Idris Derby Itno, the colourless Chadian President came to power some 18 odd years ago after masterminding and leading a rebellion that toppled the dictatorial regime of Hissein Habre. As Habre fell and fled into exile Derby, and his military command structure, rode to power consolidating same as years wore out. Years later he buckled to local and international pressure by organising a sham general elections in which he was a candidate and was returned as “elected” president. Having retired from the Army a la Rawlings Derby transformed himself into a civilian president.
For the past eighteen years President Derby has been uninspiringly ruling over a desert poor country, one of the poorest in the whole world. His exploits in power point to crass mediocrity, crude manipulation of democratic standards and outright despotism.
Chad is not known even in Third World standards as a serious nation desirous of imminent societal transformation neither is her citizens ever been associated with ambition, talent or raw guts.
Bereft of a vibrant opposition structures or elements the nation slips further and deeper into hopelessness and helplessness. Deprived naturally of aquatic resources Chad depends largely on the ports of neighbouring countries like Nigeria for the importation of her basic needs. She lags terribly behind in every socio-economic sphere of life.
The sit-tight syndrome of African leaders (the latest of which has happened tragically in Kenya with Mwai Kibaki in his old age seeking to destroy the future of young Kenyans before he eventually dies) has since seized Derby. Frustrated then some concerned Chadians apparently living abroad formed a rebellion (allegedly with the Sudanese logistical support) that seeks to overthrow violently the Derby motionless administration.
According to agency reports some relations of the embattled President (whose facial features cut the image of an ex-drug addict) are among the rebels up against the ex-rebel in power. The streets of N’Djamena and other Chadian cities witnessed last week the penetration of the rebels even up to the point of temporarily taking over the capital city and surrounding the Presidential palace while urging the colonial master France to spirit Derby out. Hundreds of Chadians caught in the cross-fire lost their lives with properties destroyed or looted. The streets of N’Djamena after the Derby Republican forces fought back and forced the rebels to retreat were littered with decomposing and mutilated dead bodies!
France in the heat of the rebels’ invasion evacuated her nationals and those of other Western countries as is usually the case whenever an African country erupts in political violence. The military pact between France and Chad according to the French Defence Minister, Herve Morin, only provides for logistical military assistance and not physical combat or troop deployment. It is believed that France did provide the military logistics with which President Derby and his forces routed the rebels forcing them to beat a hasty retreat from the besieged capital.
The spectacular taking of N’Djamena even if temporarily by the rebels ‘contre’ the ex-rebel in power never really surprised political observers. N’Djamena has had a historic notoriety of falling easily to rebel strikes. The Chadian Army, ill-equipped and demoralised, was shown to the world via satellite TV stations as they combed the city to flush out the rebels. Driven around in a decrepit pick-up vans the lack of military hardware and good military equipments must have been the reason rebels always knock at the gate of the presidential palace no matter its impregnable structure and security.
The Chadian conflict has sent thousands of Chadians across the borders into Cameroun and Nigeria. Misery stalks the land even before the invasion of the rebels! The crisis in Darfur Sudan has had its multiplier effects. The Derby government has constantly accused the Arabic authorities in Khartoum of aiding and abetting the rebels while the authorities in Sudan also accuse Derby of supporting the Darfur black rebels. The Darfur conundrum connection in the Chadian rebellion cannot be denied however.
Idris Derby has of late been carpeted by human rights campaigners for his autocratic rule. Many assassinations including those of his relations has never been resolved. Coupled with defections from his government and the military things are looking bleak for Derby. Derby‘s appearance in full military combat fatigue days after the rebels trembled the city of N’Djamena talking big and boasting of overcoming his enemies only showed the military blood still running in Derby‘s veins.
With the discovery of huge oil deposits in Chad Derby is not in any hurry to leave power knowing that soon the petro-dollars will be flowing into the government coffers. The politics of oil has been a brutal one between French oil companies and their American counterparts which Derby favoured. Mouth-watering contracts has been signed and oil exploration is expected in full swing soon.
There are political observers who said there is a political blackmail from Paris. Before the rebels entered the Chadian capital there was a huge humanitarian scandal in Chad involving some French men and women in a children exfiltration tango with the local authorities. The “Arch de Zoé” imbroglio involved attempts by some French citizens to smuggle some Chadian children on humanitarian grounds out of Chad. The effort failed and they were promptly arrested, detained and charged. Upon a celebrated trial they were each sentenced to eight years in prison with hard labour but instead of serving their jail terms in Chad they were transfered to Paris after an intervention by President Nicholas Sarkozy who personally flew into Chad to talk things over with Derby.
In Paris those convicted were being retried since there is no punishment of hard labour in European penal laws. Suddenly after France helped Der
by to overcome the rebels the Chadian leader told a bewildered world audience through an international press conference that he is favourable disposed to granting the convicted French men and women presidential grace. Talk of blackmail or ‘I scratch your back and you scratch mine?’.
Though I sympathise with the convicted French men and women since they argued that they were moved to move the children away from Chad to save them from poverty and guarantee them a bright future the French government’s role in the whole Chadian rebellion threw up more questions than answers obviously. When the pressure from the rebels just outside the presidential palace in N’Djamena became intense the French authorities offered to air-lift Derby out of the palace but the latter bluntly refused preffering to fight back and re-gain lost grounds.
In a climate of insecurity and tension President Derby has imposed a national dusk to dawn curfew. His forces has been cracking down on the opposition three prominent of whom including a former president declared missing has just been released. Derby has reached for draconian measures like muzzling the press to rein in dissidents.
Though facts on the ground point to a seeming failure of the rebels to throw out Derby from the presidential palace Idris Derby Itno has outlived his usefulness and overstayed his welcome in the Chadian presidency. Much as one is against any unconstitutional violent change of government (as ballot remains the best choice) the only possible way of unseating Derby is through organized violent rebellion. In any case that was the very way he came into the national prominence and consciousness of Chadians. Going the same way cannot be seen therefore as an aberration.