Africa in the news: President Déby of Chad dies; Kenya, DRC sign trade and security deals; and Cape Town survives massive fire

File photo - Chad, Ennedi, Amdjarass, arrival of President Idriss Deby with his wife in his native village and official welcome at the airport. Chad’s President Idriss Deby has died while visiting troops on the front line of a fight against northern rebels, an army spokesman said on Tuesday, the day after Deby was declared the winner of a sixth term in office. Deby's campaign said on Monday that he was headed to the front lines to join troops battling "terrorists". Photo by Pascal Avenet/ABACAPRESS.COM

President Idriss Déby of Chad dies in confrontation with rebels

This week, Chad’s army released a statement confirming that the country’s president, Idriss Déby, had died of injuries incurred in clashes with the Libyan-based rebel group Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT). More specifically, Déby was killed while visiting military troops on the front lines after the rebels’ advancement into Chad from southern Libya. Just the day before Déby’s death, the country announced that provisional election results showed that he had been reelected with 79.3 percent of April 11’s vote, in an election marked by irregularities, intimidation, internet outages, and a boycott by the opposition.

In the immediate aftermath of the president’s death, a transitional council of military officers named Déby’s son, Mahamat Kaka, interim president. The council also announced that an election for the next president will be held in 18 months. Until then, the government and National Assembly have been dissolved, and the country is under a nationwide curfew.

The fight with FACT—a splinter group of the Union Forces for Democracy and Development, which opposes Déby’s rule—had been intensifying, as the group attacked the Zourake border post on election day. Despite Déby’s death, though, the violence has not abated: According to AGI Nonresident Senior Fellow John Mukum Mbaku, the appointment of Déby’s son has “emboldened rebel groups that were fighting to oust him and his relatives, who had dominated the government.” In fact, this week, FACT released a statement vowing to march to the capital of N’djamena, emphasizing, “Chad is not a monarchy. There can be no dynastic devolution of power in our country.”

Before his death, Déby was one of Africa’s longest-serving rulers, having come into power in 1990 through a military coup. Critics argue that his economic policies have not benefited most of the country, which—while rich in natural resources—has one of the highest poverty rates in the world. In fact, in the 30 years of Déby’s reign, Chad has not made significant improvements in critical areas. You can listen to all of Mbaku’s analysis on Thursday’s episode of  The Current podcast.

Kenya and the DRC sign trade and security agreement

On Thursday, April 22, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) signed a bilateral agreement addressing trade, transport, and security. The deal provides the legal framework to harmonize trade and transportation fees between both countries, as well as defense cooperation on counterterrorism, policing, immigration, and aviation and maritime security.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta described the deal, which seeks to improve the ease of doing business between Kenya and the DRC via special privileges for the DRC to access Kenyan port facilities, as a “move towards deeper [regional] integration.” These new favorable trade terms are aimed at capturing a greater share of the DRC’s trade network, which relies on East African seaports for their imports. Right now, Tanzanian and Mozambiquan ports handle the bulk of the DRC’s imports, with Kenya handling less than 15 percent.

The array of economic and security benefits included in the recent Kenyan-DRC deal follows the broad strokes of African continental integration generated by the commencement of the African Continental Free Trade Area this year. The agreement also follows a long-standing bid from 2019 by the DRC to join the East African Community (EAC).

Massive wildfire on Table Mountain spreads through Cape Town

On Sunday, April 18, a wildfire with origins in Table Mountain National Park in South Africa swept down the mountain’s slopes into the city, causing millions of dollars in damage, destroying historic buildings, and forcing residents of nearby neighborhoods—including the University of Cape Town—to evacuate.  While the cause of the fire remains unclear, officials speculate it originated as vacated vagrant fire, and The South African reports that three men have been arrested in relation to its start.

Buoyed by strong winds, the fire quickly spread through adjacent neighborhoods, and hundreds of firefighters were called in to stop the “out-of-control” blaze. The winds and excessive smoke prevented the use of aerial support in the early attempts to fight the fire, further allowing the fire to spread. By midweek, the fire was largely contained, though it had managed to burn 1,482 acres. As of Tuesday, city authorities had confirmed that 11 buildings were destroyed, six firefighters injured, and nine civilians were being treated for breathing problems due to smoke inhalation.

Notably, the fire destroyed the University of Cape Town’s J.W. Jagger Library, which housed tens of thousands of historical and rare items, including “priceless artifacts related to African history, including 19th-century watercolors painted by Indigenous peoples, maps, manuscripts and government records.” The university’s film archive—which included about 3,500 rare African archival films—was also lost.