage from its former colonies, most notably after a rebellion in Central African Republic in 2013.
Highlighting his importance, in February 2019, French warplanes and drones struck Chadian rebels advancing on the capital to ensure its interests were not put at risk during a critical stage in operations against Islamist militants in the region. Sources said Paris would only intervene directly again if those interests were put in danger.
France provided intelligence and logistical support against a new rebellion launched this month, but stopped short of direct action amid growing unease in French domestic political circles at the prospect of Deby winning re-election for a sixth time, extending his 30 years in power.
Chadian troops were in 2020 mostly engaged in fighting insurgents from Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa in the Lake Chad region.
Chad’s armed forces are among the most respected and battle hardened in West Africa. That reputation was forged after 2,000 troops took part in a French-led mission in 2013 to hunt down al Qaeda fighters in the deserts of northern Mali marking Chad out as the only African nation to quickly deploy an effective fighting force.
The deployment of a battalion of 1,500 men to the tri-border theatre between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger earlier this year was seen as a vital to enable French and other forces to re-orient their military mission to central Mali and to target Islamist leaders linked to al Qaeda.
France has bet on local forces eventually taking control of their own security to withdraw its 5,100 troops from the region.
Chad’s capital N’Djamena is the central command hub for France’s Barkhane counter-terrorism operation for the West Africa region. Just under 1,000 troops are based there along with a few Mirage 2000 fighter jets.
The G5 Sahel, which brings together troops from Chad, Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso, has its command centre in the previous headquarters of France’s Epervier mission from the 1980s, when Paris supported Chad against a Libyan offensive on the country.
As well as its main operations, France has two forward operating bases in Faya-Largeau in the centre of the country with one eye on the northern border with Libya and Abeche near the borders with Sudan and Central African Republic.
The United States also has had a small military presence in the country to help in training, equipping and capacity building. A U.S. official said there have been less than 70 US military personnel in the country.