Déby, Idriss 1952–
Idriss Déby 1952–
President of Chad
Idriss Déby has served as president of Chad, one of the African continent’s most impoverished nations, since 1990. A former military commander, Déby led a military coup that brought him to power that year. He then permitted a series of political reforms that led to the 1996 free election in which Chadian voters chose to keep Déby as president for a five-year term.
The son of a shepherd, Déby was born in 1952 in Fada, a village in the eastern Chad province of Ennedi. A Muslim and member of the Zughawa ethnic group, Déby’s childhood coincided with the last years of French colonial rule in Chad. The country became independent in 1960, but years of warfare and civil strife followed. Since independence, droughts and a series of corrupt governments have only weakened Chad’s economy, and it became heavily dependent on foreign aid.
Like many other Chadian men, Déby joined the military, one of the few career opportunities open to him. He attended an officers’ training school, and joined the Forces Armees du Nord (FAN) as a second lieutenant not long after Libya occupied a mineral-rich border region called the Aozou Strip. A 1975 coup resulted in the death of Chad’s first president, Francois Tombal-baye, and the following year Déby moved to France, where he earned his pilot’s license. In June of 1982, he took part in a military coup led by Hissene Habré and FAN, and Habré then named him commander in chief of the Forces Armées Nationales Tchadiennes (FANT). In the continuing skirmish with Libya, Déby led the FANT troops to victory twice, which made him a popular national figure. He was even hailed as the “cowboy of the desert” by the French, who still kept a small number of its own troops in Chad. Habré grew increasingly resentful about Déby’s celebrity, and sent him to France for further military training. He also replaced him as chief of armed forces with a cousin of Déby’s, Hassan Djamous.
When Déby returned from France, he was named as an advisor for Chad’s security and defense forces. Meanwhile, Chadians were growing dissatisfied with the excesses of Habré’s rule, especially after he formed a security force comprised of members of his own ethnic group. They were outfitted with far better weaponry than soldiers in Chad’s regular army, which then rebelled in protest. Déby was accused of plotting a coup, and he and Djamous fled the country. In neighboring Sudan, they gathered other disgruntled military personnel to form a rebel force. Calling themselves the Patriotic Movement of Salvation (MPS) and equipped with 200 Toyota Land Cruisers from Libya installed with Russian-built cannons, Déby and his army invaded eastern Chad. Habré personally led the counterattack, but tacit support from French authorities helped Déby and the MPS emerge victorious. MPS troops entered N’Djamena in December of 1990 after a three-week war. Habré then fled the country, and was thought to have absconded with part of the national treasury.
At a Glance…
Born in 1952, in Fada, Ennedi, Chad; son of a shepherd; married, four wives; children: ten. Education: Military officers’ academy in Chad, attended; L’lnstitut Aeronautique Amaury de la Grange, pilot’s license, 1976, Politics: Patriotic Movement of Salvation. Religion: Muslim.
Career: joined Chad’s armed forces as an officer, early 1970s; Forces Armees du Nord (FAN), second lieutenant, late 1970s; Forces Armees Nationales Tchadiennes (FANT), commander in chief, mid-1980s, advisor for security and defense; formed Patriotic Movement of Salvation (MPS) in Sudan, late 1980s; leader of invasion force that took capital, 1990; became head of state; president and chief of the armed forces, until 1996; elected president, 1996.
Addresses: Office —Council of State, Office of President BP74, N’Djamena, Chad.
Déby’s installation as head of state improved relations with the former enemy to the north. He released Libyan prisoners, and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi sent a military plane to pick them up that also carried a gift for Déby, a Renault luxury sedan. Upon taking office, he promised to institute democratic rule, and political parties were recognized in 1991. He also established a commission to investigate human-rights abuses during the Habré regime, which eventually charged the former leader with 40,000 political murders. In 1992 Déby allowed the French Elf Aquitaine oil company to become part of oil consortium led by Esso, which hoped to build a pipeline to the Cameroonian port of Kribi. Such development promised a tremendous economic opportunity for Chad: oil had been discovered in the southern part of the country around 1970, but foreign companies deemed Chad too unstable to risk investment there to drill.
After a conference in January of 1993 designed to plan the transition to democracy, Chadian delegates drafted a charter and elected a prime minister. Déby was expected to serve as president and chief of the armed forces for a year, then step down; there was a clause, however, for a one-year extension, which he invoked. In 1995 he established a national independent commission that then drafted a constitution. It was approved by voters in March of 1996, and Déby spent the next several months campaigning for the country’s first presidential election in several years. He was the MPS candidate, but also part of Republic Front coalition. After two rounds of voting and some stiff competition from candidates culled from Chad’s political and cultural elite, Déby took 69 percent in the run-off and was sworn in for a five-year term.
Déby won praise for naming members of the political opposition to government posts, and worked to restore peace through agreements with still-active rebel groups and amnesty programs. His predecessor, Habré, was living in Niger with his own rebel group, and the leader of the 1975 coup, Wadal Abdelkader Kamougue, was Déby’s biggest political rival. Kamougue was particularly popular in the south, where Islamic groups in the south agitated against the government. Déby moved to curb their power by a government decree in the summer of 1996 that banned all Islamic religious associations save for the official government ministry. Despite the improvements, Chad was still somewhat of an international pariah: its military was a forceful presence in the country, and it was bloated to the point of a 70-percent-strong officer class.
In 2000 Déby and Chad celebrated the signing of a World Bank-supervised agreement to build a 650-mile pipeline through southern Chad to Cameroon and its Atlantic coast. Geologists estimated that Chad’s oil fields held around 1 billion barrels, and selling the rights to such resources promised a revolutionary economic windfall for the country—about $2-$3 billion in revenues for Chad over next 25 years. There was much opposition to the pipeline within Chad, however, as well as worries that some of the initial development funds might be misused. At a cost of $3.7 billion, the pipeline was the most expensive infrastructure project under construction on the African continent. The World Bank, however, had stipulated that Déby’s government must use oil profits to improve the standard of living in Chad, and not for military projects. After a first cash payment of $25 million in exchange for a tax break, the project’s partners and World Bank officials became irate when Chad military officials purchased $4 million worth of weapons. But Déby defended the acquisition. “It is patently obvious that without security there can be no development programs,” the Washington Post quoted him as saying. Déby has four wives, one of which was once his father’s wife, as is Zughawa custom and he has ten children.
Current Leaders of Nations, Gale, 1998.
Ecologist, February 2001, p. 13.
Economist, December 1, 1990, p. 42; December 8, 1990, p. 47.
Telegraph, February 5, 2000.
Time, December 17, 1990, p. 40.
Washington Post, June 3, 1996, p. A10; July 11, 1996, p. A20; December 5, 2000, p. A38.
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