Chad Table of Contents

Constitutional System

Between 1959 and 1988, Chad's constitution was revised six times and altered by several major amendments. The preindependence constitution adopted by the territorial assembly in March 1959 was modified at independence in 1960. The new document established a parliamentary system of government with an executive prime minister. Further revisions in 1962 strengthened the executive, and the 1965 constitution eliminated all rivals to the ruling party, the PPT. In 1973 President Tombalbaye codified in the constitution his version of the authenticité movement to reaffirm indigenous values. This movement required civil servants to undergo initiation rites common to some ethnic constituencies of the south. Following a military coup in 1975, in which Tombalbaye was killed, and the general deterioration of state institutions, lengthy negotiations in 1978 led to a new constitution that established an unsuccessful coalition among Chad's warring factions.

In June 1982, when Habré seized control of N'Djamena, he dissolved the existing government and in October promulgated the Fundamental Law, a document that served as an interim constitution through 1988. In July 1988, Habré appointed a constitutional committee to draft a new document to be presented to the government in 1989.

The Fundamental Law of 1982 declared Chad a secular, indivisible republic, with ultimate power deriving from the people. Both French and Arabic were adopted as official languages, and "Unity-Work-Progress" was adopted as the nation's motto. The constitution authorized the office of president, Council of Ministers (cabinet), National Advisory Council (Conseil National Consultatif--CNC, an interim legislature), and national army. It placed overriding authority for controlling all of these in the office of the president.


Article 2 of the Fundamental Law designated the president as head of state and government. He was chairman of the Council of Ministers, with a mandate to define the fundamental policy choices of the nation. The president was the commander in chief of the armed forces and head of an ostensibly civilian government. The Fundamental Law allowed the Command Council of the Armed Forces of the North (Conseil de Commandement des Forces Armées du Nord-- CCFAN) to select the president. Habré dissolved the CCFAN when he established the ruling party, UNIR, in 1984. No succession procedures were in place after 1984, and most observers expected Habré to remain in office after the new constitution was presented to the government in 1989.

The Fundamental Law authorized the president to legislate by decree, and he often did so. He also appointed and dismissed ministers, legislators, and high-level civil and military officials. Only the president could initiate constitutional amendments; this procedure required, however, consultation with both ministers and legislators.

The president's international authority included negotiating and ratifying treaties and accords and guaranteeing Chad's observance of them. He was technically required to consult with ministers and legislators, but more often he simply notified them of his foreign policy decisions.

Council of Ministers

The president and twenty-three appointed ministers formed the Council of Ministers in 1988. The council's portfolios included agriculture and rural development; civil service; commerce and industry; culture, youth, and sports; defense national veterans, and war victims; education; finance; food security and afflicted groups; foreign affairs; information and civic orientation; interior; justice; labor; livestock and rural water; mines and energy; planning and reconstruction; posts and telecommunications; public health; public works, housing, and urban development; social affairs and the promotion of women; state; tourism and the environment; and transportation and civil aviation. The president held the portfolio for defense. Only one woman served on the Council of Ministers. Executive appointments were divided among most regions of the country, although northerners dominated most organs of government.

The general responsibility of the Council of Ministers was to carry out the wishes of the president, although constitutional language defined its task as overseeing national reconstruction, establishing a democratic way of life, guaranteeing fundamental rights of individuals and associations, and guaranteeing the effective participation of all social classes in the managing of public affairs. The council was also responsible for maintaining a national army, reorganizing the national police, reorganizing public enterprises and parastatal, developing an effective health care system, assisting victims of war, relaunching the economy, reforming the school system, devising an investment code to encourage domestic and foreign capital formation, reconstructing the communication system, and regaining Chad's self-sufficiency in food.

Article 18 summarized ministerial responsibilities in foreign policy. These responsibilities were to maintain friendship and cooperation with all peaceful countries, to uphold the principles of the United Nations (UN) and OAU, to support legitimate struggles by people under racial and colonial domination, to combat all forms of expansionism, and to practice nonalignment in foreign policymaking . Article 19 restricted ministers from holding a second office in government, although many government officials in 1988 also held office in UNIR.

National Advisory Council

The Fundamental Law formalized the institution of a weak legislative branch of government. Thirty advisers, who served at the discretion of the president, made up the CNC in 1988. Although they were authorized to elect their own council president and two vice presidents, their mandate was only to advise the president regarding states of emergency and war and to consult with him regarding fundamental policy choices, international agreements, budgetary allocations, and general plans for political, social, and economic development. In practice, the CNC supported presidential policy.

As of 1988, the people of Chad had no elected representatives at the national level. The appointed CNC provided a formal structure for representative government and policy deliberation, but it was entirely subordinate to the executive branch. Legislators effected policy changes only if the president agreed with them.

Regional Government

Throughout the 1980s, Chad was divided into fourteen prefectures. Each was further subdivided into subprefectures, administrative posts, and cantons. Most prefectures were divided into two to five subprefectures; the total number of subprefectures was fifty-four. Administrative posts and cantons were often organized around traditional social units, especially in areas where an existing bureaucratic structure could represent the state. In general, the national government relied on traditional leaders to represent its authority in rural areas. In many of these areas, civil servants could not maintain order, collect taxes, or enforce government edicts without the cooperation of respected local leaders.

Administrators at each of these levels (prefects, subprefects, administrators, and canton chiefs) were appointed by the president or the minister of interior and remained in office until the president dismissed them. Each prefect was assisted by a consultative council composed of ten or more members nominated by the prefect and approved by the minister of interior. Traditional leaders were often included, and council protocol was sometimes based on local rank and status distinctions.

During the 1960s, the government granted municipal status to nine towns, based on their ability to finance their own budgets. These municipalities generated most of their revenues through administrative fees, fines, and taxes, and they organized communal work projects for many city improvements. Their governing bodies were relatively autonomous municipal councils, chosen by popular consensus or informal elections. Each council, in turn, elected a mayor from its own ranks. The official policy of autonomy for municipal councils was generally overridden by the requirement that almost all council decisions be ratified by the prefect or the minister of interior.

Judicial System

Chad's legal system was based on French civil law, modified according to a variety of traditional and Islamic legal interpretations. In the late 1980s, the civilian and military court systems overlapped at several levels, an effect of Chad's years of warfare. Civilian justice often deferred to the military system, and in some areas, military courts--many of which were established by rebel armies during the late 1970s--were the only operating courts. In the 1980s, the government was working to reassert civilian jurisdiction over these areas.

Chad's Supreme Court was abolished following the coup in 1975 and had not been reestablished by 1988. The highest court in the land was the Court of State Security, comprising eight justices, including both civilians and military officers, all appointed by the president. In addition, a court of appeals in N'Djamena reviewed decisions of lower courts, and a special court of justice established in 1984 heard cases involving the misappropriation of public funds.

Criminal courts convened in N'Djamena, Sarh, Moundou, and Abéché, and criminal judges traveled to other towns when necessary. In addition, each of the fourteen prefectures had a magistrate's court, in which civil cases and minor criminal cases were tried. In 1988 forty-three justices of the peace served as courts of first resort in some areas.

Chad also had an unofficial but widely accepted system of Islamic sharia courts in the north and east, which had operated for a century or more. Most cases involved family obligations and religious teachings. In other areas, traditional custom required family elders to mediate disputes involving members of their descent group, i.e., men and women related to them through sons and brothers. Civil courts often considered traditional law and community sentiment in decisions, and the courts sometimes sought the advice of local leaders in considering evidence and rendering verdicts.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress