General Idriss Déby Itno (Arabic: إدريس ديبي) (born 1952) is a Chadian politician who has been the President of Chad since 1990. He is also head of the Patriotic Salvation Movement. Déby is of the Bidyat clan of the Zaghawa ethnic group. He took power at the head of a rebellion against President Hissène Habré in December 1990 and has since survived various rebellions against his own rule. He won elections in 1996 and 2001, and after term limits were eliminated he won again in 2006 and 2011. He added "Itno" to his surname in January 2006.
Rise to power
Déby was born in Fada as the son of a herder. After finishing school he entered the Officers' School in N'Djamena. From there he was sent to France for training, returning to Chad in 1976 with a professional pilot certificate. He remained loyal to the army and to President Félix Malloum until central authority crumbled in 1979. Déby tied his fortunes to those of Hissène Habré, one of the chief Chadian warlords. A year after Habré became President in 1982, in exchange for his loyalty, Déby was made commander-in-chief of the army. He distinguished himself in 1984 by destroying pro-Libyan forces in Eastern Chad. In 1985 Habré removed him from his post and sent him to Paris to follow a course at the École de Guerre; on his return he was made chief military advisor to the Presidency. In 1987 he confronted Libyan forces on the field, adopting tactics that inflicted heavy losses to enemy forces. A rift emerged in 1989 between Habré and Déby over the increasing power of the Presidential Guard. Habré accused Déby of preparing a coup d'état, motivating Déby to flee to Libya.
According to Douglas Farah's article Harvard for Tyrants, Déby is an alumnus member of Muammar al-Gaddafi's training center.
He moved to Sudan and formed the Patriotic Salvation Movement, an insurgent group, supported by Libya and Sudan, which started operations against Habré in October 1989. He unleashed a decisive attack on 10 November 1990, and on 2 December Déby's troops marched unopposed into the capital, N'Djaména.
Political career since 1990
After three months of provisional government, on 28 February 1991, a charter was approved for Chad with Déby as president. A new constitution was approved by referendum in March 1996, followed by a presidential election in June. Déby received first place in the first round but fell short of a majority; he was then elected president in the second round, held in July, with 69% of the vote. He was re-elected in the May 2001 presidential election, winning in the first round with 63.17% of the vote, according to official results, although international observers noted irregularities in the election process. In June 2005, a successful referendum was held to eliminate a two-term constitutional limit, which enabled Déby to run again in 2006. He was a candidate in the 2006 presidential election, held May 3, which was greeted with an opposition boycott. According to official results Déby won the election with 64.67% of the vote; this was revised downward from the initially announced result of 77.6%.
Rebellion and tensions with Sudan
Since 1990 at least seven national liberation "armies" have sprung up in various areas of Chad to challenge Déby's rule. In 1992, the French sent in troops to help suppress the armed gangs, known as N'Katha Zulu, who were operating on the Sudan border. In October 1993, Abbas Koty, a former member of Deby's government, was accused of attempting a military coup.
A rebellion began in the east of the country in late 2005, accompanied by tensions with Sudan. An attempted coup d'état, involving the shooting down of Déby's plane, was foiled in March 2006. In mid-April 2006, there was fighting with rebels at N'Djaména, although the fighting soon subsided with government forces still in control of the capital. Déby subsequently broke ties with Sudan, accusing it of backing the rebels, and said that the May 2006 election would still take place.
Déby was sworn in for another term in office on August 8, 2006. Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir attended Déby's inauguration, and the two leaders agreed to restore diplomatic relations on this occasion.
After Déby's re-election, several rebel groups broke apart. Déby was in Abéché from 11 September to 21 September 2006, flying in a helicopter to personally oversee attacks on Rally of Democratic Forces rebels.
The rebellion in the east continued, and rebels reached N'Djamena on February 2, 2008, with fighting occurring inside the city. After days of fighting, the government remained in control of N'Djamena. Speaking at a press conference on February 6, Déby said that his forces had defeated the rebels, whom he described as "mercenaries directed by Sudan", and that his forces were in "total control" of the city as well as the whole country.
At the end of August 2006, Déby made international news after calling for his country to have a 60 percent stake in its oil output after receiving "crumbs" from foreign companies running the industry. He said Chevron and Petronas were refusing to pay taxes totalling $486.2 million. Recently, Chad passed a World Bank-backed oil revenues law that required most of its oil revenue to be allocated to health, education and infrastructure projects. The World Bank had previously frozen an oil revenue account in a dispute over how Chad spent its oil profits.
In October 2006, Chad was placed at the top of the list of the world's most corrupt nations by Forbes magazine for "what may turn out to be the single most piggish use of philanthropic funds". Proceeds from a project, funded in part by the World Bank, to build an oil pipeline through Chad and Cameroon were supposed to have been ring-fenced by Déby's government to assist and feed "the desperately poor people of these nations". Instead, some $30 million was diverted to buy arms to keep in power the government of President Idriss Déby.
Déby has been married several times and has at least a dozen children. He married Hinda (b. 1977) in September 2005. Reputed for her beauty, this marriage attracted much attention in Chad, and due to tribal affiliations it was seen by many as a strategic means for Déby to bolster his support while under pressure from rebels. Hinda is a member of the Civil Cabinet of the Presidency, serving as Special Secretary.
On July 2, 2007, Déby's son Brahim (age 27) was found dead in the parking garage of his apartment near Paris. According to the autopsy report, he had likely been asphyxiated by white powder from a fire extinguisher. A murder inquiry has been launched by the French police. Brahim had been sacked as presidential advisor the year before, after being convicted of possessing drugs and weapons. Blogger Makaila Nguebla attributes the defection of many Chadian government leaders to the rebellion to Brahim's conduct: "He is at the root of all the frustration. He used to slap government ministers, senior Chadian officials were humiliated by Déby's son."
- Douglas Farah (4 March 2011). "Harvard for Tyrants". The Foreign Policy. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/03/04/harvard_for_tyrants.
- Elections in Chad, African Elections Database.
- "Chad: Council releases final polls results; Deby "elected" with 63.17 per cent", Radiodiffusion Nationale Tchadienne (nl.newsbank.com), June 13, 2001.
- "Strong yes vote in referendum allows President Deby to seek a new term", IRIN, June 22, 2005.
- "Déby win confirmed, but revised down to 64.67 pct", IRIN, May 29, 2006.
- Reyna, Steve (2003) "Imagining Monsters: A Structural History of Warfare in Chad (1968-1990)" p. 279 in Friedman, Jonathan (ed.) (2003) Globalization, the State, and Violence AltaMira Press, Walnut Creek, California, pp. 279-308, ISBN 0-7591-0280-5
- "Coup attempt foiled, government says", IRIN, March 15, 2006.
- "Chad confronts rebels in capital", BBC News, April 13, 2006.
- Andrew England, "Chad severs ties with Sudan", Financial Times, April 15, 2006.
- Rebels 'will not delay' Chad poll", BBC News, April 18, 2006.
- "Deby sworn in as Chad's president", People's Daily Online, August 9, 2006.
- "Chad and Sudan resume relations", BBC News, August 9, 2006.
- "Chad: New Fronts Open in Eastern Fighting" allAfrica.com, 21 September, 2006.
- "Battle rages for Chadian capital", Al Jazeera, February 2, 2008.
- "Chad’s leader says government ‘in total control’", Associated Press (MSNBC), February 6, 2008.
- "Petronas disputes Chad's tax claims", Aljazeera.net, August 30, 2006.
- Emily Wax, "New First Lady Captivates Chad", The Washington Post, May 2, 2006, page A17.
- "Liste des Membres du Cabinet Civil de la Présidence de la République", Chadian presidency website (accessed May 4, 2008) (French).
- "Chad leader's son killed in Paris" BBC News, 2 July 2007.