Location: Landlocked country in west-central Africa.
Population: 5,100,000 (est.)
% of population: Sara 50%, Arabs 25-30%, Teda-Daza 6%
Religion: Muslim, 45%-55%; Christian and Animist 6%-25%; Animist
Languages: French and Arabic; other languages: various, including Sara.

Like many other African countries, Chad is essentially a nation of minorities, arbitrarily grouped under one administration during the colonial period. Since its independence in 1960, Chad has been beset by internal rebellions and civil war, fuelled by the indirect financial and military support, and, periodically, the direct military intervention of external forces, notably France, Libya and the USA. Neighbouring African states, whose border peoples in many instances are ethnically linked to Chadian groups, have, willingly or otherwise, provided refuges for dissidents and armed rebels from Chad. A series of authoritarian ruling groups have failed so far to unite the diverse peoples of Chad with any lasting cohesion. For much of the period since independence, large parts of the country have been under the control of rival “warlords”. Human rights abuses on a large scale have occurred during this time — detention without trial, torture, extra-legal killings and massacres of civilians — overshadowed by the larger military conflict. Numerous initiatives of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) as well as of individual African leaders to resolve the conflict in Chad have brought only temporary peace and stability.

Geography and ethnicity

Chad is one of the poorest countries in the world, if not the poorest: a huge but landlocked nation in west-central Africa with an area of 1.25 million square kilometres, and a total of 4,000 kilometres of borders with six other states. Ecologically, the country has three main parts: desert in the far north, including the Tibesti mountains; a more populous arid Sahelian belt in the centre; agriculturally-endowed savannah, verging on forest, in the far south. It is little favoured in natural resources, cattle being the mainstay of the northern economy and cotton and other agricultural produce in the more fertile central and southern areas.

No reliable survey, let alone census, has been conducted in Chad since 1964, when population was estimated at 5.1 million. Based on this figure, today’s population is projected at around 5,100,000. This population is, however, very unevenly distributed, with 46% concentrated in the five southern prefectures which constitute only one tenth of the country’s area.

The Sara language and culture dominates the southern area, although there are other ethnic groups such as the Massa and Moundang, in Mayo-Kebbi. The southern people are thought to be fairly evenly divided between Christians and Animists, although the number of Christians is probably overestimated.

The northern areas of Borkou, Ennedi and Tibesti, collectively known as the BET region, are inhabited mainly by nomadic Toubou peoples,


who divide into the Teda and the Daza groups, the former being concentrated around the Tibesti area and the latter further south in the BET region. These groups, which are Muslim, are more ethnically related to the Kanembu than the Arabs. The Daza, who are known in Arabic as the Gorane, are the group with which Hissein Habre, of the fringe Anakaza clan, is associated. The BET area, which constitutes one third of the country, contains only 6% of the population.

There is also a major group in Chad who are considered to be Arab in origin, although they have co-existed and intermarried with African peoples of the Western Sahel for centuries. The Arabs constitute some 25% to 30% of the total population. Some are nomads or semi-nomads; others are in settlements as in the Salamat area in the south-east, or settled and assimilated as an administrative elite in most of the central prefectures. This group is distinguished by their adherence to Arabic customs and use of the Arabic language, and are also predominantly Muslim, so that the overall proportion of Muslims is 45%-55%.

The Hadjerai (Hadjeray) come mainly from the central Guera highlands. The Zaghawa, one of the Ouaddian groups, who are known as the Bidayet (Bidayat) in northern Chad, inhabit the north and east of the country straddling the Sudan-Chad border. Both groups have been Islamised. Other ethnic groups include the Buduma, who are mainly fishing people living on and around Lake Chad.

Until 1979, the military, government and administration (although not business) were dominated by Sara-speaking people, largely due to their advantage in Western-style education, brought to the area by missionaries in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The level of literacy is higher generally in the south than the north — although still low at 26.8% — and is almost exclusively literacy in French (the official language at independence) rather than Arabic.

History to 1960

The borders of Chad were hastily drawn following the European “scramble for Africa” in the 1880s and 1890s, and France’s failed attempt to control a continuous belt stretching from Algiers to the Red Sea. The French finally defeated the Islamic military ruler Rabeh, who then controlled the once powerful Kanem-Borno empire, in 1900, at the battle of Kousseri, just inside the present Chad-Nigerian border. The BET region was only “pacified” by the 1920s but remained extremely hostile to domination (either by the French or by Arabic peoples to the north and south). Moreover the northern border remained in doubt after the dubious 1935 agreement between Mussolini and French Premier Laval, which pushed the Libyan border southwards to include the much-disputed Aozou strip. This agreement later formed the basis of independent Libya’s continued claim to the strip. The political movements which were formed in the French colonial territories in the build-up towards independence following the Second World War, were not as strongly rooted in Chad as elsewhere in the French territories. Gabriel Lisette, a Guadeloupian former administrator, led the local version of the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA) known as the Parti du Peuple Tchadien (PPT). Following the “balkanization” of the French territories and elections to territorial assemblies, the PPT did not have an overall majority, resulting in the fall of Lisette’s government in 1959. Its immediate successor was the Mouvement Socialiste Africain, led by Ahmed Koulamallah, which had a Muslim base, and was more nationalistic and pan-African in outlook, but lasted only 12 days. Francis Tombalbaye, a Sara, succeeded Lisette as head of the PPT and held fresh elections which returned him with a convincing majority, based largely on southern support. He then went on to become President of independent Chad in August 1960.

The Tombalbaye Government 1960-75

Tombalbaye was regarded with suspicion by Muslim politicians, who feared the dominance of educationally advanced Sara in the administration following the withdrawal of the French. In 1962, Tombalbaye declared a one-party state, leaving Muslims no vehicle for political expression, and subsequently reduced the number of Muslims in the government. In late 1963, serious rioting between Muslims and non-Muslims broke out in the capital and more than a hundred were killed, while many future rebel leaders were jailed or went into exile. In 1965, the forcible collection of extortionate taxes in Mangalme, Batha prefecture (home of the Moubi, a subgroup of the Hadjerai) provoked riots which were brutally repressed. This was the first spark of rebellion which fired a spate of future revolts in central and eastern Chad.

At this juncture, FROLINAT was formed in Western Sudan. In 1965, the replacement of the French by the southern-dominated Chadian army, in the BET region, and disregard for some of the local practices — notably attempts to “sedentarize” the nomadic population — eventually led to Toubou armed revolt and the formation of the northern wing of FROLINAT. The French intervention in 1969 temporarily staved off the military threat from the centre and east. After a long leadership struggle, in 1971 the rebel forces split into two parts: the northern Second Army, later known as the Forces Armées du Nord (FAN) and the eastern First Army, led by Goukouni Weddeye and Abba Siddick respectively. A period of vicious in-fighting between the two factions of the rebel forces ensued. Eventually, in October 1972, a new figure emerged as the leader of the reconstituted FAN, now called the Conseil de Commande des Forces Armées du Nord (CCFAN): Hissein Habré. Habré — one of the first university educated Toubou — had displaced Goukouni who was now his deputy.

From 1972 onwards the Tombalbaye government entered its final decline, despite French-backed attempts at administrative reform and reconciliatory moves in 1971, including the release of political prisoners and the incorporation of Muslims into the ruling group. The metamorphosis of the PPT into the Mouvement National pour la Révolution Culturelle et Sociale (MNRCS), which stressed traditional African cultural practices such as youth initiation, created much resentment amongst the already disaffected educated Sara. When it was extended to include all candidates for the civil service, widespread discontent was engendered. Tombalbaye’s relationship with key army personnel was also rapidly deteriorating. On April 13 Tombalbaye was overthrown in a coup, allegedly originating from the Sara-dominated army. However, in the long run, the coup did nothing to redress the imbalance of power and resources which was at the root of FROLINAT rebel activity.

The Malloum regime 1975-79

General Malloum emerged as the new head of state after the coup, forming the Conseil Supérieure Militaire (CSM), which preached reconciliation. Some dissident leaders returned, but the CSM was inevitably southern dominated and few concrete steps were taken to ensure political reconciliation, with key figures from the Tombalbaye era remaining in place. There were further strains in Chad’s relations with France and Libya over the Claustre kidnapping fiasco, and the Aozou strip, which Tombalbaye had ceded to Libya in December 1972. Malloum’s reluctance to engage militarily with the rebels left large areas of the country in the centre, east and north under the control of rebel armies, who meanwhile fragmented and regrouped into at least three separate forces: CCFAN under Habre, the Forces Armées Populaires (FAP), an alliance between Goukouni and Acyl, who later left to form the Conseil Démocratique Révolutionnaire (CDR). From this position of relative strength, and with considerable external backing, the various rebels were able to push for favourable ceasefire conditions. After a FAP offensive in April 1978, Malloum had to call back the French, whom he had expelled in 1975, to save his government. French and Libyan sponsored attempts at peace treaties between the Malloum government and the various rebel groups culminated eventually in the signing of the Habre-Malloum Fundamental Charter in late August 1978.

Under the conditions of the Fundamental Charter, Habre became Prime Minister while Malloum remained Head of State. The CSM was dismantled and the Conseil de Défense et de Sécurité (CDS) formed, in which half the posts went to the CSM and half to Habre’s CCFAN. Arabic became an official language on a par with French and the Prime Minister was to form a new government and organize elections to a Constituent Assembly. Before this could happen, however, tensions surfaced. Habre was rapidly gaining the upper hand in the allocation of posts and beginning to exclude southerners. The CDS met less and less frequently and hostilities rose, as the Sara felt increasingly isolated. Little progress was made in integrating Habre’s FAN into the national army (Forces Armées Tchadiennes or FAT). The intra-government tensions brought about by Habre’s return led to the final collapse of central authority, the end of Malloum’s power, and full-scale civil war from 1979. This was a watershed, after which the control of southerners or Sara over the army and administration was rapidly eroded.

Disintegration and civil war 1979-82

The period from 1979 onwards led to increasing inter-communal violence, the virtual collapse of central authority, and the rule of large areas of the country by competing warlords. Various foreign backed attempts at establishing new coalitions were made, with external forces drawn in deeper and deeper to protect their own positions.

In February 1979, a school strike of Muslims allegedly inspired by FAN sparked off hostilities between FAN and southern troops. By this time, Goukouni’s troops had advanced from the BET region to Kanem and briefly allied to FAN. Under this pressure the Chadian army disintegrated and an exodus of refugees to the south began. This first battle of Ndjamena brought in its wake communal massacres, along ethnic, regional and religious cleavages, with FAN troops killing southerners in Ndjamena. Reprisals occurred in the south where, reportedly, between 5,000 and 10,000 mainly Arab Muslims were killed.

From March 1979 onwards, a series of meetings in Kano, Nigeria began, aiming to establish a coalition, which eventually included some elements from the Front d’Action Commun Provisoire (FACP) and an agreement was arrived at in Lagos, with OAU backing, to establish the Gouvernement d’Union Nationale de Transition (GUNT) headed by Goukouni, with Habre as Defence Minister arid Acyl as Foreign Minister. OAU peacekeeping troops were to move in to guarantee the peace, and a programme of reconciliation was drawn up. GUNT was established in early November, but by the end of the year there was no progress in the reconciliation programme, the OAU troops had not yet arrived, and tensions in the coalition were surfacing. FAN-FACP fighting broke out in the build-up to the second battle of Ndjamena, which was to overshadow even the first and produce a massive wave of refugees.

As a consequence of this, Habre and his forces were excluded from GUNT, the French withdrew their troops and much to the dismay of Libya Habre, with French backing, was advancing into the BET region. On June 15, 1980, Gaddafy announced a Chad-Libyan mutual support treaty, which later emerged as a cover for Libyan military intervention. There was widespread international and internal disapproval of Libyan intervention. Under this pressure, Goukouni asked the Libyans to leave, which they did in early 1981, to be replaced by the OAU troops. However, the US had now begun to supply Habre’s forces in their bid to destabilise Gaddafy. Goukouni refused to negotiate with Habre and by mid-1982, Habre was advancing rapidly towards Ndj amena. GUNT was starting to disintegrate. On June 7, 1982, Habre took Ndjamena with almost no resistance.

Habre takes power 1982 — present

After Habre took Ndjamena, the main area of remaining resistance was Kamougué’s (FACP) area of support in the far south, but by clever use of dissident Sara, Habre managed to oust Kamougué and take control. By October 1982, a “government in exile” composed of most of the old GUNT factions (FAT, FAP and CDR with Acheikh ibn Oumar having replaced Acyl) had established itself at Goukouni’s northern stronghold, in Bardai, Tibesti, which was still held by his forces. With US and French backing, however, Habre’s control seemed fairly solid. Doubts still remained about Habre’s ability to be a truly national leader, particularly among southerners who laid the responsibility for the 1979 and 1981 massacres at his doorstep. The actions of FAN in the south after Habre’s takeover did little to reassure them. In May and August 1983, there were violent clashes after Habre’s attempt to impose taxation in the south. A southern rebel group, the Codos Rouges, had emerged opposing Habre with backing from Libya and GUNT. The Central African Republic, whose northern peoples are ethnically linked to the Sara, harboured Codos supporters and bases and may have allowed Libya and GUNT to operate within its borders.

In June 1983, Libya, increasingly isolated within the OAU which had accepted Habre as the leader of the Chad delegation, backed Goukouni in a new offensive which left GUNT in control of much of the north and east of Chad. Increased US military aid, and a massive French intervention called “Operation Manta” enabled Habre’s forces to keep GUNT at bay, establishing an effective partition along the 16th parallel. This partitioning was to last until Habre’s decisive push north in 1987.

The OAU’s attempts to convene further peace talks in 1983 foundered but the establishment of a new national army — Forces Armées Nationales du Tchad (FANT) in early 1983 was a step towards broadening Habre’s support. Habre made further reconciliatory moves in 1984 when — in spite of considerable objection from some of his own supporters — he dissolved the ruling FROLINAT-CCFAN coalition and replaced it with the Union Nationale pour l’Indépendance et la Révolution (UNIR). The executive committee of UNIR included six southerners out of 15 members (although northerners retained the key positions), and the new government which was formed in July 1984 had a former Codos leader as Defence Minister. The breakdown in negotiations with the Codos in August 1984 brought an upsurge of fighting in four out of five of the southern prefectures. In a pact with General Kolingba of the Central African Republic, who had his own domestic motives, a brutal government repression with widespread massacres of civilians and razing of villages was enacted on both sides of the border. By early 1985, Habre had regained control over most of the south.

Habre’s final push north beginning in December 1986, which eventually recovered all Chad’s territory to his side, was assisted by: the large amount of military aid and back-up from the French and the US; the support of many former dissident leaders including Djogo, Kotiga (of the Codos) and Senoussi of the now split CDR; and the disintegration of GUNT. The CDR ceased collaboration with Goukouni, and formed a neo-GUNT under Acheikh ibn Oumar. When Libya switched its support to Acheikh, Goukouni’s troops began to rally to Habre. FANT eventually forced the Libyans and the rump of the GUNT forces out of Faya Largeau, and into retreat back to Aozou in early 1987. A Chad-Libya ceasefire was agreed on September 12, 1987 and held well into 1988, in spite of some skirmishes on the Sudan border. In mid-1988 Gaddafy began making moves towards a peace treaty, involving Libyan aid and recognition of Habre’s government and Chad’s formal recognition of Libyan control over the Aozou strip. Under considerable pressure from France, Habre agreed to a formal restoration of diplomatic links with Libya in November 1988.

Meanwhile, Habre’s reconciliation policy, engineered by Mahammat Ibrahim Itno, the Interior Minister, had been running into problems. The return of rebel leaders (six out of 24 had rallied to UNIR by August 1988), many taking up ministerial posts, was both alienating more long-standing supporters, and creating splits in rebel forces over the defection of their leaders. Two major groups, the Hadjerai and the Zaghawa, went successively into opposition in 1987 and 1988. Prior to 1984, the Hadjerai had supported Habre and formed a large part of the armed forces (FAN) which brought him to power in 1982. The deterioration in their relations with Habre commenced with suspicions over the death of their traditional leader Idriss Miskine in 1984. Subsequent tensions, a decrease in the number of Hadjerai in the government and army (as they were replaced by Zaghawa and Goranes) and arrests of prominent Hadjerai, spurred guerrilla actions by the Mouvement du Salut National du Tchad (MOSANAT) in the Guera highlands from late 1986.

The return to Habre’s government of Acheikh ibn Oumar, former leader of the pro-Libyan CDR in 1988, provoked a split among his Zaghawa supporters: 500 former CDR fighters in Darfur have joined the First Army and MOSANAT; another 200 or so were abandoned by Acheikh in Ndjamena. The remaining CDR divided into two Libyan based-groups, under Rakhis Manani and Moctar Moussa respectiveiy.

Idriss Deby, a Zaghawa, and his relatives Hassan Djamous and Mahammat Itno, were key Habre supporters since the 1980-82 period. Under Itno, the security services and elite army units were increasingly dominated by Zaghawa while the traditional ruling group of the Zaghawa — the Haggar — was offended by Itno, Deby and Djamous’ attempts to introduce relatives into the Ndjamena power structure. Meanwhile, Habre, increasingly sceptical of Zaghawa support, had removed the conventional security forces from Itno’s control, created his own private security force composed of Gorane. Growing Zaghawa perceptions that they were being ousted from the power structure is said to be the cause of the failed April 1, 1989 coup attempt, led by Deby, Djamous and Itno, who subsequently fled to Sudan. A spate of Zaghawa arrests (at least 100) have occurred in Ndj amena since the coup attempt.

Although Habre, with substantial French and US backing, remains in power to date, his rule is becoming increasingly based on the backing of his own tiny ethnic group — the Goranes — at the expense of all others. Until 1987-88, attempts at reconciliation had brought dissident Arab and southern factions back into government, but old as well as newer allies have increasingly been alienated and excluded from power, thus leaving Habre’s government with minimal legitimacy. Given Chad’s history of political instability and ethnic division, together with its poverty and interventions by outside powers, it appears likely that conflicts will continue.

(See also Mauritania; Sahelian Nomads)