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Mahamat Déby: “My Father Would Be Proud of Me”

5 Min Read

After a long silence since turbulent events in Chad led to the death of Idriss Déby Itno on the frontline as he pursued the rebels, his own son, now in charge of the country has opened up.

Mahamat Idriss Déby recently had an exclusive interview with Jeune Afrique and spoke about his life and how he is fairing as the new leader in the volatile Chad.

The circumstances of the death of his father president, Idriss Déby Itno, his ambition for the country, his personal intentions, his links with the rest of his siblings … For the first time, the new Chadian head of state is speaking out.

When asked, just to test any ulterior motives, whether he prefers to appear on the cover of JA in military or civilian clothes, Mahamat Idriss Déby answers with a half-smile: “both”. A way to avoid an all too obvious trap of course, he who knows he is closely scrutinised by the Chadians and the international community.

With a pose in chadian boubou, he would be accused of “civilising” in view of the presidential election which must turn the page on the transition period. A pose in battle dress and here he is consecrated in his politically incorrect status of four-star praetorian, self-proclaimed successor to his father since April 21.

It also means that the 37-year-old man, propelled to power like a ping pong ball over a stream of water under both dramatic and peaceful circumstances, is still seeking his marks and the right point of balance. Even if it means evacuating stress, in the evening, on his treadmill – his only distraction.

“My life has been completely turned upside down,” says the man who now lives between the “pink palace”, where the official portraits of Idriss Déby Itno still stand, and the residence occupied by the latter fifty meters away. Upset and exposed, with the inevitable train of conspiracy theories, rumours and fake news about his parentage, place of birth, true age and the conditions of his arrival as head of state.

A shock for this discreet, little talkative soldier, the least publicised of the siblings undoubtedly and who owes his function as head of the elite unit of the army to have been co-opted by his general peers at the head of the Chadian state.

Today, this man who whispers more than he speaks but whom one feels determined and inhabited by his mission, is learning to communicate around a simple message: order, security, political openness, national dialogue, elections in a period of eighteen months provided that international aid is available. Mahamat Idriss Déby is well aware that the arrival on the continental scene of an army general, “son of” moreover, outside any democratic process, violates all the rules of good governance.

But N’Djamena is not Bamako, he pleads: he did not knock anyone down, not a single shot was fired, no one was arrested, he just filled the gaping void left by the death in combat of his father and the withdrawal of his constitutional successor. Many Chadians, including within the opposition, who know him neither escapades nor business, credit him with having maintained civil peace. It’s up to him to earn their trust.

This interview, the first granted by Mahamat Idriss Déby since coming to power, was carried out in two parts on June 11 and 12 at the palace and the presidential residence. In military for the first, in civilian for the second.

Jeune Afrique: You came to power under exceptional circumstances. Outside of your family and the military, very few people actually know you. Who is Mahamat Idriss Déby?

Mahamat Idriss Déby: I was born on April 4, 1984 in N’Djamena. My father was then the Chief of Staff of the armed forces, under the chairmanship of Hissène Habré.

I was raised by my late grandmother from the age of 8, hence my nickname “Kaka” [“grandmother” in Chadian Arabic].

She played a vital role in my education. I attended the French Lycée Montaigne in the capital, before taking my literary baccalaureate at Abéché in 2004.