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Chadian President Idriss Deby dies on frontline, rebels vow to keep fighting

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Deby came to power in a rebellion in 1990 and is one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders.

Chad’s President Idriss Deby Itno has died on the battlefield after three decades in power, the army announced on state television on Tuesday. The rebels that launched the offensive against the regime rejected the transition government led by one of Deby’s sons, and vowed to pursue the offensive.

“We categorically reject the transition,” said Kingabe Ogouzeimi de Tapol, spokesman for the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) on Tuesday. “We intend to pursue the offensive.”

The stunning announcement about the president’s death came just hours after electoral officials had declared Deby, 68, the winner of the April 11 presidential election, paving the way for him to stay in power for six more years.

Deby “has just breathed his last defending the sovereign nation on the battlefield” over the weekend, army spokesman General Azem Bermandoa Agouna said in a statement read out on state television.

The army said a military council led by the late president’s 37-year-old son Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, a four-star general, would replace him.

Deby’s campaign said on Monday that he was headed to the frontlines to join troops battling “terrorists“.

Four Star General Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, 37, son of the slain Chadian President Idriss Déby, seen here in N'djamena on April 11, 2021, will will replace his father as head of a military council, the army announced on April 20, 2021.

Four Star General Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, 37, son of the slain Chadian President Idriss Déby, seen here in N’djamena on April 11, 2021, will will replace his father as head of a military council, the army announced on April 20, 2021. © Marco Longari, AFP

The circumstances of Deby’s death could not immediately be independently confirmed due to the remote location. It was not known why the president would have visited the area or participated in ongoing clashes with the rebels who opposed his rule.

Rebels based across the northern frontier in Libya attacked a border post on election day and then advanced hundreds of kilometres south across the desert.

‘A courageous friend’, says France

France on Tuesday paid tribute to Deby as a “courageous friend” and “great soldier”, while urging stability and a peaceful transition in the African country after his shock death.

“Chad is losing a great soldier and a president who has worked tirelessly for the security of the country and the stability of the region for three decades,” the office of President Emmanuel Macron said in statement, hailing Deby as a “courageous friend” of France.

The statement also emphasised France’s insistence on the “stability and territorial integrity” of Chad as it faces a push by rebel forces towards its capital, N’Djamena.

Defence Minister Florence Parly praised Deby as an “essential ally in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel” while emphasising that the fight against jihadist insurgents “will not stop”.

One of Africa’s longest-serving leaders

Deby came to power in a rebellion in 1990 and is one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders.

Although ruling Chad with an iron fist, he was a key ally in the West’s anti-jihadist campaign in the troubled Sahel region.

On Monday, the army had claimed a “great victory” in its battle against the rebels from neighbouring Libya, saying it had killed 300 fighters, with the loss of five soldiers in its own ranks during eight days of combat.

Deby was a herder’s son from the Zaghawa ethnic group who took the classic path to power through the army, and relished the military culture.

His latest election victory – with almost 80 percent of the vote – had never been in doubt, with a divided opposition, boycott calls, and a campaign in which demonstrations were banned or dispersed.

Deby had campaigned on a promise of bringing peace and security to the region, but his pledges were undermined by the rebel incursion.

The government had sought Monday to assure concerned residents that the offensive was over.

There had been panic in some areas of N’Djamena on Monday after tanks were deployed along the city’s main roads, an AFP journalist reported.

The tanks were later withdrawn apart from a perimeter around the president’s office, which is under heavy security during normal times.

“The establishment of a security deployment in certain areas of the capital seems to have been misunderstood,” government spokesman Cherif Mahamat Zene had said on Twitter on Monday.

“There is no particular threat to fear.”

However, the US embassy in N’Djamena had on Saturday ordered non-essential personnel to leave the country, warning of possible violence in the capital. Britain also urged its nationals to leave.

France’s embassy said in an advisory to its nationals in Chad that the deployment was a precaution and there was no specific threat to the capital.

‘Expect things to get messy’

Douglas Yates, a professor in African Studies at the American Graduate School in Paris, told FRANCE 24 that Deby’s death had come as a total surprise.

“Two days ago news had come out from the US embassy that they were evacuating personnel because there were rebels marching on the capital, and frankly the thought was ‘(Deby) will defeat them’, because he has systematically defeated every attempted coup before now.”

Yates said that although Deby was hardly known to be a great democrat, “he was a real soldier and in some ways, this was a worthy death for him. To die involved in the battle was better for him I think than to die in his bed from Covid.”

The professor said much of Chad’s unrest stems from Deby’s own people in the east with discontent rising over Deby not distributing enough oil wealth to them.

“Frankly, there’s probably not enough oil wealth to go around to everyone, but basically there were people who were unhappy, who felt like they were not getting their share and that’s been a repeated pattern in attempted coups.”

On the issue of Deby’s replacement, Yates said: “Expect things to get messy during the transition.”

“He had been in power so long, and eliminating any rivals and imprisoning his democratic opposition. What you have [now] is a large number of people who would like to be the president of Chad rather than one unified opposition leader.”

“Like Napoleon had said: ‘After me, the flood.’ And certainly after Idriss Deby, the flood.”

Culled from France24

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Ethiopia Conflict Dynamics Shift as New U.S. Envoy Takes Over

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Recent signs out of Ethiopia are encouraging, but major issues standing in the way of a sustainable peace remain unresolved.


By Michelle Gavin, Guest columnist and blogger

News coming out of Addis Ababa suggests that the conflict in Ethiopia is entering a new phase. For over a year, momentum seemed to be forever driving toward worsening violence between the federal government, its allies, and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), as well as a deepening rift between the Ethiopian government and international partners including the United States. But now the TPLF has retreated back to Tigray, and federal ground forces have declined to advance on the region. Ethiopian authorities have freed prominent opposition leaders from prison—including members of the TPLF and Oromo groups that have been at odds with the government—framing the pardons and amnesty as a step toward unity and reconciliation. Late last month, lawmakers approved the establishment of a national dialogue commission that will seek political solutions to the multiple fractures in Ethiopian society. While the dialogue as envisioned will not include armed opponents of the government, it could perhaps create a pathway toward more inclusive and consequential talks.

But not all the news is good. Humanitarian conditions in Tigray are as dire as ever, in large part because the Ethiopian government continues to impede access to the region. Ongoing aerial attacks on civilian targets are exacerbating the loss and suffering, killing Ethiopians and refugees and prompting aid organizations to suspend operations because they cannot safely do their work. This weekend the TPLF claimed that Eritrean forces were continuing to fight in Tigray—a claim that, if true, would render the restraint of federal forces far less meaningful. Meanwhile, many Ethiopians who were swept up in a wave of dubious arrests targeting human rights activists, journalists, and ethnic Tigrayan Ethiopians—whose only crime seemed to be their ethnicity—are still detained.

The Biden administration is assessing these developments and trying to capitalize on the positive trends as it transitions from Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman, whose resignation was announced last week, to his successor, David Satterfield. It will be important to resist the temptation of wishful thinking in this moment and to ensure that a desire for a reset of the bilateral relationship does not lead to a selective reading of the latest developments. There are positive signs, but doubts over the sincerity of the government’s desire for peace persist, as do real questions about the sustainability of steps toward peace. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s political base may have been unified in its animus toward the TPLF, but without an urgent threat from a common enemy, competing and sometimes contradictory interests will be hard to satisfy. Some of the militant Amhara nationalists that Abiy relied on over the past year already view the latest amnesties as a betrayal. Eritrea will continue to pursue its own agenda, which does not entail standing down while Ethiopians resolve their political differences peacefully and emerge a stronger and more just society. Accountability for atrocities committed by all parties to the conflict remains elusive.

Over the past year Abiy and his supporters have used the history of U.S.-Ethiopia relations as a cudgel, pointing to Washington’s tendency to overlook internal repression and abuse during the years of TPLF dominance to question U.S. motives. It would be ironic if American desires to end this difficult period led to repeating the same mistakes. Of course, the United States wants a productive relationship with Ethiopia—especially a just, peaceful Ethiopia that models a successful heterogeneous society, champions democratic norms, and supports African institutions. But good relations with the government in Addis Ababa are not worth much if the country is tearing itself apart, simmering with grievances that explode into violence, or practicing and exporting the kind of brutal authoritarian governance that characterizes Eritrea. The United States should take care to consider the totality of the picture in Ethiopia today, remembering that it is the ultimate course of that influential country, not rapport with any one leader, that matters most.

*Michelle Gavin tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa. This article first appeared in CFR.

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Gold Mine Collapses, Kills Over 30 In Sudan

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At least 31 miners were killed and eight missing in Sudan on Tuesday when a rudimentary gold mine collapsed, a government official said.

The disaster occurred near Nuhud, a town about 500 kilometres (310 miles) west of Khartoum, said Khaled Dahwa, the head of the state-run Mineral Resources Company in West Kordofan.

“Thirty-one traditional miners were killed because of a mine collapsing,” he told AFP, adding one person survived and eight others were still missing.

Another official at the company said four miners were killed at the same mine in January.

“Authorities at the time shut down the mine and installed security but a couple of months ago they left,” he said.

Artisanal gold mining is a dangerous profession in Sudan largely due to ramshackle infrastructure.

It flourished around a decade ago in various parts of country, with people digging the ground using excavators in hopes of unearthing the precious metal.

About two million artisanal miners produce about 80 percent of the country’s annual gold production of around 80 tonnes, according to official figures.

Sudan, one of the world’s poorest countries, has recently suffered runaway inflation and embarked on tough economic reforms, including slashing subsidies on petrol and diesel and launching a managed currency float.

It is also reeling from political turbulence in the wake of a coup-led military chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on October 25.

 

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Deadly bombing at restaurant packed for Christmas in Congo

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Officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo say at least six people have died in a suicide bomb attack on a crowded restaurant in the eastern city of Beni.

Police prevented the bomber from entering the building, but he blew himself up at the entrance killing himself and five other people.

Another 13 people were injured.

The officials blamed Saturday’s attack on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a militant group said to be linked to the so-called Islamic State (IS).

So far no group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

More than 30 people were celebrating Christmas at the In Box restaurant when the bomb went off, two witnesses told AFP news agency.

Children and local officials were reportedly in the restaurant at the time.

“I was sitting there,” local radio presenter Nicolas Ekila told AFP. “There was a motorbike parked there. Suddenly the motorbike took off, then there was a deafening noise.”

After the explosion the military officer responsible for the state of emergency in the country’s east told residents to return home for their own safety.

There have been frequent clashes in Beni between the army and Islamists in recent weeks.

In November, Congolese and Ugandan forces began a joint operation against the ADF in an attempt to end a series of brutal attacks.

Authorities in Uganda say the group is behind a series of recent attacks in the country, including in the capital Kampala.

Map
Map

The militant group was formed in the 1990s by Ugandans disgruntled with the government’s treatment of Muslims, but it was routed from western Uganda and its remnants fled across the border to DR Congo.

It established itself in the eastern DR Congo and has been blamed for thousands of civilian killings there over the past decade, including in attacks on Christians.

In March the US put the ADF on its list of terror groups linked to IS. For its part, IS says the ADF is an affiliate.

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