The History of Chad
Below is a brief history of Chad. To find information other than history for Chad then visit
the Chad Country Page.
Chad has a long and rich history. A humanoid skull found in Borkou is more than 3 million years old. Because in ancient times the Saharan area was not totally arid, Chad's population was more evenly distributed than it is today. For example, 7,000 years ago, the north central basin, now in the Sahara, was still filled with water, and people lived and farmed around its shores. The cliff paintings in Borkou and Ennedi depict elephants, rhinoceroses, giraffes, cattle, and camels; only camels survive there today. The region was known to traders and geographers from the late Middle Ages. Since then, Chad has served as a crossroads for the Muslim peoples of the desert and savanna regions, and the animist Bantu tribes of the tropical forests.
Sao people lived along the Chari River for thousands of years, but their relatively weak chiefdoms were overtaken by the powerful chiefs of what were to become the Kanem-Bornu and Baguirmi kingdoms. At their peak, these two kingdoms and the kingdom of Ouaddai controlled a good part of what is now Chad, as well as parts of Nigeria and Sudan. From 1500 to 1900, Arab slave raids were widespread. The French first penetrated Chad in 1891, establishing their authority through military expeditions primarily against the Muslim kingdoms. The first major colonial battle for Chad was fought in 1900 between the French Major Lamy and the African leader Rabah, both of whom were killed in the battle. Although the French won that battle, they did not declare the territory pacified until 1911; armed clashes between colonial troops and local bands continued for many years thereafter.
In 1905, administrative responsibility for Chad was placed under a governor general stationed at Brazzaville in what is now Congo. Although Chad joined the French colonies of Gabon, Oubangui-Charo, and Moyen Congo to form the Federation of French Equatorial Africa (AEF) in 1910, it did not have colonial status until 1920. The northern region of Chad was occupied by the French in 1914. In 1959, the territory of French Equatorial Africa was dissolved, and four states--Gabon, the Central African Republic, Congo (Brazzaville), and Chad--became autonomous members of the French Community. On August 11, 1960 Chad became an independent nation under its first president, Francois Tombalbaye.
A long civil war began as a tax revolt in 1965 and soon set the Muslim north and east against the southern-led government. Even with the help of French combat forces, the Tombalbaye government was never able to quell the insurgency. Tombalbaye's rule became more irrational and brutal, leading the military to carry out a coup in 1975 and to install Gen. Felix Malloum, a southerner, as head of state. In 1978, Malloum's government was broadened to include more northerners. Internal dissent within the government led the northern prime minister, Hissein Habre, to send his forces against the national army in the capital city of N'Djamena in February 1979. The resulting civil war amongst the 11 emergent factions was so widespread that it rendered the central government largely irrelevant. At that point, other African governments decided to intervene.
A series of four international conferences held first under Nigerian and then Organization of African Unity (OAU) sponsorship attempted to bring the Chadian factions together. At the fourth conference, held in Lagos, Nigeria, in August 1979, the Lagos accord was signed. This accord established a transitional government pending national elections. In November 1979, the National Union Transition Government (GUNT) was created with a mandate to govern for 18 months. Goukouni Oueddei, a northerner, was named President; Colonel Kamougue, a southerner, Vice President; and Habre, Minister of Defense. This coalition proved fragile; in January 1980, fighting broke out again between Goukouni's and Habre's forces. With assistance from Libya, Goukouni regained control of the capital and other urban centers by year’s end. However, Goukouni’s January 1981 statement that Chad and Libya had agreed to work for the realization of complete unity between the two countries generated intense international pressure and Goukouni’s subsequent call for the complete withdrawal of external forces. Libya’s partial withdrawal to the Aozou Strip in northern Chad cleared the way for Habre’s forces to enter N’Djamena in June. French troops and an OAU peacekeeping force of 3,500 Nigerian, Senegalese, and Zairian troops (partially funded by the United States) remained neutral during the conflict.
Habre continued to face armed opposition on various fronts, and was brutal in his repression of suspected opponents, massacring and torturing many during his rule. In the summer of 1983, GUNT forces launched an offensive against government positions in northern and eastern Chad with Libyan support. In response to Libya's direct intervention, French and Zairian forces intervened to defend Habre, pushing Libyan and rebel forces north of the 16th parallel. In September 1984, the French and the Libyan governments announced an agreement for the mutual withdrawal of their forces from Chad. By the end of the year, all French and Zairian troops were withdrawn. Libya did not honor the withdrawal accord, and its forces continued to occupy the northern third of Chad.
Southern rebel commando groups (CODO) in southern Chad were broken up by government massacres in 1984. In 1985 Habre briefly reconciled with some of his most powerful opponents, including the Chadian Democratic Front and the Coordinating Action Committee of the Democratic Revolutionary Council. Goukouni also began to rally toward Habre, and with his support Habre successfully expelled Libyan forces from most of Chadian territory. A cease-fire between Chad and Libya held from 1987 to 1988, and negotiations over the next several years led to the 1994 International Court of Justice decision granting Chad sovereignty over the Aouzou strip, effectively ending Libyan occupation.
However, rivalry between Hadjerai, Zaghawa, and Gorane groups within the government grew in the late 1980s. In April 1989, Idriss Deby, one of Habre's leading generals and a Zaghawa, defected and fled to Darfur in Sudan, from which he mounted a Zaghawa-supported series of attacks on Habre (a Gorane). In December 1990, with Libyan assistance and no opposition from French troops stationed in Chad, Deby’s forces successfully marched on N’Djamena. After 3 months of provisional government, Deby’s Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS) approved a national charter on February 28, 1991, with Deby as president.
In the next 2 years, Deby faced at least two coup attempts. Government forces clashed violently with rebel forces (including the Movement for Democracy and Development, MDD, National Revival Committee for Peace and Democracy (CSNPD), Chadian national Front (FNT), and the Western Armed Forces, FAO) near Lake Chad and in southern regions of the country. Earlier French demands for the country to hold a national conference resulted in the gathering of 750 delegates representing political parties (legalized in 1992), the government, trade unions, and the army to discuss creation of a pluralist democratic regime.
Unrest continued, however, sparked in part by largescale killings of civilians in southern Chad. The CSNPD, led by Kette Moise and other southern groups, entered into a peace agreement with government forces in 1994, which later broke down. Two new groups, the Armed Forces for a Federal Republic (FARF) led by former Kette ally Laokein Barde and the Democratic Front for Renewal (FDR), and a reformulated MDD clashed with government forces 1994-95.
Talks with political opponents in early 1996 did not go well, but Deby announced his intent to hold presidential elections in June. Deby won the country’s first multi-party presidential elections with support in the second round from opposition leader Kebzabo, defeating General Kamougue (leader of the 1975 coup against Tombalbaye). Deby’s MPS party won 63 of 125 seats in the January 1997 legislative elections. International observers noted numerous serious irregularities in presidential and legislative election proceedings.
By mid-1997 the government signed peace deals with FARF and the MDD leadership and succeeded in cutting off the groups from their rear bases in the Central African Republic and Cameroon. Agreements also were struck with rebels from the National Front of Chad (FNT) and Movement for Social Justice and Democracy in October 1997. However, peace was short-lived, as FARF rebels clashed with government soldiers, finally surrendering to government forces in May 1998. Barde was killed in the fighting, as were hundreds of other southerners, most civilians.
Since October 1998 Chadian Movement for Justice and Democracy (MDJT) rebels have skirmished with government troops in the Tibesti region, resulting in hundreds of civilian, government, and rebel casualties, but little ground won or lost. The rebellion lingers but in recent months has withered. In August and September 2003, following an accord with the government, several hundred rebels rejoined the Chadian Army. No active armed opposition has emerged in other parts of Chad.
Deby, in the mid-1990s, gradually restored basic functions of government and entered into agreements with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to carry out substantial economic reforms. Oil exploitation in the southern Doba region began in June 2000, with U.S.-based Exxon-Mobil leading a consortium now exporting oil via a 1,000-km. buried pipeline through Cameroon to the Gulf of Guinea. The project includes unique mechanisms for World Bank, private sector, government, and civil society collaboration to guarantee that future oil revenues benefit local populations and result in poverty alleviation. Success of the project will depend on intensive monitoring efforts to ensure that all parties keep their commitments. Debt relief was accorded to Chad in May 2001.
Deby won a flawed 63% first-round victory in May 2001 presidential elections after legislative elections were postponed until spring 2002. Six opposition leaders were arrested (twice), and one opposition party activist was killed following the announcement of election results. However, despite claims of government corruption, favoritism of Zaghawas, and security forces abuses, opposition party and labor union calls for general strikes and more active demonstrations against the government have been unsuccessful.