Relations with Libya

Chad Table of Contents

Chad's relations with Libya, arising out of centuries of ethnic, religious, and commercial ties, were more complex than those with France. Under French and Italian colonial domination, respectively, Chad and Libya had diverged in orientation and development. But even after Chad's independence in 1960, many northerners still identified more closely with people in Libya than with the southern-dominated government in N'Djamena. After seizing power in 1969, Libyan head of state Qadhaafi reasserted Libya's claim to the Aozou Strip, a 100,000-square-kilometer portion of northern Chad that included the small town of Aozou. Libya based its claim on one of several preindependence agreements regarding colonial boundaries, and it bolstered these claims by stationing troops in the Aozou Strip beginning in 1972. (Maps printed in Libya after 1975 included the Aozou Strip within Libya.)

Qadhaafi's desire to annex the Aozou Strip grew out of an array of concerns, including the region's reported mineral wealth. He also hoped to establish a friendly government in Chad and to extend Islamic influence into the Sahel through Chad and Sudan, with the eventual aim of a Central African Islamic empire.

A complex set of symbolic interests also underlay Libya's pursuit of territory and influence in the Sahel. Qadhaafi's anticolonial and antiimperialist rhetoric vacillated between attacks on the United States and a campaign focused on the postcolonial European presence in Africa. He hoped to weaken Chad's ties with the West and thereby reduce Africa's incorporation into the Western-dominated nation-state system. Forcing the revision of one of the colonially devised boundaries affirmed by the OAU in 1963 was a step in this direction--one that seemed possible in the context of the troubled nation of Chad, which OAU members dubbed the continent's "weakest link."

Qadhaafi attempted alliances with a number of antigovernment rebel leaders in Chad during the 1970s, including Goukouni, Siddick, Acyl Ahmat (a Chadian of Arab descent), and Kamougué, a southerner. Goukouni and Acyl were most sympathetic to Qadhaafi's regional ambitions, but these two men clashed in 1979, leading Acyl to form the CDR. After Acyl's death in 1982, Libyan support swung strongly to Goukouni's GUNT.

By mid-1988 Qadhaafi appeared more willing to come to an agreement with Habré than to continue to support Qadhaafi's fractious allies, who had suffered losses at Habré's hands. Chadian and Libyan foreign ministers met in August 1988, and the two governments agreed to further talks. At the same time, Libyan troops remained in the Aozou Strip, and its future status was uncertain.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress