Government and Politics

Chad Table of Contents

SEVERAL THREADS OF CONTINUITY ran through Chad's political development during its first twenty-eight years of independence that began in 1960. Dominated by a series of authoritarian regimes, most under military rule, Chad had no representative national institutions in 1988. Its ruling party, the National Union for Independence and Revolution (Union Nationale pour l'Indépendance et la Révolution--UNIR) was organized by the government in 1984; UNIR leaders were appointed by the president from among government officials, and the party served primarily to reinforce government policy. By late 1988, UNIR had not opened the political process to democratic participation.

Political fragmentation also characterized Chad's political development since independence. The Islamic northern and central regions and the colonially exploited south were divided by regional stereotypes rooted in their past, which included centuries of slave raids from the north. Subregional, religious, cultural, and individual differences complicated major regional divisions.

Chad's diverse population was drawn into power struggles in the drive for independence following World War II. Numerous political parties and coalitions sought foreign assistance to bolster weak popular support. The nation's first independent regime grew increasingly repressive during its fifteen years in power as its leader, François Tombalbaye, attempted to pacify this fractious population and transform southern economic domination into political control. Several dissident groups, most from the northern and central regions, united under the National Liberation Front of Chad (Front de Libération Nationale du Tchad--FROLINAT), but this coalition, too, was plagued by factional strife.

In the early 1970s, Tombalbaye contributed to his own eventual downfall by implementing the authenticité movement, an illconceived authenticity campaign that sought to impose southernbased ritual traditions on the nation's civil service. The resulting cycle of public protest and government repression culminated in a 1975 coup, in which Tombalbaye was killed. His successor, Félix Malloum, continued the pattern of concentrating political power in the executive branch of government but was persuaded to bring rebel leaders Goukouni Oueddei and Hissein Habré into his government. Their rebel forces eventually proved stronger than Malloum's army, and he was forced out of office in 1979. His successor, Goukouni, was the first of Chad's insurgent leaders to become president of Chad.

A series of unsuccessful coalition governments oversaw Chad's descent into a state of civil war. The major coalition, the Transitional Government of National Unity (Gouvernement d'Union Nationale de Transition--GUNT), was led by Goukouni, whose relatively conciliatory style of governing contrasted with the previous pattern of authoritarian regimes. His critics considered him weak and indecisive, and he was strongly influenced by Libyan leader Muammar al Qadhaafi, whose primary aims were to install a sympathetic Muslim leader in Chad, expand Libya's influence in the region, and reduce Western influence across the continent.

A salient feature of Chad's foreign policy since independence has been foreign intervention--especially by Libya, Chad's aggressive neighbor to the north, and France, the former colonial power. Libya took advantage of Chad's instability in the early 1970s to press its claim to the Aozou Strip in northern Chad, based on centuries of close ties among border populations and an unratified 1935 Franco-Italian agreement, which had been ignored by intervening governments. French ties with Chad, based on historical, commercial, political, and strategic interests, rivaled those of Libya, and the Aozou Strip provided an arena in which this rivalry could be pursued. In addition, neighboring countries, especially Sudan and Nigeria, also took an active role in events in Chad, hoping to achieve a favorable balance of power in the region. Other Central African and West African states sought to contain Chad's violence and avoid being caught up in the spreading instability.

Chad's political shifts in the early 1980s resulted from international fears of Libyan intervention through influence in Goukouni's regime, France's revised African policy following the Socialist Party's election victory in 1981, and military gains by Habré. Habré had served in governments led by Tombalbaye, Malloum, and Goukouni, and he had led insurgencies against all. Finally in 1982, with loyal northern forces and French and United States support, Habré ousted Goukouni and proclaimed himself president of Chad.

Habré's patrimonial state was another authoritarian regime. A written constitution empowered him to appoint almost all high officials and reduced the legislative branch to a token assembly. He determined the pace and direction of activity in all branches of government. At the same time, Habré gained popular support by stabilizing Chad and working to establish peace. He also began to reintroduce social services to a population for whom warfare had been the most noticeable sign of government activity.

In 1988 factional dynamics in Chad still resembled precolonial politics. Habré was a master strategist in this arena, and he succeeded in winning over numerous former opponents through combined military and political means. Nevertheless, the threats of new rifts among allies and of future alliances among enemies still existed, in keeping with the model of the segmentary political systems that had dominated the region for centuries.

To strengthen existing ties among former opponents and to mobilize grass-roots support for his government, Habré proclaimed his intention in 1988 to transform the ruling party, UNIR, into a people's vanguard party. Many people in outlying areas were still skeptical of the need for an increased governmental presence, however, and many southerners still considered national government a northern imposition. Both problems underlined the political challenge that faced Chad as the 1990s approached.


National Union for Independence and Revolution
Political Style
Mass Media

For more information about the government, see Facts about Chad.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress