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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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OMG: At 34, Burkina’s new junta chief is world’s youngest leader

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Just two weeks ago, 34-year-old Ibrahim Traore was an unknown, even in his native Burkina Faso.

But in the space of a weekend, he catapulted himself from army captain to the world’s youngest leader — an ascent that has stoked hopes but also fears for a poor and chronically troubled country.

Traore, at the head of a core of disgruntled junior officers, ousted Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who had seized power just in January.

The motive for the latest coup — as in January — was anger at failures to stem a seven-year jihadist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and driven nearly two million people from their homes.

A few days after the September 30 coup, Traore was declared president and “guarantor of national independence, territorial integrity… and continuity of the State.”

At that lofty moment, Traore became the world’s youngest leader, wresting the title from Chilean President Gabriel Boric, a whole two years older.

Ibrahim Traore: Burkina Faso's new leader is Africa's youngest at 34 years

And on Friday, a national forum made up of about 300 delegates named Traore interim president until elections are held in July 2024, two members of the ruling junta told AFP.

Traore’s previously unknown face is now plastered on portraits around the capital Ouagadougou.

His photo is even on sale in the main market, alongside portraits of Burkina’s revered radical leader Thomas Sankara, assassinated in 1987, and of Jesus.

– Military career –

Traore was born in Bondokuy, in western Burkina Faso, and studied geology in Ouagadougou before joining the army in 2010.

He graduated as an officer from the Georges Namonao Military School — a second-tier institution compared to the prestigious Kadiogo Military Academy (PMK) of which Damiba and others in the elite are alumni.

Traore emerged second in his class, a contemporary told AFP, describing him as “disciplined and brave.”

After graduation, he gained years of experience in the fight against the jihadists.

He served in the badly-hit north and centre of the country before heading to a posting in neighbouring Mali in 2018 in the UN’s MINUSMA peacekeeping mission.

He was appointed captain in 2020.

A former superior officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, recounted an incident that occurred in 2020 when the town of Barsalogho in central Burkina was on the verge of falling to the jihadists.

The highway into Barsalogho was believed to have been mined, so Traore led his men on a “commando trek” across the countryside, arriving in time to free the town, he said.

When Damiba took power in January, ousting elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore, Traore became a member of the Patriotic Movement for Preservation and Restoration (MPSR), as the junta chose to call itself.

– Discontent –

In March, Damiba promoted Traore to head of artillery in the Kaya regiment in the centre of the country.

But it was a move that ironically would sow the seeds of Damiba’s own downfall.

The regiment became a cradle of discontent, and Traore, tasked by his colleagues with channelling their frustrations, made several trips to Ouagadougou to plead their case with Damiba.

Disillusionment at the response turned into anger, which appears to have crystallised into resolve to seize power after an attack on a convoy in northern Burkina last month that left 27 soldiers and 10 civilians dead.

“Captain Traore symbolises the exasperation of junior officers and the rank and file,” said security consultant Mahamoudou Savadogo.

The new president faces a daunting task in regaining the upper hand over the jihadist groups, some affiliated with Al-Qaeda and others with the Islamic State group. They have steadily gained ground since they launched their attacks from Mali in 2015.

Yet Traore has promised to do “within three months” what “should have been done in the past eight months,” making a direct criticism of his predecessor.

Savadogo warned that one soldier overthrowing another illustrates “the deteriorating state of the army, which hardly exists any more and which has just torn itself apart with this umpteenth coup d’etat”.

Traore’s takeover comes during a struggle for influence between France and Russia in French-speaking Africa, where former French colonies are increasingly turning to Moscow.

Demonstrators who rallied for him in Ouagadougou during the standoff with Damiba waved Russian flags and chanted anti-France slogans.

Traore seems — for now — to bring hope to many in a country sinking steadily in the quagmire.

“He embodies renewal, a generational renewal, a break with old practices,” said Monique Yeli Kam, who came to the national forum representing her party, the Movement for Burkina’s Renaissance, in order to “support and defend the vision of national unity”.

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Ethiopian Airlines consortium wins bid for new Nigeria airline

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A consortium led by Ethiopian Airlines is the preferred bidder for shares in new Nigerian airline Nigeria Air, the country’s aviation minister said on Friday.

The airline was one of President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2015 election campaign promises.

Ethiopian Airlines will own a 49% stake in the new airline, while the Nigerian Sovereign Fund will take 46% and the Nigerian federal government the remaining 5%.

Aviation minister Hadi Sirika told reporters that Buhari’s cabinet was expected to sign off on the shareholding plan in the next few weeks. Nigeria Air would have an initial capital of $300 million and plans to have 30 aircraft within four years, he said.

Nigeria Air will launch with service between the capital Abuja and Lagos, the commercial capital, and add other routes later.

“We are going to initially bring in six Boeing 737 aircraft and between third and fourth year the airline will be able to acquire up to 30 aircraft,” Sirika said.

“Nigeria Air is a limited liability company that will have no government intervention,” he added.

Nigeria has been seeking to set up a national carrier and develop its aviation infrastructure – currently seen as a barrier to economic growth – to create a hub for West Africa.

Africa’s most populous country’s previous national carrier, Nigeria Airways, was founded in 1958 and wholly owned by the government. It ceased to operate in 2003

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US senator urges Kenyan president to aid peaceful transition

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NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A visiting U.S. senator says he has encouraged Kenya’s outgoing president to participate in a “peaceful transition of power” amid the latest election crisis in East Africa’s most stable democracy.

“I’ll let the president speak for himself, but that was certainly a hope I expressed today,” Sen. Chris Coons told The Associated Press after his meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta on Thursday. He said they discussed ways in which Kenyatta can play a “constructive peacemaking role” after leaving office.

Kenyatta has remained publicly silent since the Aug. 9 vote, adding to the anxiety as Kenya again faces post-election uncertainty and a likely court challenge by the losing candidate, Raila Odinga. Coons, leading a congressional delegation on a five-country Africa visit, was in Kenya in part to meet the key parties and urge that calm continue.

Sen. Chris Coons, second right, leading a U.S. congressional delegation, is accompanied by his wife Annie Coons, right, and Rep Dave Joyce, left, as he speaks to patient David Oduor, center, at his home, after visiting the Tabitha Medical Clinic run by CFK Africa in the Kibera neighborhood of Nairobi, Kenya Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022. The delegation also met with current President Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s new president-elect William Ruto, and opposition figure Raila Odinga who has said he will challenge his recent election loss in court. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Kenyatta had backed longtime rival and opposition leader Odinga in the close race against his own deputy president, William Ruto, who fell out bitterly with Kenyatta years ago. Ruto on Monday was declared the winner, but not before Kenya’s most peaceful election ever slid into chaos in the final moments.

The electoral commission split in two, each side accusing the other of trying to tinker with the results. It came as a shock to many Kenyans after an election widely seen as the country’s most transparent ever, with results from the more than 46,000 polling stations posted online.

Now Odinga almost certainly will challenge the results in Supreme Court. His campaign has seven days from Monday’s declaration to do so, and the court will have 14 days to rule. Odinga has urged supporters to remain patient instead of taking to the streets in a country with a history of sometimes deadly post-election violence.

After meeting with Kenyatta, Odinga and Ruto, Coons told the AP “I was encouraged that in all three meetings we heard a commitment to a call for calm and tranquility, to respect the legal processes established in the 2010 constitution.” He said the conversations were about the rule of law, the importance of free and fair elections and peaceful transitions.

“Obviously, the United States has had a very difficult experience with these issues for the past few years,” Coons said, referring to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol as former President Donald Trump tried to remain in power. “I said in all three meetings we have things to learn from Kenya.”

Kenyatta told Coons that Kenya would uphold “its position of a shining example of democracy in the continent by maintaining peace during this transition period,” according to a statement issued by the president’s office.

Coons said he did not come to Kenya seeking anything like the handshake that Kenyatta and Odinga, after prodding, famously shared to end months of crisis after the 2017 election, whose results were overturned by the Supreme Court over irregularities, a first in Africa. Odinga boycotted the fresh vote and declared himself the “people’s president,” bringing allegations of treason.

This time, with Kenyatta’s backing, the Odinga campaign felt he would win the presidency after a quarter-century of pursuing it.

Kenyatta is stepping down after two terms, itself a notable act in a region where longtime presidents like Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Paul Kagame of Rwanda have been accused of clinging to power through changes in term limits, manipulation of elections and crackdowns on dissenting voices.

The U.S. delegation is also visiting Rwanda, where human rights and violent tensions with neighboring Congo are almost certainly on the agenda following Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit there last week. Coons said he looks forward to visiting again with Kagame.

Kenyatta has played a leading role in efforts to calm the Rwanda-Congo tensions and in trying to mediate in neighboring Ethiopia’s deadly Tigray conflict, with support from the U.S. Coons did not say what kind of peacemaking role he hoped to see Kenyatta play after stepping down.

Ruto’s public comments this week have been on domestic matters, not foreign, but Coons said the president-elect made an “expression of concern and intent in trying to help lead to positive resolutions” in such regional crises.

Coons also has played a role in trying to calm the Ethiopia conflict. But he told the AP the delegation was not having a meeting with Ethiopia’s government or the Tigray forces while in Kenya.

Coons, a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and his delegation have already visited Cape Verde and Mozambique and will visit Tunisia as well.

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