Historical Setting

Chad Table of Contents

THE CONTEMPORARY ATTITUDES, institutions, and problems of Chad are the outgrowth of historical traditions and tendencies that have evolved over more than 1,000 years. The country is populated by diverse, yet in many cases, interrelated peoples whose evolution was characterized by intersecting migrations, splinterings, and regroupings. Most of the country's population groups originated in areas generally north and east of Chad's present-day boundaries.

Chad's geographic position along major trans-Saharan trade routes has also affected its historical development. In early times, trade consisted of goods and slaves seized in raids on groups in the south. Consolidations of small chiefdoms led to the evolution of a series of kingdoms and empires in the central region, of which the most important were Kanem-Borno, Bagirmi, and Wadai. The kingdoms and empires based their power on, and were ultimately subjected to, raids or the payment of tribute. Although there were early communities in both northern and southern Chad, most of the country's known history is focused on the Muslim peoples of the central region.

The political fortunes of the various kingdoms and empires were constantly affected by internal factionalism and external invasion- -factors that still influenced political affairs in the 1970s and 1980s. Political disintegration was evident in both Borno and Bagirmi when the French arrived in the late nineteenth century. The rulers of Wadai resisted the French advance. The leaders of Borno and Bagirmi, however, regarded the French less as conquerors than as a counterbalance to the ascendant Wadai.

The French declared the central portion of the country officially pacified in 1924 and had begun administering much of the non-Muslim south before that. In many respects, the nomadic northern groups have never been subjugated, and turmoil in the north persisted in the 1980s.

After 1905 the central and northern areas were administered as a territory in the federation of French Equatorial Africa (Afrique Equatoriale Française--AEF). French interest, however, focused on other territories in the federation, and until after World War II, the French presence had little impact on the life of the average inhabitant. The French limited implementation of their administrative policy primarily to urban areas and their compulsory agricultural programs to what constitutes the south of present-day Chad. Participation by the local population in the colonial administration was marginal, and until the mid-1950s the educational opportunities prerequisite for such participation were practically nonexistent.

After World War II, representative institutions were introduced, and the growth of party politics began. Political groupings reflected domestic political developments in France and traditional ethnic factionalism in Chad. Short-lived political coalitions and party splinterings were commonplace. When Chad achieved independence in 1960, southerners--the group most exposed to the French administrators--dominated political life. These southerners were led by President François Tombalbaye, who made only halfhearted efforts at regional integration in government and who generally repressed opposition. Within five years of having taken office, Tombalbaye's heavy-handed approach had alienated a large segment of the population, especially northerners and easterners, and had spurred rebellions. The most prominent of the northern rebel groups was the National Liberation Front of Chad (Front de Libération Nationale du Tchad--FROLINAT), an umbrella organization formed in 1966. Over the years, FROLINAT went through a series of transformations and fragmentations. Nonetheless, by the mid-1970s rebel activity, in conjunction with Tombalbaye's political ineptitude, helped bring about the government's downfall. Tombalbaye was killed in 1975 during a military coup d'état led by Félix Malloum.

The new government, however, had no more success than its predecessor in halting rebel activity. In 1979 Hissein Habré, a northern rebel leader, ousted Malloum. Throughout the 1980s, the quest for political control changed from a north-south struggle to a primarily northern intraregional conflict. The turmoil of the late 1970s and 1980s had international and domestic aspects, as Libya, France, the United States, and many African nations became involved in the Chadian imbroglio. By early 1988, stability had been restored, but inter- and intraethnic differences, as well as regional divisions, continued to threaten Chad's progress toward national integration.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress