Vale, Idriss Déby, Emir of the Toyota Wars
The Chadian government last week reported that recently reelected six-time president (!) Idriss Déby, 68, died of injuries following clashes with rebels in the north of the country at the weekend. Deby’s son, leader of the Presidental Guard, has been installed as the country’s leader.
The Deby government came to power in 1990 as part of a military coup while he was head of the military. Although we aren’t in the habit of celebrating African authoritarian strongmen, it should be noted that Deby was a legend of asymmetric warfare.
He was the head of the Chadian National Armed Forces (FANT) during the Toyota Wars of the 1980s.
Trained in a series of French officer schools to include the prestigious École de Guerre, Deby’s Mad Max-style troopers pulled off a French-funded Deserts Rats-esque campaign against Gaddafi’s set-piece Libyan armored columns in Chad’s northern deserts, pitting 400 Milan- and machine gun-armed technicals against T-54s– and coming out on top.
Since literally taking office 30 years ago, Deby has remained a big friend to Paris in backing up the old colonizer’s fight against Islamists on the Continent and setting up Chad as the model of stability in the region.
With that, there should be no surprise that France– who has long looked the other way on Chad’s intermittent border clashes with Nigeria– is supporting the Chadian military’s seizure of power following Deby’s death on the battlefield.
Speaking of which…
Chad and France have a unique bond that goes back to WWII.
On 26 August 1940, just two months after the fall of metropolitan France to the Axis, Chad was the first French territory in Africa to break with the Vichy government and join De Gaulle’s Free French movement.
With the blessing of colonial governor Felix Ebouse and Lt. Col Pierre Marchand, commander of the Senegalese infantry regiment of Chad (Régiment de Tirailleurs Sénégalais du Tchad, RTST), the local unit, DeGaulle sent a young Major Philippe Hauteclocque (under the nom de guerre, Leclerc) who handpicked a column of 400 to strike out from the colony against the key oasis of Koufra in Italian Libya in January 1941 to aid the British push in the Western Desert.
Leclerc’s truck-borne unit, augmented by some old armored cars and a couple of 75mm guns, kicked the Italian Sahariana di Cufra around the desert for two months and, upon victory, which was hugely symbolic to the Free French, Leclerc and his men (some 3/4ths were Africans from Chad), took the so-called “Koufra Oath,” promising not to lay down their arms until the Free French flag flew from the Strasbourg Cathedral.
Fast forward to 23 November 1944 and Leclerc, then general in charge of his own armored division of Sherman tanks and on his way to becoming a Marshal of France, liberated Strasbourg.
The Régiment de Marche du Tchad still exists in the modern French Army today, based in Meyenheim in Alsace, as a mechanized infantry unit of some 1,200 soldiers.
Keeping that in mind, the odds of the French ever quitting Chad are somewhat lower than zero.