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1965-1971 - Rebellion in Eastern and Northern Chad

The prolonged civil warfare in Chad had its origins in a spontaneous peasant uprising in Guéra Prefecture in 1965 against new taxes imposed by President Tombalbaye. The rebellion represented a rekindling of traditional animosities between the Muslim northern and central regions and the predominantly non-Muslim people of the south who had dominated the government and civil service since independence.

On November 1, 1965, frustration with what was perceived as government mismanagement and tax collection abuses erupted in riots in the town of Mangalme in Guera Prefecture. Five hundred persons died, including the local deputy to the National Assembly and nine other government officials. After unrest broke out in other areas, the various dissident groups were merged into the National Liberation Front of Chad (Front de Libération Nationale du Chad--FROLINAT) at a meeting in Sudan in 1966, although FROLINAT leaders at first had little contact with the fighting men in the field.

From its starting point in Guéra, the rebellion spread to other east-central prefectures. The struggle broke out in the north in early 1968, when the always restive and warlike Toubou nomads destroyed the army garrison at Aozou. From Mangalme and nearby Batha Prefecture, the rebellion spread to Ouadda'i and Salamat prefectures, where in February 1967 the prefect and deputy prefect were killed. In August 1968, a major mutiny in Aozou among the Toubou-dominated National and Nomad Guard highlighted the continuing unrest in the north. In the same year, antigovernment activities and tracts began to appear in Chari-Baguirmi Prefecture, only about 100 kilometers from N'Djamena. Travel became unsafe in much of central Chad, and governmental authority in the north was reduced by 1969 to the garrison towns of Faya Largeau, Fada, Bardai, and Ounianga Kebir.

In addition to historical causes and what Tombalbaye himself was later to call "maladministration," the country's Arabic-speaking neighbors abetted rebellion in the northern and central regions of Chad. In Sudan and Libya, numerous self-styled "liberation fronts" appeared in the mid-1960s, printing manifestos and claiming leadership over rebellious groups inside Chad. The most prominent of these fronts, the National Liberation Front of Chad (Front de Liberation Nationale du Tchad - FROLINAT), was formed in June 1966 in Nyala in southwestern Sudan. Personality, philosophical, and ethnic differences soon led to the front's fragmentation, with one group moving to Khartoum and another, which retained the FROLINAT designation, establishing offices in Algiers and Tripoli.

The influence of external assistance to the rebels during this period was minimal. Prior to 1976, Chad's uprisings were disorganized and uncoordinated among dissident groups. Most observers attribute the rebels' success more to the ineptitude of Chad's government and national army than to outside assistance. After FROLINAT's eastern region field commander, Ibrahim Abatcha, died in combat in February 1968, four contenders for leadership emerged. Within two years, two of them reportedly had been assassinated and one had fled to Sudan; the fourth, Abba Siddick, became FROLINAT's new secretary general in 1970. But in 1971, when Siddick called for greater cooperation among various groups under the FROLINAT banner, he encountered vigorous opposition in the north from Goukouni Oueddei, son of Oueddei Kichidemi, and Hissein Habre, one of the leaders of the Armed Forces of the North (Forces Armies du Nord-FAN). Goukouni and Habre broke with Siddick, who managed to retain only nominal control over FROLINAT's First Liberation Army in east-central Chad.

Tombalbaye's initial response to the increasing antigovernment activities was to attempt to crush them. When the government's forces proved woefully inadequate for the task, Tombalbaye swallowed his pride and called in the French under provisions of military treaties signed in 1960. The government asked the French to intervene when rebel activity threatened some of the administrative posts in the east and north.

Confronted by the unpopularity of such a step, the French government joined many Chadian intellectuals in calling for a broad range of economic and political reforms by Chad's government. Desperate for French assistance, Tombalbaye reluctantly accepted the thirty-three member Administrative Reform Mission (Mission de Rforme Administrative-MRA), which arrived in 1969 with authority to retrain the army, reorganize the civil service, and recommend the abolition of unpopular laws and taxes. The most significant political reform was the full restoration to Chad's major sultans of their previous judicial authority. The government also allowed them to resume their function as tax collectors in exchange for 10 percent of the revenue. This action, which Tombalbaye implemented grudgingly, temporarily undermined rebel activities across central Chad.

The French expeditionary force succeeded in recapturing most of the FROLINAT-held regions, but, after the withdrawal of the French in 1971, FROLINAT was again able to operate relatively freely. Internal divisions, however, prevented FROLINAT from capitalizing immediately on the weaknesses of the Tombalbaye regime. Early on, the movement's ideologue, Abba Siddick, lost control to more militant factions. Goukouni broke with the First Liberation Army, which Siddick commanded, and formed the Second Liberation Army, later known as FAN. As of 1973, northern Borkou and Tibesti subprefectures were occupied by the Second Liberation Army, leaving the First Liberation Army in control in Ennedi.

Liberalization continued in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Following the 1969 presidential elections, in which Tombalbaye ran unopposed, some 600 political prisoners were released, including a number of prominent Muslims. In April 1971, Tombalbaye, addressing the Seventh Congress of the PPT, admitted for the first time that he had made mistakes and that there were some shortcomings associated with his policies. He promised a campaign of national reconciliation, and a few weeks later he formed a government that included a greater proportion of Muslims and northerners. In June Tombalbaye freed another 1,500 political prisoners and toured rebel regions in the north, where he promised, among other things, government-subsidized salt and sugar for the nomads of Zouar and Bardai.

These reforms and French assistance contributed to the relative calm of 1970 and 1971. French military forces provided extensive and effective assistance in containing rebellious activities in central Chad. By June 1971, overt rebellion had been reduced for the most part to isolated pockets in the Tibesti region. The French government, under domestic pressure, began to withdraw its forces from Chad.

After Muammar al Qadhaafi seized power in Libya in 1969, he exploited Chad's instability by stationing troops in northern Chad and by channeling support to Chadian insurgents. Although Tombalbaye expelled Libyan diplomats in 1971, blaming them for inciting a coup attempt and inspiring unrest, in general he sought a balance between concessions and resistance to Qadhaafi's regional designs, hoping to persuade Qadhaafi to reduce his support for Chadian insurgents.

Amid increasing destabilization in the early 1970s, Tombalbaye sought first to protect southern interests. He implemented the authenticité movement, an ill-conceived campaign (modeled on that of Zairian president Mobutu Sese Seko) that deemed southern cultural characteristics more authentic than those of the north. Opponents successfully exploited public outrage when Tombalbaye required civil servants to undergo yondo--traditional initiation rites indigenous only to his ethnic constituency among the Sara population of the south . Weak efforts to pacify the north by granting limited autonomy to traditional leaders and releasing prominent political prisoners served only to recruit new dissidents.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 11:38:40 ZULU