The peaceful village of Evilard overlooking Lake Biel contrasts with the Chadian desert, where the rebels fatally wounded President Idriss Déby. In his modest apartment, Kingabé Ogouzeïmi de Tapol – his “nom de guerre”, he says – sees himself as a “general without an army”. He put his three cell phones on the living room table, between the Bible and A Promised Land, the biography of Barack Obama.
It is this exile – Michelot Yogogombaye, whose real name is – who signs the press releases of the FACT, the Front for Alternation and Concord in Chad. Not many people paid attention to these documents full of emphasis until the movement announced Monday April 19 that it had managed to hit Idriss Déby in a fierce battle 300 kilometers north of the capital N’Djamena . The rebels had descended south along the Niger to escape the vigilance of French planes, proudly details the spokesperson.
Tuesday morning, the death of the irremovable warrior-president, pillar of Françafrique since taking power by force in 1990, was announced on national television. Just enough time for the army to impose his son, Mahamat Idriss Déby, 37, at the head of this huge country, one of the poorest in the world.
“We also have our information, thanks to complicity within the army, relates this refugee who arrived in Switzerland in 1992. Our men were overflown by the French air force which informed Déby. This is how he learned of our chief’s presence and went to the front lines to deal us a fatal blow. But, after heavy initial losses, we got the upper hand from Saturday night. Monday, we managed to surround Déby. We wanted to capture him but he resisted. ”
FACT fighters then told him that they had seen a helicopter evacuating the president to N’Djamena. “It was a French device,” says Michelot Yogogombaye, without being able to prove it. Internet connections to the desert are complicated, he says. The French Barkhane force, which fights jihadists in the Sahel, has its headquarters in N’Djamena and Idriss Déby is providing soldiers for this endless war in neighboring countries.
Despite the loss of its supreme leader and several generals, the Chadian army claims to have killed hundreds of rebels and thus broken their momentum. As always, the war is also waged in the field of information and the statements of each other are difficult to verify. “If we had been decimated, we would not have been able to take the time to identify the corpses of the high ranking officers in the dunes. If we were routed, the regime would not have deployed tanks and dug trenches on the outskirts of the capital, ”retorts the rebel spokesman.
Withdrawn in northern Chad, the FACT still promises to march on N’Djamena. He had granted a truce to members of the Deby family until midnight Wednesday to bury their loved one. The funeral will take place in N’Djamena on Friday, before the president’s remains are transported to his village of origin in the east of the country. Emmanuel Macron has announced his presence. Other heads of state are expected.
“These funerals will be an international recognition disguised as a coup d’etat”, thunders Michelot Yogogombaye. “Coup d’Etat” is also what the opposition parties and civil society denounced in N’Djamena, reduced to stooges during Idriss Déby’s long reign. Civil society calls on the rebels to put their military actions on hold. “We will set up a transitional government that represents all components of the country,” promises the spokesperson for FACT. But war is the only solution. We cannot go back to another thirty years of dictatorship. ”
Why would combatants who have made so many sacrifices return power to civilians and finally break the curse of Chad, which has never experienced a peaceful transition? “We have understood that this country is not booty,” swears Michelot Yogogombaye.
A tortuous journey like that of this Christian born in the south of Chad. A student leader, he says he was imprisoned by the political police of Hissène Habré, Idriss Déby’s predecessor. He was lucky enough to escape. He will even become an ephemeral minister just before Hissène Habré is ousted from power by Idriss Déby. Hissène Habré is still imprisoned in Senegal, where he was convicted of crimes against humanity.
“My last hope”
“Idriss Déby was worse than Hissène Habré. He was his chief of staff and responsible for the killings. When he took his place, he continued what he had not been able to finish, ”says Michelot Yogogombaye. In 1992, the deposed minister took advantage of training in Geneva to ask for asylum. Because his name, he recounts, was mentioned by rebels who had tried to oppose the new master of Chad. “If I had come home, I wouldn’t be here talking to you.” He obtained asylum in 1994 and managed to bring his wife and four children. He has never set foot in his country since.
Michelot Yogogombaye, who defines himself politically as center-left, says he has gone through intense depressive episodes because of the situation in his country. After betting on another rebel group, the Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic (CCMSR), the 60-year-old was contacted by FACT last February. When he was still in Chad, he knew the family of Mahamat Mahdi Ali, the leader of FACT, a movement formed in 2016. Like his spokesperson, the rebel leader was exiled for a long time, but in France. He then joined southern Libya, where he prepared his offensive. “It is my last hope of ever returning to Chad and playing a role there,” says Michelot Yogogombaye.