In a headline that almost defies belief given it's the 21st century, the president of the north-central African country of Chad has died from wounds sustained on frontlines while battling rebels seeking to oust his government.
The national armed forces announced Tuesday that Chad's President Idriss Déby Itno, who had only on Monday been elected to a sixth term, "died while protecting the country" and as he was "commanding an army unit during hostilities against the rebels in the north of the country," according to AFP. He was pronounced dead from his injuries at a hospital.
The 68-year-old leader has been in office since 1990, and under his rule Chad had been considered a key strategic ally in the historically war-racked central African region. Though widely acknowledged as a dictator, European countries like former colonial power France considered he and his military crucial in rooting out jihadists from the region.
AFP reports the following details of his death: "The army said Deby had been commanding his forces at the weekend as they fought rebels who had launched a major incursion into the north of the oil-producing country on election day."
Deby "has just breathed his last breath defending the sovereign nation on the battlefield," army spokesman General Azem Bermandoa Agouna announced on state television, which reportedly sent much of the population into a panic as schools, public buildings, and the country's borders were shut "until further notice" on fears of instability.
And BBC added further details: "He had gone to the front line, several hundred kilometres north of the capital N'Djamena, at the weekend to visit troops battling rebels belonging to a group calling itself Fact (the Front for Change and Concord in Chad)."
Here's more background from AFP:
Deby, often called "marshal" due to his military rank, had ruled Chad with an iron fist since taking power on the back of a coup in 1990.
He was nonetheless a key ally in the West's anti-jihadist campaign in the troubled Sahel region, particularly due to Chad's ability to supply weaponry and soldiers.
Déby son, 37-year-old four star general Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, will take over leadership of the country and army for the next 18 months during a 'transition period' during which time parliament will be suspended.
#UPDATE Chad's President Idriss #Deby Itno died on Tuesday from wounds sustained in battle after three decades in power, the army said, his son immediately named transitional leader opening a period of uncertainty in a country that is a key Western ally https://t.co/R7OFIgm2J2 pic.twitter.com/CTGvFLzDWv— AFP News Agency (@AFP) April 20, 2021
Mahamat Idriss Déby is now vowing "free and democratic" elections following the mourning period and lengthy transition period.
Recent history in the region of course suggests that the son will probably hold onto power for decades to come. There's already widespread fears the country is poised to descend into instability and violence.
Idriss Déby Itno previously addressing the United Nations, via Reuters.
We should note that this instance of Deby's perishing during a battle constitutes the only time in the 21st century that a head of state has died while leading his forces into military combat — something we can imagine is probably never going to happen again in this century, apparently providing a lone exception to Nassim Nicholas Taleb's take on all modern heads of state (especially in the West) as warmongers who are themselves not warriors...
"Historically, all warlords and warmongers were warriors themselves, and, with a few curious exceptions, societies were run by risk takers, not risk transferors," Taleb wrote in his Skin in the Game.
"They took risks – more risks than ordinary citizens. Julian the Apostate, the hero of many, died on the battlefield fighting in the never-ending war on the Persian frontier. One of predecessors, Valerian, after he was captured was said to have been used as a human footstool by the Persian Shahpur when mounting his horse. Less than a third of Roman emperors died in their bed – and one can argue that, had they lived longer, they would have fallen prey to either a coup or a battlefield."