Unreported world

How is Emmanuel Macron linked to death of Chad’s ‘ruthless’ president?

Analysts say ‘French foreign policy blunder’ paved way for killing of Idriss Deby by rebel group

Emmanuel Macron has paid tribute to late Chadian president Idriss Deby while reiterating France’s ongoing commitment to the allied African nation.

“France will not let anybody put into question or threaten today or tomorrow Chad’s stability and integrity,” Macron said during a speech at Deby’s state funeral in the former French colony’s capital, N’djamena, on Friday. 

Deby was killed on the battlefield last week while visiting troops fighting “a heavily armed Russian-trained rebel force” attempting a “blitzkrieg dash” to capture N’djamena, The Telegraph reports.

But despite Macron’s warm words at his funeral and Deby’s role as “one of France’s indispensable African strongmen”, the Chadian leader’s death appears to have been the result of “a French foreign policy blunder”, the paper suggests.

‘Loyal friend’

Speaking at Deby’s funeral despite “warnings from rebels in Chad to stay away”, Macron described the late president as a “loyal friend” and “exemplary leader”, The Times reports.

The relationship between Paris and N’djamena has inspired much controversy, however.

During Deby’s “ruthless” 30-year rule, Chad was a “cornerstone of France's anti-jihadist strategy in Africa, hosting its 5,000-strong counter-insurgency force”, the paper continues. “In return, corruption and rights abuses went unchecked.”

The arrangement saw Deby providing “pivotal troops to regional forces battling jihadists in northern Mali”, widely viewed as “the most dangerous UN peacekeeping mission in the world”.

Human rights groups have accused “France and other Western powers of turning a blind eye” to Deby’s “political repression because of his security cooperation”, Reuters reports.

But now analysts are speculating that France may be linked to his death - albeit inadvertently. The “official Chadian version of events” is that the late president is a “martyr” who was “shot in the chest after shouting at his men to drive him to the front line to face down a column of terrorists”, The Telegraph reports.

However, “conspiracy theories abound”, the paper adds.

Sources told The Times that Deby was killed by rebels from a political-military group known as the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), who were “trained in neighbouring Libya” by Wagner, a Russian mercenary organisation with ties to the Kremlin. 

And despite the alleged Russian link, the reported involvement of FACT rebels swings the spotlight first and foremost onto French foreign policy.

‘French blunder’

FACT was formed in 2016 by officers in the Chadian military who opposed Deby’s dictatorship and use of funds produced by the country’s oil industry. The rebels subsequently “fought for years as mercenaries in Libya’s Civil War under General Khalifa Haftar”, after seeking refuge in the south of the neighbouring country, says The Telegraph. 

In recent years, France, along with Russia and the United Arab Emirates, has also “backed Haftar to the hilt, as they vie for influence” in oil-rich Libya, the paper continues.

Paris sent special forces into Benghazi in 2016 and has provided Haftar with aerial and diplomatic support. But that “power play may have backfired spectacularly”, after the FACT rebels “swept out of Libya some two weeks ago in about 400 to 450 vehicles” provided by Haftar.

The Chadian fighters’ plan to confront government forces “appeared to be a forlorn mission”, says The Times - but would result in Deby’s death.

That rebels equipped by Haftar killed Deby is a “monumental screw-up for France”, Nathaniel Powell, author of France’s Wars in Chad: Military Intervention and Decolonisation in Africa, told The Telegraph. 

“Paris put everything on Deby. They didn’t have a plan B. Then they backed a faction in the Libya Civil War, and it has blown back on them and taken out their main ally in Africa.”

Indeed, the argument put forward by France for supporting Haftar “was that he could stabilise the region”, Wolfram Lacher, a researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told The Telegraph. Yet the Libyan National Army commander’s support for the FACT rebels is a key reason France’s “main ally in the Sahel is dead”, Lacher said.

Analysts believe that Macron decided to attend Deby’s funeral despite the risks in order to minimise the potential damage to the relationship between Paris and N’djamena.

Macron promised mourners that France would “be there to keep alive without waiting the promise of a peaceful Chad creating a place for all of its children and components”, adding that Deby was a “friend” and “courageous” soldier.

Following his death, a military council has been formed led by Deby’s son, Mahamat Idriss, beside whom Macron was seated at the funeral ceremony. Paris has backed the arrangement under the condition that the military returns to civilian rule within 18 months.

Having lost a key ally, “Macron will be wanting to ensure he has an ally in Deby’s son and letting him know that France has his back”, Cameron Hudson, a former US State Department official and Chad specialist, told The Times.

But whether Macron’s overtures of friendship can make up for France’s perceived policy blunder remains to be seen.

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