Risk of Instability on the Rise for Chad and the Sahel Region

Chadian president Idriss Deby killed
Former Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno (C-L), flanked by his wife Amani Hilal (C-R), waves as he arrives to attend his election campaign rally in N'djamena on April 9, 2021. (Photo by MARCO LONGARI/AFP via Getty Images)

By Matthew Frank - OEF Analyst

The Chadian government announced on April 20 that president Idriss Deby had died from wounds sustained over the weekend during a visit to the frontlines where the Chadian military was attempting to fend off an offensive by the rebel group the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT). Deby, who ruled the country for 30 years, had just won a sixth term as president after elections were held on April 11.

Filling this leadership vacuum, the military announced that the current government had been dissolved and a transitional council, headed by Deby’s son, will lead the country for the next 18 months, after which new elections will be held. This sudden change in leadership threatens to create greater potential for instability in a country already beset by high levels of political violence, low socioeconomic development and a history of authoritarian and ineffective government.

Chad had the second highest estimated risk of military coup for the month of April according to One Earth Future’s coup forecasting model, CoupCast.

Chad had the second highest estimated risk of military coup for the month of April according to One Earth Future’s coup forecasting model, CoupCast. CoupCast uses historical data and machine learning methods in order to estimate the risk of an attempted military coup for every country in the world on a monthly basis based on structural factors.

This already high level of risk will likely be exacerbated by the change in individual leadership as well as the introduction of a provisional form of government.

What Exactly Happened?

Underlying increased uncertainty regarding the country’s future is a similar lack of clarity regarding the exact circumstances of Deby’s death. The government has not specified precisely how Deby died nor the events which led up to his initial injuries over the weekend, thus creating some amount of doubt in the military’s recounting of events and opening the door for theories of foul play. 

Although there is no evidence so far of any foul play (and therefore Deby’s death itself is not a coup event), the hurried moves to dissolve the current government and replace it (which are an instance of a bloodless coup) may signal internal concerns of regime stability and control of government. It is worth noting that, constitutionally, power should have transferred to the leader of the National Assembly and that elections are mandated to occur within 3 months of the presidency becoming vacant, not 18.

These efforts to ensure a tight grip on power reflect Deby’s own reported style of rule that very often featured the use of violent repression and the rigging of elections. Indeed, in the lead up to this month’s elections Deby’s government arrested scores of opposition party members and, most notably, conducted a raid of the home of an opposition candidate, Yaya Dillo, that resulted in the death of his mother.

In this sense, any concerns of regime stability by Deby’s son and his fellow military officers were likely warranted. The high risk of coup assigned to Chad by CoupCast reflects many of the structural factors underlying popular dissatisfaction with the government such as insecurity, poverty and decades of autocratic rule. Without a popular mandate to rule, the unexpected introduction of a power vacuum meant that control of the government was up for grabs for whoever may have felt they were powerful enough to seize it.

Chad (and the Sahel’s) Future

With Chad now under provisional rule by the military, it joins Mali, which underwent a coup in August 2020, as the second country in the G5 Sahel cooperative security and development body to feature such a government. Notably, another G5 Sahel member, Niger, also experienced a failed coup attempt just last month on March 31.

Clearly political instability is a problem that affects both Chad and its neighbors in the region, with many of these countries facing similar challenges related to insurgent groups, socioeconomic development and histories of autocratic regimes. However, Chad has been seen as unique among the G5 Sahel members for it military capacity, which it has put to use across the region and in cooperation with French forces in order to combat primarily jihadist insurgent groups.

Due to Chad’s central role in regional security efforts, the potential for continued political instability and government collapse is particularly impactful. Unfortunately, Deby’s unexpected death is likely to significantly increase these risks moving into the near future.

Coups often occur around periods of political transition as plotters who see potentially unfavorable changes to the status quo as a result of these transitions will act to reverse their fortunes through force.

Coups often occur around periods of political transition as plotters who see potentially unfavorable changes to the status quo as a result of these transitions will act to reverse their fortunes through force. As Chad navigates its own transition after three decades of rule by Deby, such dangers will likely be present in the years and months ahead, with potentially large consequences for the region as a whole.

About OEF's CoupCast

CoupCast is a machine learning based early warning forecasting platform for estimating the risk of illegal leadership turnover each month for every country across the globe. These updates provide insight into technical changes/updates, notable events in the previous month, and a more in-depth overview of what to expect in the new month coming forward.

The official web dashboard for CoupCast can be found here and information regarding the underlying REIGN dataset and updates to our monthly data can be found here.

For more information about CoupCast and other political forecasting analysis contact Matthew Frank.


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