What next for Chad after death of main junta opponent?

Chad Yaya Dillo Djerou, a cousin of transitional president General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, died on Wednesday.  By Issouf SANOGO AFPFile
Yaya Dillo Djerou, a cousin of transitional president General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, died on Wednesday. By Issouf SANOGO (AFP/File)

The death of the leading opponent to Chad's junta chief in an army raid on his party headquarters this week leaves different scenarios for the African country before elections in May, an expert told AFP.

Yaya Dillo Djerou, a cousin of transitional president General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, died on Wednesday after troops surrounded the office of his Socialist Party Without Borders in the capital N'Djamena.

His party accused soldiers of killing Dillo at point-blank range in an "execution" before the May 6 vote where he and Deby Itno planned to run.

The government has rejected the accusations, saying Dillo "opposed his arrest" and fired on security forces.

Deby coasts to victory

Deby Itno, who confirmed his candidacy on Saturday, now has "no opponents who can pose a threat in the race for the presidency", according to Enrica Picco, project director for Central Africa at Crisis Group.

The leader, who came to power in 2021 after his father ruled Chad with an iron fist for three decades, has found ways to whittle down the number of his opponents, she said.

The first was the bloody repression of protests against his extension of the transition to civilian rule on October 20, 2022, whose powerful deterrent effect will resound "for months and even years to come".

Opposition figures have fled the country or been silenced, while any attempt by civil society to form movements, protest or come out against the military rulers has been eliminated, Picco added.

Deby Itno's other technique to consolidate his grip on power has been bringing opponents into his fold.

Saleh Kebzabo, a fierce adversary of the long-time former ruler Idriss Deby Itno, became the younger Deby Itno's prime minister.

Another opposition figurehead and potential election rival, Succes Masra, replaced Kebzabo as head of government at the start of the year.

Coup attempt?

The scenario of a coup -- in a Sahel region rocked by several military takeovers since 2020 -- has been a source of concern for more than two years, said Picco.

Rebels have been fighting the Chadian state for decades, with Idriss Deby Itno's long rule curtailed when he was killed near the front line in 2021.

Dillo and Deby Itno are from the Zaghawa ethnic minority, which has dominated Chad's politics for more than three decades but is divided over the legitimacy of the current head of state.

Recent events including Dillo's death and the arrest of Saleh Deby, an uncle of Deby Itno who joined the opposition, "could feed desires for revenge for part of the clan", according to Picco.

"The armed rebels do not have the capacity to threaten the government for the moment, but a palace revolution by the Zaghawa clan or the Deby family has never been ruled out," she said.

The rebel movements, some of which are dominated by the Zaghawas, could seek to exploit a period of doubt from their bases in neighbouring Libya, the Central African Republic and Sudan.

Chadians have also "shown on several occasions they are sick of a never-ending economic crisis", Picco added.

Dillo's killing shows Deby Itno controls the country's security apparatus and can "quickly and effectively contain any threat to his power", but "the risk is always there".