Idriss Deby and the sins of African politics

It is no longer news that the President of the Republic of Chad,Idriss Deby, is dead. He reportedly died from the wounds he sustained when he joined the country’s armed forces to repel the rebel forces that were bent on unseating him as the President of the country. Since his passage, condolence messages and encomiums have been pouring in from across the world on him particularly for his gallantry and for dying while defending the territorial integrity of his dear country. In its message, the French government which was of course, the backbone of Deby’s administration wrote, “Chad has lost a great soldier and a president who worked tirelessly for the security of the country and stability of the region for three decades… France has lost a brave friend”. Amidst its own overwhelming and daunting civil strife, the Nigerian government not only condoled with the people of Chad but also praised him for his cooperation in the fight against Boko Haram, and offered to mediate in the country’s political crisis. Mindful of the political temperature of the country, the US in its measured condolence message wrote that, “it offered sincere condolences to Chadians, and that it supported a peaceful transition of power in accordance with Chadian constitution”. In these messages and others which space will not permit me to cite here, a lot of good words were said about Deby and as Robert Galbraith has understandably said, “the dead could only speak through the mouths of those left behind, and through the signs they left scattered behind them”. However, for human frailty, there is also the need to heed the words of caution by, Jojo Moyes that, “it is important not to turn the dead into saints. Nobody can walk in the shadow of a saint”. This is more so that, the late Chadian president, who bestrode the country for 30 years, cannot be absolved of the sins of African politics which have brought his country to its present precipice.

The late President seized political power in 1990 in a military coup. By 1996, he turned coat by civilianising his presidency. As characteristic of most African leaders, he soon after allegedly began to rely heavily on his tribesmen in the process of governance to the exclusion of the rest of about 129 other ethnic groups in the country and also turned blind eyes to their corrupt ways, their social misdeeds and political transgressions, This ethnic-tinted style of governance with its attendant nepotism and favouritism, could not but attract violent resistance, for wherever fairness and justice depart, peace takes a flight in reciprocity. Thus, under Deby, Chad remains synonymous with civil war and poverty. Deby plunged his country further into abyss when he embarked on the African idiosyncratic leadership peregrination of sitting tight in power. Having won his second and final term in office in 2001, he before the expiration of that term, tinkered with the constitution and successfully, removed the term limit imposed by the constitution and thus opened the gate for his continued stay in power. As a result of this manipulation, he won re-lection in 2006, 2011, 2016, and 2021.All these elections were allegedly rigged as they were largely boycotted by the opposition parties. In the process also, even his political allies jumped ship to rise up in arms against a comrade who was intolerant of alternation of power, a key element in democratic consolidation. This why members of opposition have perceived his joining the army to fight them as a move motivated by his personal political survival rather than by the defence of the country’s territorial integrity. Furthering the African crude succession methodology, the country’s military has dissolved the National Assembly and the Executive body and arbitrarily appointed Deby’s son, Mahamat Deby, as an interim president for eighteen months as against the constitutional provision which gives such position to the Speaker of the National Assembly. While it may be argued that the legislature and the executive suffer legitimacy crisis, the question is: why must the country be led again by his son? No doubt, the Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo‘s  dynasty script is about to be acted in Chad, and this may mean a continuation of strife for a beleaguered post-colonial state that has not enjoyed an iota of peaceful lease of life since its independence and whose breath has been held by Paris—-the acclaimed bastion of , liberty, equality and fraternity.

This Chadian tragic trajectory of civil strife, poverty, liberty in chain, and succession crisis is the trajectory of the post-colonial sub-Sahara African states, a trend that has condemned many of them into weak and failed states. The question is: where do we go from here in Africa south of the Sahara? As things stand now, two options are available to us and they are not nascent as they have been subject of public discourse and strident agitations by many African political actors over time. At the risk of parroting them, they are: one, there is the need to reconfigure the post-colonial African states as a response to the growing nationalism and quest for self- determination. The present sates are artificial boundaries. They need to be redrawn. To demand for their unbundling or liquidation is not of course, a shameful political move, but a natural pursuit of freedom and peaceful existence. Two, if most African states have resolved to retain the current post-colonial boundaries, it is then imperative that, they embrace a system of governance in which there will be substantial decentralisation or devolution of power, power sharing, resource control, fiscal autonomy to the subnational units and a guarantee for equitable distribution of state resources among the citizenry. This will not only promote unity and strength in diversity, but will also spawn economic prosperity and peaceful co-existence.

Dr. Adebisi writes from the Federal College of Agriculture, Akure, Ondo state.

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