By Nehru Odeh
The late Chadian leader, Idriss Deby, was, indeed, ambivalent. Though he held his country with iron grip for 30 years, he professed deep love for it. So much so that he led the Chadian army several times at the battlefront, the last which resulted in his death in April, 2021 after he was shot and fatally wounded by FACT rebels – six days after he had been declared elected for the sixth time.
Still, whether history will be kind to him or not remains to be seen. Whether his 30-year rule will be judged by his pragmatic approach to ensuring peace and stability in the West-African sub region will indeed be a subject of discourse for a long time.
Deby was not only a Boko Haram’s nemesis – the terrorist group he sworn to wipe out – throughout his tenure as president of the land-locked country, he was able to put the Libyan-trained FACT rebels in check. In April last year, the Chadian army, led by him, inflicted heavy casualties on Boko Haram, seizing many of their ammunition and tanks, which left Abubakar Shekau, factional leader of the terrorist group, palpably disconcerted.
Realising the heavy casualties that his group had suffered at the hands of the Chadian army in April last year, Shekau released a video in which, waxing emotional and feeling terribly hurt, he vowed to gun down the late Chadian leader and asked the “people of Chad” to “rise up.”
“Idris Deby, I will address you now. I am insha Allahu taalla, Abubakar ibn Mohammed Shekau, the Imam of Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad.
“I decided to send you this message quickly. Don’t think because you’ve fought battles in ignorance not according to the tenet of Islam, and today, because we said we will work for Allah, you think you will triumph over us.
“Idriss Deby you are in trouble. Idriss Deby you are in trouble; Idriss Deby you are in trouble. You made us to be calling your name because you are fighting Allah. People of Chad, rise up,” Shekau averred.
Deby was not killed by a Boko Haram bullet. Rather he died after he had been shot and fatally wounded by his people, the FACT rebels. However, in 2018, two years before the routing of Boko Haram and Shekau’s threat, Derby, knowing full well the risk he was exposed to leading his country at the battlefront had already hinted at his kind of death.
“Have you ever seen a head of state take up arms and go into battle?” Deby said during an annual news conference. “You think I do this because I’m brave? Because I’m courageous? No, I do it because I love this country and I prefer to die on the battlefield than for disorder and misery to descend on the country.”
Love for his country or lust for power? A patriot or a megalomaniac? This indeed suggest deep ambivalence about Deby’s legacy. Because of his much-touted (or self-proclaimed?) love for his country, Derby “preferred to die on the battlefield than for disorder and misery to descend in his country.”
Still, that statement speaks volumes not only about his bravery, courage and love for his country but also about the fact that he knew his life could be cut shot by an enemy’s bullet. Still, he went ahead to lead his country on the battlefield. And, indeed, he died two years later after that speech and exactly a year after Skekau’s threat to kill him.
And the fact that he was able to put Boko Haram in check and maintain peace and stability in the West African sub-region by putting his life at stake and leading his country at the battlefront will indeed make up for his other shortcomings. Still, many believe that a leader leading his country on the battlefield was bravery taken too far. And that he pulled those stunts not for his love for his country, but for his lust for power. Though, however one looks at it, that is left for history to judge.