'I know in advance that I will win': Chad's Deby eyes sixth presidential term
Chad's President Idriss Deby, an ally of Western nations in the fight against Islamist militants, is poised to extend his three-decade rule in Sunday's election despite mounting signs of popular discontent with his leadership.
Opposition leaders have called on their supporters to boycott the polls and make the country “ungovernable” after Deby's decision to seek a sixth term led to protests and clashes with security forces.
Deby, 68, is one of Africa's longest-serving leaders, having seized power in 1990 in an armed rebellion. He pushed through a new constitution in 2018 that could allow him to stay in power until 2033 — even as it reinstated term limits.
Deby, who took the title of “Marshal” last year, will face six candidates after the supreme court barred seven others. The runner-up in the last election in 2016, Saleh Kebzabo, and Ngarledji Yorongar, another prominent opposition leader, withdrew from the race to protest Deby's candidacy.
“Of course we are going to win,” Deby told supporters at a campaign event on Monday. “I know in advance that I will win, as I have done for the last 30 years.”
Chad has one of the region's most capable armies, which it has deployed to hotspots in neighbouring countries to battle Boko Haram and other Islamist groups.
But the government is still threatened periodically by rebels in the north. Fighter jets from former colonial ruler France intervened in 2019 to strike a heavily-armed rebel convoy after it crossed from southern Libya.
Opposition leaders criticise Deby for his handling of Chad's oil wealth. Low crude prices in recent years have eaten into revenues, forcing cutbacks to government services that have led to public sector strikes.
They have also caused debt levels to rise. International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva said on Tuesday that Chad's creditors would meet in the next week to deal with its request for debt relief.
Nevertheless, Deby has drawn on his effective control of state institutions to maintain political power, and his opponents have split over the question of whether to boycott the election.
While former prime minister Albert Pahimi Padacké, one of the approved candidates, said a boycott would play into Deby's hand, others have rejected the process as illegitimate.
Succès Masra, a 38-year-old opposition firebrand whose candidacy was rejected because he did not meet the minimum age of 45, said the election was a masquerade.
“This election resembles a home game played by the same team that has been split in two,” Masra told a news conference, where he displayed empty teargas canisters fired at a recent protest.
Kebzabo, meanwhile, vowed to make the country “ungovernable” if Deby wins.
Deby accused opposition leaders of attempting to sabotage the gains made under his government, warning that they have “signed their political death warrants”.
The following are the current 10 African leaders in power the longest.
EQUATORIAL GUINEA — Teodoro Obiang — more than 41 years
August 3 1979 — present
Obiang, now 78, seized power from his uncle in a coup. While opposition parties were legalised in 1992, Obiang's Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea dominates. He has won over 90% of votes at every election, some of which the opposition boycotted.
CAMEROON — Paul Biya — more than 38 years
November 6 1982 — present
Biya took over in 1982 from President Ahmadou Ahidjo after serving as prime minister for seven years. Biya, 88, has won five multiparty elections since 1992. The opposition has called the results fraudulent. Two-term limits were abolished in 2008.
CONGO REPUBLIC — Denis Sassou Nguesso — 38 years
February 8 1979 — August 31 1992; October 25 1997 — present
Sassou, 77, assumed office in 1979 before losing the country's first multiparty elections in 1992. He regained power in 1997 after a civil war and changed the constitution in 2015 to let himself stand for re-election the following year. He was declared the winner of a March 21 2021 election.
UGANDA — Yoweri Museveni — more than 35 years
January 29 1986 — present
Museveni became president when his forces seized the capital Kampala after a five-year guerrilla struggle. Now 76, he has won six elections since 1996, the most recent in January. Parliament has twice changed the constitution to allow him to run, first removing a two-term limit in 2005 and then abolishing the age limit of 75 in 2017.
Eswatini — King Mswati III — almost 35 years
April 25 1986 — present
Absolute monarch, Mswati, now 52, was crowned in April 1986. Political parties have been banned in Eswatini, previously known as Swaziland, since 1973.
CHAD — Idriss Deby — more than 30 years
December 2 1990 — present
Deby took power at the head of an armed rebellion. Two-term limits were abolished in 2005 and reimposed in 2018. The move will not be applied retroactively, meaning Deby, 68, could serve two six-year terms after the 2021 election.
ERITREA — Isaias Afwerki — almost 28 years
May 19 1993 — present
Afwerki, 75, has ruled since Eritrea's independence from Ethiopia. There have never been national elections in Eritrea, which rights groups consider to be one of the most repressive states in the world.
DJIBOUTI — Ismail Omar Guelleh — almost 22 years
May 8 1999 — present
Guelleh, now 73, was picked to succeed his uncle, independence leader Hassan Gouled Aptidon. He won a fourth five-year term in 2016 and will seek re-election this month.
MOROCCO — King Mohammed VI — more than 21 years
July 23 1999 — present
Mohammed VI, 57, was crowned when his father, Hassan II, died of a heart attack. The Moroccan royal family has reigned since 1631, making it the Muslim world's oldest dynasty.
RWANDA — Paul Kagame — almost 21 years
April 22 2000 — present
Kagame, 63, was widely seen as the de facto leader of Rwanda after his rebel army ended the 1994 genocide. He was elected president by parliament in 2000. The constitution was changed in 2015 to let him seek a third seven-year term in 2017 and two more five-year terms, meaning he could stay in power until 2034.