Background Notes: Chad

Contributed By RealAdventures

There are more than 200 ethnic groups in Chad. Those in the north and east are generally Muslim; most southerners are animists and Christians. Through their long religious and commercial relationships with Sudan and Egypt, many of the peoples in Chad's eastern and central regions have become more or less Arabized, speaking Arabic and engaging in many other Arab cultural practices as well. Chad's southern peoples took more readily to European culture during the French colonial period.

Chad has known human habitation since time immemorial. The oldest humanoid skull yet found in Chad (Borkou) is more than 1 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, rhinoceri, 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. In 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 at N'Djamena in February 1979. This act led to intense fighting among the 11 factions that emerged. At this point, the civil war had become so widespread that regional governments decided there was no effective central government and stepped in.

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; Col. Kamougue, a southerner, Vice President; and Habre, Minister of Defense.

This coalition proved fragile; in March 1980, fighting broke out again between Goukouni's and Habre's forces. The war dragged on inconclusively until Goukouni sought and obtained Libyan intervention. More than 7,000 Libyan troops entered Chad. Although Goukouni requested complete withdrawal of external forces in October 1981, the Libyans pulled back only to the Aozou Strip in northern Chad.

An OAU peacekeeping force of 3,500 troops replaced the Libyan forces in the remainder of Chad. The force, consisting of troops from Nigeria, Senegal, and Zaire, received funding from the United States. A special summit of the OAU ad hoc committee on the Chad/Libya dispute in February 1982 called for reconciliation among all the factions, particularly those led by Goukouni and Habre, who had resumed fighting in eastern Chad. Although Habre agreed to participate, Goukouni refused to negotiate with Habre on an equal basis. In the series of battles that followed, Habre's forces defeated the GUNT, and Habre occupied N'Djamena on June 7, 1982. The OAU force remained neutral during the conflict, and all of its elements were withdrawn from Chad at the end of June.

In the summer of 1983, GUNT forces launched an offensive against government positions in northern and eastern Chad. Following a series of initial defeats, government forces succeeded in stopping the rebels. At this point, Libyan forces directly intervened once again, bombing government forces at Faya Largeau. Ground attacks followed the bombings, forcing government troops to abandon N'Djamena and withdraw to the south. In response to Libya's direct intervention, French and Zairian forces were sent to Chad to assist in defending the government. With the deployment of French troops, the military situation stabilized, leaving the Libyans and rebels in control of all Chad 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, however, and its forces continued to occupy the northern third of Chad.

President Habre's efforts to deal with his opposition were aided by a number of African leaders, especially Gabon's President, Omar Bongo. During accords held in Libreville, Gabon, in 1985, two of the chief exile opposition groups, the Chadian Democratic Front and the Coordinating Action Committee of the Democratic Revolutionary Council, made peace with the Habre Government. By 1986, all of the rebel commando (CODO) groups in southern Chad came in from the forests, rallied to President Habre's side, and were re-integrated into the Forces Armees Nationales Chadiennes (FANT).

In the fall of 1986, fighters loyal to Goukouni Oueddei, leader of the GUNT, began defecting to the FANT. Although Libyan forces were more heavily equipped than were the Chadians, Habre's FANT, with considerable assistance from ex-GUNT forces, began attacks against the Libyan occupiers in November 1986 and won victories at all the important cities. The Chadian offensive ended in August 1987, with the taking of Aozou Town, the principal village in the Aozou Strip. Chad Government forces held the village for a month but lost it to a heavy Libyan counterattack.

The OAU ad hoc committee continued to seek a peaceful solution to the Chad/Libya conflict, holding meetings over the years with heads of state or ministerial-level officials. In October 1988, Chad resumed formal diplomatic relations with Libya, in accordance with recommendations made by the OAU. A month later, Habre's reconciliation efforts succeeded, and he took power in N'Djamena. In April 1989, Idriss Deby, one of Habre's leading generals, defected and fled to Darfur in Sudan, from which he mounted a series of attacks on the eastern region of Chad. In November 1990, he invaded; on December 2, 1990, his forces entered N'Djamena without a battle, President Habre and forces loyal to him having fled. After 3 months of provisional government, a national charter was approved by the Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS) on February 28, 1991, with Deby as President.

About 85% of Chadians make their living from subsistence agriculture, fishing, and stock raising. Cotton and livestock are the two major exports, accounting for 70% of Chad's export earnings. In years of adequate rainfall, Chad is self-sufficient in food. In years of drought, such as those that occurred in the mid-1970s, in 1984-85, and in 1990, large quantities of foodstuffs, primarily cereals, must be imported.

Cotton alone accounts for 10% of agricultural GDP. Primary markets include neighboring Cameroon and Nigeria and France, Germany, and Portugal. In 1986, cotton prices on the world market declined by more than 50%, and CotonTchad did not show a profit again until 1991. Rehabilitation of CotonTchad, the major cotton company, has been financed by France, the Netherlands, the European Economic Community (EC), and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD). Because of cotton's importance to the economy, the government excused the collection of export taxes until the company returned to profitability. CotonTchad is adhering to its agenda and is well on the road to recovery.

The other major export is livestock, herded to neighboring countries. Herdsmen in the Sudanic and Sahelian zones raise cattle, sheep, goats, and, among the non-Muslims, a few pigs. In the Saharan region, only camels and a few hardy goats can survive. Chad also sells smoked and dried fish to its neighbors and exports several million dollars worth of gum arabic to Europe each year. Other food crops include millet, sorghum, peanuts, rice, sweet potatoes, manioc, cassava, and yams.

In both the north and the south, industrial activity and minerals exploration peaked in 1978. The civil war and the Libyan intervention in 1980 devastated N'Djamena and destroyed most of the economic infrastructure there. Between the first outbreak of heavy fighting in N'Djamena in February 1979 and the withdrawal of Libyan forces from the capital in 1981, southern Chad became an autonomous area, not to be fully integrated into the country until 1983. The south continued to export cotton, but none of the economic benefits of that trade reached the rest of the country.

The effects of the war on foreign investment are still felt today, as investors who left Chad between 1979-82 have only recently begun to regain confidence in the country's future. By early 1983, the return of internal security and a successful Geneva donors' conference had prompted a number of international business representatives to make exploratory visits to Chad.

An international consortium is conducting exploratory drilling for petroleum in the south. By mid-1991, seismic studies by an American oil company in the north-central desert area were completed. The World Bank has agreed to partially finance a pipeline/mini-refinery/power plant project in N'Djamena using small crude oil deposits found north of Lake Chad.

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