The sudden death this week of Chad’s longtime President Idriss Deby has thrown the country, as well as its neighbours and international partners, into disarray.
The 68-year-old died after succumbing to wounds sustained while commanding troops fighting off advancing rebels who go by the name Front for Change and Concord in Chad, or FACT, according to Chad’s military.
Over the course of Deby’s three-decade hold on power, Chad has remained one of the poorest countries in Africa, but it has also come to be seen as a military linchpin in the escalating fight against armed groups in Central and West Africa.
While there are few reliable figures about the size of the Chadian armed forces (estimates put it in the tens of thousands), Chad has built a reputation for possessing the most powerful military in the G5 Sahel, an alliance also comprised of Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger that was created to tackle armed groups operating in the region.
Earlier this year, Chad committed 1,200 troops to the epicentre of the violence: the border zone between Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. The deployment demonstrated Chad’s willingness and ability to commit troops beyond its own borders, something the other G5 Sahel countries have struggled to do.
On Thursday, the Burkinabe newspaper Sidwaya reported that Chadian troops with “pick-ups, tanks and personnel carriers” had been spotted leaving the Burkinabe section of the tri-border region, apparently to return to Chad. Similar reports in the days before Deby’s death had also said Chadian military units deployed abroad were being brought back to help defend Chad’s capital, N’Djamena, from FACT.
“France and the United States depended on Deby’s leadership and his military might to advance their regional security objectives,” said Judd Devermont, the director of the Africa programme for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a US think-tank.
“The domestic and security tumult in Chad may draw some troops away from the missions in Mali and the Liptako-Gourma tri-border region, depriving France of its most effective partner,” he added.