Idriss Déby – Hissen Habré, Two Faces of Chad’s Misfortunes
I met Chadian slain president Idriss Déby, 4 or 5 times. For 30 years, the United States and France gave unconditional backing to this authoritarian, corrupt, often brutal ruler in the name of the same regional stability that once caused them to back his far more brutal predecessor Hissène Habré.
Habré was a bulwark against northern neighbor Muammar Khadaffi. Déby was a bulwark against Islamic terrorism.
Without Déby’s support, though, we would have never been able to prosecute Habré, a court convicted in Senegal in 2016. Déby had never forgotten that Habré was responsible for killing some of his closest friends and relatives. “Habré is a megalomaniac,” Déby once told me. “He’s a bloodthirsty and cruel man.”
But the growing likelihood of an actual trial – as opposed to a quixotic campaign he could safely support as a way of discrediting, harassing, and immobilizing Habré and his lingering band of supporters – posed significant risks because of Déby’s exposure, as a one-time senior figure in Habré’s regime, especially his role as Habré’s army chief during the “Black September” massacres of 1984. And at the end, he did his best – and succeeded – in preventing an airing of that role during the trial. Déby also broke his promise to compensate Habré’s victims.
My Chadian friends will certainly not miss Déby, but there is a lot of fear and even panic in Chad today. The rebels who allegedly killed Déby (though it’s not at all clear that this is what happened) could be much worse – their leadership is from Habré’s small Gorane clan, and if they should take power (which seems unlikely, but who knows?), there could be reprisals against the victims and activists who led the prosecution of Habré.
Equally worrisome is the possibility that the regime (now led by a military junta presided by Déby’s son in total contravention of Chad’s constitution, which passes interim power to the head of the legislature) might take advantage of the chaos, as they did when rebels entered the capital in 2008, to settle scores with political opponents. In 2008, three leading opponents were kidnapped, and one has remained disappeared until today.