History of Chad

Mother Earth Travel > Country Index > Chad Map Economy History

AN ARRAY OF MISFORTUNES have visited African states since the beginnings of the independence movement in the late 1950s. Of the many political ills, a few of the most traumatic have been neocolonialism, coups d'état, civil wars, governmental instability, and large-scale armed invasions. Some of the most egregious social afflictions have been poverty, illiteracy, ethnic and regional animosities, high mortality rates, and imbalanced population distribution. Dominant economic woes have included famine, drought, economic dependency, and overreliance on a single crop. Many African nations have experienced more than one of these troubles periodically. Few countries, however, have undergone all of them as extensively or as often as has Chad. In spite of its misfortunes, by the late 1980s Chad was exhibiting signs of stability that provided hope for some form of political, social, and economic recovery.

Landlocked in Africa's center, Chad has been simultaneously at the core of the region's evolution and in a zone dividing two geographic areas and cultural heritages. On the one hand, a great inland sea, of which Lake Chad is but a remnant, once supported a diversity of animal life and vegetation. In ancient times, people speaking three of Africa's four major language groups lived near its shores; some migrated to other regions of the continent while others remained. In more recent times, Chad has become a transition zone dividing the arid north from the tropical south. This geographic division coincides with social and cultural dichotomies.

As a result of years of voluntary or forced migrations, the people of Chad speak more than 100 distinct languages and comprise many different ethnic groups. Such diversity has enriched Chad's culture, permitting the admixture of traditions and life-styles. At the same time, it has promoted inter- and intraethnic strife, resulting in levels of violence ranging from clan feuds to full- scale civil war. Factionalism has become a keynote of Chad's recent history and has unquestionably impeded nation building.

Because of the area's centrality, Chad's history has been heavily influenced by the influx of foreigners. Some came for economic reasons, for example, to travel the trans-Saharan trade routes or to search for natural resources. Others came teaching the religion of Muhammad or of Christ. But some had more nefarious goals and invaded the region to capture slaves or to plunder weaker states.

Little is known about Chad before the beginning of the second millennium A.D. At about that time, the region gave birth to one of the great societies of Central Africa--the Kanem Empire, formed from a confederation of nomadic peoples. During the tenth century, Islam penetrated the empire, and later the king, or mai, became a Muslim. Kanem benefited from the rule of several effective mais. The most significant of these was Mai Dunama Dabbalemi, who reigned from about 1221 to 1259. By the end of the fourteenth century, internal struggles and external attacks had weakened the empire and forced it to uproot and move to Borno, an area to the southwest. The combined Kanem-Borno Empire peaked during the reign of Mai Idris Aluma, who ruled from about 1571 to 1603 and who is noted for his diplomatic, military, and administrative skills. By the early nineteenth century, unable to defend against Fulani invaders, Kanem-Borno was in decline, and by the end of the century it was overtaken by Arab invaders.

Another great empire was the kingdom of Bagirmi, which arose to the southeast of Kanem-Borno in the sixteenth century. This Islamic kingdom experienced periods of strength and weakness; when strong it aggressively expanded its territory, but when weak it was subjugated temporarily by neighboring states.

Wadai was a non-Muslim sultanate (or kingdom) that emerged to the northeast of Bagirmi in the sixteenth century as an offshoot of Darfur (Darfur Province in present-day Sudan). By the seventeenth century, it had converted to Islam, and around 1800 it began to expand under its sultan, Sabun. A later ruler, Muhammad Sharif, attacked Borno and eventually established Wadai's hegemony over Bagirmi. By the end of the nineteenth century, most of the great empires had been destroyed or were in eclipse.

The arrival of the French in the late 1800s had benefits and disadvantages for the indigenous population. By the early twentieth century, France had stopped northern groups from slave raiding in the south, established a few schools, and initiated some development projects. The colonial administration, however, also dislocated villages and instituted mandatory cotton production quotas for farmers. Moreover, the French administration of Chad was conducted from faraway Brazzaville (in present-day Congo), and its efforts were concentrated in the south; throughout the colonial period, France's control of the central and northern areas was nominal.

This north-south distinction created a preindependence political system dominated by southerners, who were exposed more to French education and culture than were northerners. Following independence in 1960, this dominance persisted and created considerable resentment among central and northern groups, who felt that their interests were not adequately represented by the new government.

In the late 1980s, social differences based on region persisted. The sparsely populated, desert north was peopled mainly by Toubou, many of whom were nomadic. Semisedentary groups, several of which were of Arab descent, inhabited the semiarid central areas called the Sahel. Islam was the major religion in these areas. The tropical south, also called the soudanian zone, was the most densely populated region and was home to darker skinned peoples, especially the Sara ethnic group. Here, agriculture was the principal means of livelihood, particularly the cultivation of cotton, although there was also some small-scale industry. Traditional African religions were prevalent in the south, but, because of earlier missionary efforts, so too were several Christian denominations. Termed Le Tchad Utile (Useful Chad) by the French, the south contained a disproportionate share of the educational and health facilities, as well as the majority of the development projects.

Throughout the colonial era and after independence, the Chadian economy has been based on agriculture. As such, it has been driven by the south, the only region with a climate suitable for the wide- scale production of cotton and foodstuffs (although livestock raising in the Sahel has also had some importance). At independence France left the colony with an economy retarded by exploitative policies. It was marked by insufficient development of infrastructure, overreliance on cotton and the whims of the international markets, and dependence on imports for industrial and consumer goods. By the late 1980s, warfare, drought, and famine had combined to keep the economy depressed, and international development organizations generally maintained that Chad was one of the poorest nations in the world. Indicative of this impoverishment was the fact that in 1988 Chad had a gross national product per capita of only US$160 and no paved roads. According to some observers, Chad had become a ward of the international donor community.

The nation has been subjected to the machinations of a vast number of groups and organizations. Politically, Chadians have endured a series of authoritarian regimes, none of which has successfully limited factionalism. From 1960 until 1975, François Tombalbaye, a civilian, led the nation. His regime was characterized by southern domination of the administrative structure, although he made modest attempts at placating northern and central interests. As disaffection in these regions increased, in the late 1960s dissident groups formed an antigovernment coalition, the National Liberation Front of Chad (Front de Libération Nationale du Tchad--FROLINAT). Although never fully unified, this group or associated elements of it led the fight for greater northern and central representation in government.

By the early 1970s, Tombalbaye had alienated not only these groups but also even much of the south. Although he was wary of a French military presence after independence, the president readily embraced France's support in stemming violent discontent. Nonetheless, opposition grew, and in 1975 Tombalaye was killed in a military coup d'état. Another southerner, Félix Malloum, assumed power, but he had no more success than his predecessor in suppressing the burgeoning insurgencies and demands for greater regional participation. International intervention resulted in a peace accord between the government and the rebels and the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity (Gouvernement d'Union Nationale de Transition--GUNT). For many observers, the establishment of GUNT was a watershed, marking the end of southern political domination. It did not, however, bring an end to strife.

The traditional north-and-central versus south split was transformed into an internecine argument among former opposition factions. GUNT's most important leaders were northerners Goukouni Oueddei and Hissein Habré, erstwhile allies in FROLINAT's Second Liberation Army. In command of separate factions, they battled one another for control of the capital, N'Djamena. With Libyan armed support, Goukouni evicted Habré's forces at the end of 1980. Under pressure from the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and other nations, in 1981 Goukouni asked the Libyan troops to leave; in their place, security was to be maintained by an OAU peacekeeping unit, the Inter-African Force (IAF). Seizing the initiative, Habré's regrouped and resupplied forces attacked from the northeast, and by 1982 his Armed Forces of the North (Forces Armées du Nord--FAN) had entered the capital, without any IAF interference, and sent Goukouni into exile.

Goukouni's defeat was only temporary. With massive Libyan military aid, by mid-1983 he was attacking from northern strongholds Habré's newly formed Chadian National Armed Forces (Forces Armées Nationales Tchadiennes--FANT). Concerned about Libyan leader Muammar al Qadhaafi's intentions, France responded by dispatching a large force of troops and advisers. It also began a round-the-clock airlift of military supplies and established forward positions roughly along 16° north latitude. As a result of negotiations with Libya that required a mutual withdrawal of forces, French units were recalled in November 1984. Libya, however, failed to comply with these terms and reinforced its presence, especially in the Aozou Strip.

In 1986 the French redeployed to Chad. Habré's forces, which had also benefited since 1983 from weaponry provided by the United States, launched an offensive against the Libyan positions in late 1986 and early 1987 that resulted in the routing of Libyan troops and the capture of large amounts of Libyan military equipment.

By late 1988, a measure of calm had been restored to Chadian political life. Habré was attempting to consolidate his authority, but at the same time, he was mending some of the divisiveness that has hampered nation building. He weathered a rebellion in the south in the late 1980s and brought many former opponents into high-ranking governmental positions. He sought to extend his regime through the National Union for Independence and Revolution (Union Nationale pour l'Indépendance et la Révolution--UNIR) and hoped to mobilize Chadians in rural areas.

These good intentions notwithstanding, the overwhelming majority of Chadians did not participate in the political process. The Fundamental Law of 1982, an interim constitution, vested paramount power in the president, who ruled almost without challenge. Although a committee was appointed to draft a permanent constitution, as of late 1988 there were no elected bodies, nor were any elections planned.

The evolution of Chad's armed forces mirrors the country's political transformation. Like the governmental structure of the 1960s, the army that was created after independence was dominated by southern groups. This fledgling force relied heavily on French matériel and--until Tombalbaye reconsidered this dependence--French military advisers. But neither the southern-dominated Chadian Armed Forces (Forces Armées Tchadiennes--FAT) nor the French units could deter the determined insurgents from the northern and central regions, most of whom fought under the FROLINAT banner. By 1978 FAT was in disarray, and it eventually splintered into minor factions.

Habré's FANT, formed in 1983, continued to provide national security in 1988, along with several French units. FANT was a conglomeration of FAN and smaller rebel armies that rallied to Habré's side in the 1980s. Many former opposition leaders held positions of authority in the FANT organizational structure. In addition to 3 operational battalions and 127 infantry companies, FANT had a small air force.

Chad's internal security requirements were provided by the well-trained Presidential Guard and by several national and territorial police forces. Following the defection of many of Goukouni's followers to FANT in the late 1980s, the group that presented the most serious threat to Chad's security was the Democratic Revolutionary Council (Conseil Démocratique Révolutionnaire--CDR), which, under Libyan patronage, was active in the north. But Qadhaafi's stated desire to normalize relations with Chad, enunciated in April 1988, inspired hopes that a period of genuine peace--a circumstance that the nation had not enjoyed during the previous two decades--might finally ensue.

June 16, 1989
Thomas Collelo

SOURCE: Country Studies/Area Handbook by the US Library of Congress

Mother Earth Travel > Country Index > Chad Map Economy History