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Chad - History

Since independence, Chad experienced almost uninterrupted turmoil. Chadian Civil War and factionalism have dominated political events since mid-1960s. The government in power in 1972, which was dominated by southern ethnic groups, fell to a military coup d'etat in 1975. By 1978 an insurgent group, composed mostly of northerners, had displaced the military regime, and in 1982 a different rebel organization came to power.

Hissein Habre ruled for eight increasingly bloody years, before he in turn was overthrown. These years also saw the coming and going of foreign troops, most notably those of France and Libya. Adding to these politico-military machinations was a several-year-long drought that produced famine and a flow of refugees and rendered the economy dependent on the generosity of France and the international donor community.

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 region had been known to traders and geographers since the late Middle Ages. Since then, Chad has served as a crossroads for the Muslim peoples of the desert and sahelian regions, and the animist African tribes of the savanna regions to the south. While the former developed coherent political entities that became the powerful kingdoms of Kanem-Bornu, Baguirmi, and Ouaddai, controlling much of northern and central Chad as well as parts of Nigeria and Sudan, the southern regions were much less politically developed and remained splintered into small, local, tribal chiefdoms. Contact between the two regions was dominated by regular raids conducted by Muslims into the non-Muslim south to secure slaves for their own use and for trade into North Africa and the Middle East.

Little is known about Chad before the beginning of the second millennium AD. At about that time, the region gave birth to one of the great societies of Central Africa-the Kanem Empire, formed from a confederation of nomadic peoples. During the tenth century, Islam penetrated the empire, and later the king, or mai, became a Muslim. Kanem benefited from the rule of several effective mais. The most significant of these was Mai Dunama Dabbalemi, who reigned from about 1221 to 1259. By the end of the fourteenth century, internal struggles and external attacks had weakened the empire and forced it to uproot and move to Borno, an area to the southwest. The combined Kanem-Borno Empire peaked during the reign of Mai Idris Aluma, who ruled from about 1571 to 1603 and who is noted for his diplomatic, military, and administrative skills. By the early nineteenth century, unable to defend against Fulani invaders, Kanem-Borno was in decline, and by the end of the century it was overtaken by Arab invaders.

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 first entered Chad in 1891, establishing their authority through military expeditions that reduced the politically backward south and by defeating the armies of the northern and central Muslim kingdoms, culminating in decisive victory over the powerful kingdom of Baguirmi in the battle of Kousseri (today in Cameroon). The French did not consider the territory pacified until 1911; armed clashes between French forces and local resistance fighters continued for years thereafter.

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. France ruled southern Chad ("le Tchad Utile," or Useful Chad) as a typical colony with civil administration, basic education, urbanization of major centers, and missionary activity, while exploiting the region’s agricultural potential. The French ruled northern and central Chad ("le Tchad des Sultans," or Chad of the Sultans) differently, confining the colonial footprint to a few military garrisons and relying on traditional tribal and religious leaders to administer the local populations in time-tried ways. The French made Chad, along with what are today Gabon, the Central African Republic, and the Republic of the Congo, part of a colonial federation called French Equatorial Africa, under a governor-general resident at Brazzaville in what is now the Republic of the Congo.

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Page last modified: 01-11-2016 19:20:40 ZULU