The state of Chad has only existed since the liberation from France in August 1960. However, the territory that constitutes today’s Chad has ancient and proud history of both centralized empires and aphasian groups.
The area that constitutes today’s Chad has been inhabited from prehistoric times and played an important role in early trade between this part of Africa and the countries of northern Sahara. Trade routes went from the area of the Chad Sea northeast through the cities of Abéché and Darfur on to Cairo and Mecca. Important commodities were salt, gold and slaves, and weapons from the 19th century.
The largest, important state formation in the area that today constitutes Chad was the Kingdom of Kanem. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Chad. Kanem was founded as early as the 8th century by ethnic zaghawa who managed to submit to a number of other peoples, including kangu, ngalaga and tomagra. The Zaghawa king, called Kakrh, was considered sacred and believed to be able to control rain, crop and death. The Kanem kingdom was characterized by peaceful coexistence between farmers, fishermen and nomads with goats, cattle or dromedaries. At the same time, there was a clear hierarchy in the state with the nomadic zagawa at the top as the absolute rulers. The king and his great men controlled a large army consisting mainly of slaves.
From the 11th century, Kanem was a leading Islamic state, contributing both to the spread of Islam and to increased trade. From Kanem, a direct trade route went to the Mediterranean via the Kingdom of Fezzan in Libya. Other trade routes went through the Nile Valley, through Darfur and Kordofan in today’s Sudan, towards Cairo and Mecca. Kanem ceased to be rich during the 1300s as a result of conflicts over the choice of king successors, drought and subsequent poorer crops, as well as lower trading income as a result of unrest in parts of North Africa.
- COUNTRYAAH.COM: Provides latest population data about Chad. Lists by Year from 1950 to 2020. Also includes major cities by population.
Around 1635, Abd al-Karim established the Muslim kingdom of Wadai and established Abéché as the capital of the kingdom. The Wadai kingdom borders the Darfur kingdom (in today’s Sudan). In the late 1800s, Wadai was one of Africa’s most powerful, and the ruler (called kolak or sultan) had a large slave army. French colonialists came to the area in 1906, but had to fight for three years to overcome the colac in the Wadais army. Nine years later, in 1918, French colony administrators stated that they still had no effective control over Wadai.
The land that today constitutes Chad was allocated to France during the Berlin Conference in 1884-1885. France began to colonize the area in 1892. Both in the south and the north, the colonial power faced resistance, more extensive in the north than in the south. In the south, missionaries had worked, and a small portion of the population was converted to Christianity. The Christians who could read and write were used in the colony administration as a link between the authorities and the peasants. In 1900, today’s capital, N’Djamena, was established under the name of Fort-Lamy, a few days after the French general Amédée-François Lamy had been killed in a nearby battle.
It was only around 1920 that Northern Chad was under French control, after the resistance of Muslim populations in the north of the country was temporarily defeated. The country then received a civil administration, but retained a military administration in the north until the end of the colonial era. The French still allowed the Sultanates, including Wadai, to survive in the north. In the south, the population was not united into its own kingdoms, but worked together in smaller family-based units.
In 1910, the country was incorporated into French Equatorial Africa. In 1929, the region of Tibesti (northwest of today’s Chad) was transferred from French West Africa to French Equatorial Africa.
The French colony administration invested heavily on cotton exports, and farmers in large parts of Chad were forced to convert their fields to cotton production. Cotton plantations were established using forced labor which was used as an alternative taxation. French companies were given a monopoly on cotton trade and consumer goods imports.
Nationalist demands won after World War II, when thousands of Chad soldiers fought on the French side, and self-government negotiations began in 1956 under the leadership of François Tombalbaye, leader of the Party Progressists of Chadien (PPT).
On August 11, 1960, Chad became independent, with Tombalbaye as the country’s first president. The political and administrative apparatus was dominated by people from the south, and in 1962 Tombalbaye banned all political parties other than PPT. The repressive regime and ethnic favoritism of Tombalbaye led to dissatisfaction in the north, and in 1963-1965 riots broke out in several places in the country.
In 1966, an opposition group, the Front de Libération National du Chad (FROLINAT), was formed in Sudan. It fought against Tombalbaye’s French-friendly and ethnically-based government and for the use of Arabic language in teaching and administration. FROLINAT had the largest support in the Muslim-dominated north and started an armed struggle against the government. France intervened in the war in 1968–1969, but withdrew in 1972 without the defeat of FROLINAT. In 1971, Libya began supplying FROLINAT with weapons, and FROLINAT became the largest military force in Chad. In 1973, Libya occupied the mineral-rich Aouzo Strip Strip north of Chad, on the border with Libya. A ruling in the 1994 international court gave Chad the right to rule over Aouzou, and Libya withdrew.
Tombalbaye was killed in a military coup in 1975, and General Félix Malloum became new president of Chad. Split internally in the revolt movement FROLINAT made opposition to the sitting regime difficult. In 1978, FROLINAT started a new offensive against the government forces, and the country was virtually split between FROLINAT and the government in N’Djamena. The advance march was halted through French intervention. FROLINAT was split into various groups and Goukouni Oueddei, the leader of one of them, Forces Army Populaires (FAP), took over as president of the country in 1979. Goukouni Oueddei received full support from Libya, but at the same time pledged large parts of control over Chad to Libya’s leader Gaddafi. This aroused strong opposition in Chad. In November 1981 set up the Organization of African Unity(OAU) into a peacekeeping force in Chad. Libyans withdrew from the country, except from the Aouzo Strip on the border with Libya. The African force and the OAU failed to make peace, and in June 1982 the rebels took the capital N’Djamena, and Hissène Habré took over the post of Goukouni Oueddei as the refugee.
In June 1983, Goukouni Oueddei resumed the civil war with Libyan support, and Habré received military aid from France and the United States to resist the Libyan intervention. With US support, France intervened in favor of Habré and his Force Armée National Chadienne (FANT). In 1984, fighting broke out in southern Chad, and in 1986 Libya launched a new offensive in the north. This led to Habré again asking for French help, and France sent aircraft and troops to defend N’Djamena, bombing a newly built Libyan airstrip in northern Chad. New Libyan attacks, and subsequent French retaliation, took place in 1987, when an offensive launched by FANT also inflicted extensive military defeats on Libya. In 1989, one of Habré’s advisers, Idriss Déby, deserted to Sudan. From here he built up an army force,Mouvement Patriotique du Salut (MPS), under the extensive support of Gaddafi.
In November 1990, under the leadership of Idriss Déby, MPS moved into Chad, and as early as December he had overthrew President Habré and occupied the presidential palace in N’Djamena. Hissène Habré was known for his gross human rights violations while he was president of Chad and accused of torture and crimes against humanity.
After nearly 30 years of civil war, Chad was depleted and ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world. Many in Chad therefore looked with optimism at Déby’s coup d’état and promises of peace and democratization. A temporary government was established with Déby as president, and work on a new democratic constitution started.
In 1993, a national conference was held with newly established political parties where power distribution principles were hotly debated. Fidèle Moungar was appointed prime minister in the interim government while Déby continued as president. A referendum in 1996 passed the new constitution, which stipulated, among other things, that a president can only sit for two terms of five years, and the country’s first democratic presidential election took place. Seated President Déby was elected to the party Mouvement Patriotique de Salut (MPS). Déby was re-elected in 2001 as well.
Ahead of the 2006 presidential election, Parliament, after strong pressure from Déby, decided to overturn the constitution so that a president could run for re-election as many times as he wished. Déby was reelected both in 2006, in 2011 and in 2016. While the 2006 and 2011 elections were boycotted by the main opposition parties, all the major opposition parties voted with their own presidential candidates in April 2016. New biometric electoral cards were intended to secure voters against cheating, and as many as 76 Percentage of voters voting in the election. But with a split opposition, it became a clear electoral victory for Idriss Déby Itno, who got 60 percent of the vote in the first round. Saleh Kebzabo (UNDR) came in second place with 12.8 percent.
Turmoil, division and rebellion
President Debby’s authoritarian regime, despite a democratic constitution, as well as his opposition to sharing power and resources with others, led to increased unrest in Chad from the mid-1990s. Several of Debby’s supporters in the government and important state corporations, including his nephews Tom and Timan Erdimi, distanced himself from him. Tom Erdimi led the oil development in the country while Timan was the director of both the presidential cabinet and the national cotton monopoly SODECOTON, before they both went unclear with President Déby in 1996. Both were sentenced to death for treason in 2007. Then he lived in Boston, where he lived. Among other things, the regime-critical blog operated Chadactuel, while Timan Erdimi had established an armed resistance movement from his base in Sudan. The regime in Sudan supported a number of armed opposition groups in Chad from 2003 to 2010, while the regime in Chad supported rebel groups in Darfur during the same period.
France constantly supported President Déby, both diplomatically and militarily. The United States established anti-terrorist divisions in Chad that supported President Déby and his policies against Sudan. Libya, and Gaddafi personally, tried a number of times, without lasting success, to mediate in the conflict between Chad and Sudan in the 2000s. Along with the mediation attempts between Chad and Sudan, Gaddafi supported several rebel movements in Chad. In other words, the political situation in Chad and in the surrounding region was both unclear and very tense in the 2000s.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees from Darfur have sought refuge in eastern Chad. At the same time, Chad was getting more and more internally displaced, fleeing the fighting between the national army and rebel movements in the country. The situation on the border with Darfur became so unclear, dangerous and demanding that President Déby asked the EU and the UN for peacekeeping forces to the country. A few months before the EU force came into being, at the beginning of 2008, the last major coup attempt by the rebel groups in the country came. At the beginning of February 2008, a gathering of three different rebel groups almost took control of N’Djamena. President Déby was rescued by French and Libyan military aid at the last minute, while the rebel groups reportedly quarreled over which of their leaders would take the presidential office.
The EUFOR/Chad EU force was established in March 2008 and consisted of 3700 soldiers, including 2100 from France. This force was replaced by the UN peacekeeping force MINURCAT in March 2009.
Norway contributed a field hospital, Norwegian Deployable Hospital, to the MINURCAT force for one year from April 2009. The entire MINURCAT was discontinued in late 2010 because President Déby no longer wanted their presence. A newly established Chadian police force, the Détachement intégré de sécurité (DIS), was then given the main responsibility for the security of the refugee camps.
Since the end of the colonial period, France has had a close relationship with the various regimes in Chad. Both the country’s strategic position in Africa, and in particular the discovery of oil and the possibilities of other mineral discoveries (gold and uranium), make France interested in the country. Although France and Chad have a current 1977 agreement that France will defend the incumbent president anyway, the relationship between countries has sometimes been put to the test under President Déby’s regime. The first time was when Chad expelled France’s ambassador from the country in 2000, allegedly because he made a critical statement about President Déby, but in reality because the French oil company ELF would not participate in oil extraction in Chad. The next big test was when the French aid organization Arche de Zoé tried to smuggle 103 allegedly orphans from Abéché to Paris. This was discovered and sparked large popular protests in Chad, and six French aid workers were sentenced to years of imprisonment in Chad in the fall of 2007. The relationship improved again when France helped Déby during the coup attempt against him in February 2008 and even better when Déby sent soldiers from Chad to help France in Mali during the 2013 conflict.
The relationship between Chad and Sudan from 2003 to 2010 was characterized by conflict and mutual accusations of support for regime-critical rebel groups. Following the peace agreement between President Déby in Chad and President Omar el Bashir in Sudan, signed on January 15, 2010, relations between the countries have improved. Among other things, Déby has neglected the UN’s international arrest warrant against el Bashir and on several occasions received him in N’Djamena.
Chad has a good relationship with the United States as a result of the country’s official policy of working against international terrorism. In addition, US oil interests are strong in Chad, and the United States wants political stability in the country, at almost any cost.
Throughout Debby’s regime, Chad’s relationship with Libya has been very good. Déby and Gaddafi were friends, and Gaddafi supported Déby even before he took power in 1990. Libya invested heavily in Chad, especially in the oil and tourism sector. Libya under Gaddafi repeatedly mediated between various rebel groups and the Debby regime in the 21st century, but without long-term success. When large parts of the international community fought against Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, Chad was one of the last countries not to recognize the new regime in Libya. Many of Gaddafi’s supporters have sought refuge in Chad after his fall, where they have been received with open arms by the regime. President Déby made a brief attempt to take Gaddafi’s place as Africa’s big man after 2011, but gave up this ambition when oil prices fell sharply in 2014.
In recent years, China has taken a more and more important place in Chad’s foreign policy. China has become Chad’s main trading partner and is an important aid player.