As President of Chad for 30 years, Idriss Déby, who died at the age of 68, was everything a leader shouldn’t be. Corrupt, opportunistic and driven by fame, he has ruled Chad for more than half of its tumultuous 61 years since independence in 1960, leaving behind an impoverished country.

From 1990, when his guerrilla force, wrapped in desert headgear, entered the capital, N’Djamena, of neighboring Darfur, Sudan, completing the overthrow of its boss and mentor of the At the time, Hissène Habré, who had ruled Chad since 1982 – Déby wielded power as an emperor, controlling all aspects of the country.

To gain international acceptance, he abolished Habré’s one-party system and began to hold regular multiparty elections. But only he could win the presidency, and only his guerrilla army, the Patriotic Salvation Movement, which turned into a political party, could be elected to parliament.

Likewise, Déby allowed the press to print freely as long as he was not criticized. Everything else remained as it was under Habré. He changed the constitution twice to allow himself to stay in power until 2033 and he squandered Chad’s wealth. According to the US Department of Justice, Déby personally received huge bribes from foreign investors, including $ 2 million from a Chinese energy company.

His kleptocracy was perhaps best known for its nepotism. Of his many famous children, Déby made them five army generals and raised six others to the rank of army colonel. He appointed nine others to Chad’s most sensitive and lucrative portfolios, including the head of intelligence, and appointed his older brother, Daoussa Déby Itno, post minister; the youngest of his male siblings, Saleh, was the chief of customs in Chad. His nephew, Ahmat Youssouf Itno, held the post of chief of military intelligence.

The first lady, Hinda Acyl, who was one of his eight known wives, was his private secretary – a role her late son Brahim Déby had held before her. Hinda’s nine siblings have also had influential roles in Chad, including Khoudar Mahamat Acyl as Minister of Aviation, Ahmat Khazali Acyl as Minister of Education and Mahamat zène Hissein Bourma as Secretary in chief.

Many of these posts place Deby’s family members close to Chad’s sources of wealth. Its vast deserts cover untapped uranium reserves and it pumps 130,000 barrels of oil per day, generating billions of dollars in revenue. However, Déby squandered this wealth by pouring it into his military operations. In a country of 15 million people, there are only a few hundred qualified doctors, while 70% of Chadians cannot read or write and 80% live on less than a dollar a day.

Despite this, there has been no violent reaction from the United Nations or the African Union. In fact, whenever the Chadians rose up and tried to overthrow him – as they did in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2019 and last month – France, which considered him one of its most loyal allies, intervened, often by sending fighter jets.

In return, Déby provided troops to the French-led UN peacekeeping mission in northern Mali, as well as in the tri-border region of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali, where the fighters linked to Al-Qaida are expanding their influence. Déby also provided troops to fight Nigerian Boko Haram militants, establishing himself as a military hire in the Sahel region.

Born in Berdoba, a remote village in the desert northeast of what was then French Equatorial Africa, Déby was the son of poor pastoralists who made their living in the desert. After attending the Koranic school in Tiné as a child, he studied at the French school in Fada, then at the Franco-Arab high school in Abéché and later at the Jacques-Moudeïna high school in Bonghor. After his baccalaureate, he joined the army in 1975 and was sent to France, where he qualified as a parachutist and pilot.

Upon his return in 1979, Chad was in the midst of a civil war between the Christian south and the Muslim north. He immediately joined Habré, a notorious warlord and compatriot of the North. Three years later, in 1982, Habré overthrew President Goukouni Oueddei and, as a reward for his support, Habré made Deby his deputy army chief. When Habré became an international outcast for ordering the murder of over 40,000 Chadians (crimes against humanity for which he was convicted in 2016 in Senegal), Déby attempted to stage a coup. But this failed, forcing him into exile in 1989, and he ended up in Sudan.

With the support of France, Déby then created the Patriotic Movement of Salvation and entered N’Djamena in 1990. With the victory, he became an ardent apostle of Françafrique (advocating the maintenance of close ties with France) . From his palace in N’Djamena, he hired his army – which was dominated by his Zaghawa tribe – to the highest bidder, waging wars and conquests for people like François Bozizé in the neighboring Central African Republic and further afield in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. . As a result, Deby’s influence far exceeded what one would expect from the head of state of an arid and landlocked nation.

After Deby’s death in a battle against rebel forces near Chad’s sensitive northern border with Libya, French President Emmanuel Macron said France had “lost a brave friend“. However, the sentiment was less evident in the country of his birth, where Deby’s four-star general son Mahamat Idriss Déby, 37, launched a coup even before his father was buried, dissolving the government and declaring himself president of the next 18 months in violation of Chad’s constitution.

Déby is survived by at least eight wives, Hadja Halimé, Zina Wazouna Ahmed, Anda Ali Bouye, Souad Zakaria Abdallah, Haoua Toldjei Tchou, Acheick Oumar, Hinda Acyl and Amani Musa Hilal, and at least 24 children.

Idriss Déby Itino, politician, born June 18, 1952; passed away on April 20, 2021