The killing of Chad’s opposition presidential candidate Yaya Dillo, came as a shock to rights activists and critics of interim president Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno.

Dillo — a cousin of Mahamat Deby — was killed under circumstances not fully disclosed when security forces attacked the headquarters of his Socialist Party Without Borders (PSF) in Chad’s capital city of N’djamena last Wednesday.

“I’m devastated,” Max Loalngar, exiled leader of the Chadian Human Rights League LTDH, told DW the following day.

Chad's President Mahamat Deby accompanied by his aides waves.
President Mahamat Deby is widely expected to win the May 6 presidential electionImage: AFP

‘Death of democrats’

“This death is the death of all of us democrats, all of us who fight for human rights, Loalngar said. “They’re sounding the death knell for Yaya Dillo today. It could be mine or someone else’s under these circumstances in this country.”

A statement on the website of the presidency purports that Dillo and his entourage, termed “assailants,” used “heavy artillery” inside the party premises, allegedly forcing the security forces that came to apprehend them to defend themselves.

The escalation comes as Chadians prepare to vote on May 6 to end three years of transition following the death of former President Idriss Deby in April 2021.

A political assasination

Yaya Dillo was expected to run for president against interim President Mahamat Deby, son of the late president.

“Quite clearly, this was a political assassination,” Chadian lawyer and political scientist Baidessou Soukolgue told DW. It happened exactly three years after Dillo’s home was attacked and his mother killed, Soukolgue, who is executive director at the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), said.

“In recent years he had shown a frankness and political consciousness that was never appreciated by his clan, the ruling clan,” Soukolgue added.

German political analyst Helga Dickow recently returned from a trip to Chad, where she met Yaya Dillo days before his death.

Chad forces clash with protesters decrying takeover (2021)

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Why Dillo was killed

Dickows based at Arnold Bergstraesser Institut in Freiburg, suspected Dillo’s siding with the late president’s younger brother Salaye Deby may have been too much for Mahamat Deby to tolerate.

“Yaya Dillo had called for an investigation into the death of Idriss Deby, and Salaye Deby always said he knew what had happened,” Dickow told DW.

In 2021, the Chadian army was fighting an insurgency in the north of the count. President Deby was said to have died on the frontlines after sustaining injuries. “There are those in Chad who said that both Mahamat Deby and his personal assistant played a role in Idriss Deby’s death.”

President of Chad's Transition Council Mahamat Idriss Deby (C) casts his vote as others observe
The constitutional referendum in December 2023 left the people with no real choice, experts sayImage: Denis Sassou Gueipeur/AFP/Getty Images

Political transition without renewal

Mahamat Deby — a military officer who has held leading offices in the country’s security hierarchy — has led a junta government following his father’s death. Early on, Deby vowed to hand power over to a civil government. However, he extended his 18-month deadline into 2024.

“The transition was not perfect, but the authorities seemed to control the situation,” Soukolge said. “But this assassination comes at the last moment and will no doubt impact the population’s confidence in the transition process and the election.”

Experts say the transition process was flawed from the beginning to a constitutional referendum in December 2023.

Opposition groups protested a national dialogue that was not deemed inclusive. In October 2022, a joint civil society and political opposition called a protest march that ended in bloodshed. Hundreds of demonstrators were killed.

An opposition in tatters

The protest’s main organizer, Succes Masra, fled the country after the violent demonstrations. A year later, he returned following a mediation led by DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi. He soon endeared himself with the junta and President Mahamat Deby appointed him prime minister of the transition.

While Masra, 40, still intends to run for president as a candidate of The Transformers party, which he founded in 2018, his condolences to the family of Yaya Dillo were considered hypocritical by some. Many of his former supporters have expressed disenchantment with him, which could spell the de facto end of another leading opposition figure.

In addition, Dickow said Masra has little influence on the government. “Masra’s announcement to investigate the death of Yaya Dillo should not be taken too seriously,” Dickow said.

A nation in emergency mode

And the standoff is far from over, the German analyst warned: “N’Djamena is in emergency mode. The internet is constantly being restricted, houses are raided, and electricity is turned off at night. All these are indications that bad things are about to happen.”

Dickow suspects that this points to a power play between different clans within the elite that is not yet over. If Mahamat Deby survives this in-fighting, she said, there is no doubt he will win the elections. “I think we are going to see a dictatorship even more brutal than that of his father.”

Max Loalngar, leader of the Chadian League of Human Rights, paints a picture no less bleak: “As we are seeing innocent people dying by the day, we have to expect this country at best to burn, at worst to disappear.”

Sandrine Blanchard contributed to this article.

Edited by: Chrispin Mwakideu


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