In a closed hearing on Tuesday, March 21, 2023, an appeals court in Chad sentenced more than 400 rebels to life in prison for their role in the killing of former president Idriss Déby Itno. The rebels were accused of terrorism, using child soldiers, and undermining Chad’s integrity and security. This comes after a month-long mass trial charged 454 members of the Front For Change and Concord rebel group for killing the long-time leader.
Déby, a long-serving military officer and president of Chad from 1990 until his death, died under suspicious circumstances on April 20, 2021, while visiting his troops at the frontline during clashes with the rebel group. The incident occurred just days after he was re-elected for a sixth term as president. Two dozen people on trial were acquitted.
Déby was a member of the Bidayat clan of the Zaghawa ethnic group, which occupies the majority of posts in the transitional military council. Following his death, leadership of the council was seized by Déby’s adopted son Mahamat Idriss Déby, who is also of the Zaghawa ethnic group.
According to Chad’s constitution, the president of parliament should have acted as interim leader and called for new elections. However, a transitional constitution now grants Mahamat Déby even more power than his father ever had.
Déby’s death raised concerns around security in the region, particularly for Nigeria’s Borno State which borders Chad. Borno State, particularly its capital Maiduguri, has witnessed over a decade of lethal attacks by insurgent groups such as the Islamic State in West Africa Province, Boko Haram, and other militant groups.
According to the Associated Press, the leader of the rebel group Mahamat Mahdi, in addition to life imprisonment, has been fined U.S.$30 million to be paid to Chad’s government for damages. The severity of the sentence sends a strong message that Chad will not tolerate any attempt to undermine its security and stability. It also serves as a reminder of the challenges faced by many African countries in maintaining peace and stability in the face of insurgent groups and other security threats.