In May, Jeune Afrique published an article profiling the inner circle of Chad’s military ruler Mahamat Deby – who took over after his father, Chad’s longtime ruler Idriss Deby (in power 1990-2021) was killed on the frontlines of a battle against rebels. The piece made me wonder about the fate of Hinda Deby, one of Idriss Deby’s wives and Mahamat Deby’s step-mother.
Idriss Deby died suddenly, but the question of succession was on observers’ minds well before he died. And Hinda Deby’s name was often mentioned. Born in 1980, she is of Mahamat’s generation (he was born in 1984) rather than her late husband’s (who was born in 1952). She and Idriss Deby married in 2005.
As late as the first quarter of 2021, on the eve of the president’s death, Hinda Deby’s “growing influence” was being mentioned by informed observers. Her influence ran through multiple sectors – oil, health, and education, among others – and operated both through formal channels, such as her “Grand Coeur” foundation, and through the strategic placement of family members into top posts (her father Mahamat Acyl, who died in 2020, was a senior diplomat). These family members included, as of 2021, her uncle Abdelmoutalib Abderahim Abdoulfarakh as director-general of military intelligence; her brother Khoudar Mahamat Acyl as the president’s aide-de-camp; her brother Abderahim Mahamat Acyl as deputy director of the Chad Hydrocarbons Company; her brother Ahmat Khazali Acyl as director of the National Social Planning Account; and her aunt’s ex-husband Ahmed Kogri as head of Chadian intelligence (here’s my source for the last four names and positions). From early on in her marriage to the president, journalists and their interlocutors surmised that Deby – who famously relied on his Zaghawa ethnic group as the core of his power – used his marriage to the Arab Hinda to build ties with another key ethnic group and another key family in the country.
Of course, observers of Chadian politics also long predicted that Deby’s successor might be one of his sons, several of whom held senior positions as well. Mahamat was clearly in the running.
My crude reading of what transpired immediately after Deby’s death is that power in Chad remained essentially military – obviously there is a serious gender component to consider and an ethnic one as well, but Mahamat Deby was elevated to head of state not just in preference to Hinda, but also because he had the most central position within the military hierarchy at the moment of his father’s death, namely as head of the Directorate-General of the Security Services of the Institutions of the State, the most elite unit (see more here). There was reportedly a last-minute power struggle between Mahamat and his half-brother Zakaria, a senior diplomat (ambassador to the United Arab Emirates) and a key leader within the then-ruling party, the Patriotic Salvation Movement (French acronym MPS). It’s possible that Mahamat won by strength of personality, but again, it seems the military was revealed or confirmed as the real backbone of the regime – tellingly, the MPS has seemed to be to more an appendage of power under Mahamat than a real power center in its own right, at least so far in 2021-2022. Returning to Hinda Deby’s role, her time as a sort of interim president in 2020, when Idriss Deby was sick, was reportedly a choice meant in part to manage the incipient conflict between Mahamat and Zakaria – suggesting that Idriss Deby may have found his wife more useful as a kind of mediator than as his ultimate successor.
In any case, since Mahamat’s succession, Hinda Deby’s network preserved its influence in the short term but in the ensuing months has been, at least from what I can tell, somewhat sidelined – the Jeune Afrique profile of the new president’s inner circle notes Ahmed Kogri’s continued importance as head of the National Security Agency, but the ex-First Lady’s brothers do not appear in the list. Indeed, in December last year, her brothers ran into serious legal trouble as part of a very murky affair that involved the assassination of a Chadian colonel, an attack on the home of Hinda’s brother Ahmat Khazali Mahamat Acyl, the interrogations and detention of her brothers Ahmat Khazali and Khoudar and, in March, their release as the case was closed. In April, Hinda Deby fainted from apparent heat stroke at a public event, but has otherwise kept a fairly low profile; her Twitter account, for example, features sporadic and mostly personal/spiritual posts.
That, from the limited insight I have, is where things stand – Mahamat firmly in control of palace politics, having shown where the real power ultimately lay. With that said, I wouldn’t count out Hinda Deby over the long term – not necessarily as president of Chad, but as a player in the country’s politics, given her obvious political skill and the wide reach of her family’s network.