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Discovering Chad: A Landlocked Country in North and Central Africa


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Chad, officially known as the Republic of Chad, is a landlocked country situated in the heart of North and Central Africa.

It shares borders with Libya to the north, Sudan to the east, the Central African Republic to the south, Cameroon and Nigeria to the southwest (at Lake Chad), and Niger to the west.

The population of Chad is approximately 16 million, with the capital city of N’Djamena being home to 1.6 million people.

Geographically, Chad encompasses distinct regions, including a desert zone in the north, an arid Sahelian belt in the center, and a more fertile Sudanian Savanna zone in the south.

The country derives its name from Lake Chad, the second-largest wetland in Africa. Arabic and French serve as the official languages of Chad, and it is a diverse nation with over 200 different ethnic and linguistic groups. The major religions practiced in Chad are Islam (55.1%) and Christianity (41.1%).

Human populations began settling in the Chadian basin in significant numbers as early as the 7th millennium BC.

Throughout history, various states and empires rose and fell in Chad’s Sahelian region, each focused on controlling the trans-Saharan trade routes passing through the area.

In 1920, France gained control of the territory and incorporated it into French Equatorial Africa. Chad achieved independence in 1960 under the leadership of François Tombalbaye.

However, dissatisfaction with Tombalbaye’s policies in the Muslim north led to a protracted civil war in 1965.

In 1979, rebel forces captured the capital, ending the dominance of the southern region. Subsequently, rebel leaders engaged in internal conflicts until Hissène Habré emerged victorious.

The Chadian-Libyan conflict broke out in 1978 when Libya invaded Chad, which was later halted by a French military intervention in 1987 known as Operation Épervier.

Habré was eventually overthrown in 1990 by General Idriss Déby, with French support leading to the modernization of the Chad National Army in 1991.

The Darfur crisis in Sudan, starting in 2003, spilled over into Chad, causing further instability as the nation struggled to accommodate a large number of Sudanese refugees.

Although Chad’s legislature, the National Assembly, included numerous political parties, power remained concentrated in the hands of the Patriotic Salvation Movement during the presidency of Idriss Déby, characterized as an authoritarian rule.

Following President Déby’s death at the hands of FACT rebels in April 2021, the Transitional Military Council, led by his son Mahamat Déby, assumed control and dissolved the Assembly. Chad continues to face political violence and recurrent attempted coups d’état.

Chad ranks second-lowest on the Human Development Index, with a score of 0.394 in 2021, placing it 190th globally.

It is categorized as a least-developed country, grappling with the challenges of extreme poverty and pervasive corruption.

The majority of the population lives in poverty, relying on subsistence herding and farming. Crude oil has become the primary source of export earnings since 2003, surpassing the traditional cotton industry.

Chad has a troubling human rights record, marked by frequent abuses such as arbitrary imprisonment, extrajudicial killings, and restrictions on civil liberties imposed by security forces and armed militias.


In the 7th millennium BC, favorable ecological conditions in the northern part of Chad led to an increase in human settlement and population.

Chad is home to significant archaeological sites, particularly in the Borkou-Ennedi-Tibesti Region, some of which date back to before 2000 BC.

For over 2,000 years, the Chadian Basin has been inhabited by sedentary and agricultural communities, making it a meeting point for different civilizations.

One of the earliest known groups is the Sao, whose existence is documented through artifacts and oral traditions.

The Sao eventually gave way to the Kanem Empire, the first and longest-lasting empire in Chad’s Sahelian region by the end of the 1st millennium AD.

The Sultanate of Bagirmi and Wadai Empire emerged in the 16th and 17th centuries, respectively. The power of Kanem and its successors relied on controlling the trans-Saharan trade routes passing through the region.

However, these states, though predominantly Muslim, did not extend their influence to the southern grasslands, except for occasional slave raids. Slavery accounted for about a third of the population in Kanem.

The French colonization of Chad began in 1900 with the establishment of the Territoire Militaire des Pays et Protectorats du Tchad.

By 1920, France had gained full control and integrated Chad into French Equatorial Africa. However, French rule in Chad lacked efforts to unify the territory and modernize it compared to other colonies.

The French primarily viewed Chad as a source of unskilled labor and raw cotton, introducing large-scale cotton production in 1929.

The colonial administration in Chad faced significant staffing shortages and relied on less qualified civil servants.

Effective governance was limited to the southern Sara region, while the presence in the Islamic north and east remained nominal. This neglect also impacted the education system.

Following World War II, Chad attained the status of an overseas territory, granting its inhabitants the right to elect representatives to the National Assembly and a Chadian assembly.

The Chadian Progressive Party (PPT), predominantly based in the southern part of the colony, became the largest political party.

Chad gained independence on August 11, 1960, with François Tombalbaye, an ethnic Sara, as its first president.

However, Tombalbaye banned opposition parties two years later and established a one-party system. His autocratic rule and mismanagement exacerbated ethnic tensions, leading to a civil war in 1965 when Muslims in the north, under the National Liberation Front of Chad (FRONILAT), initiated an insurgency.

Tombalbaye was overthrown and killed in 1975, but the conflict persisted. In 1979, rebel factions led by Hissène Habré seized the capital, leading to the collapse of central authority. Various armed groups, including those from the northern rebellion, vied for power.

Chad experienced its first civil war from 1979 to 1987, resulting in France’s diminished influence. Libya seized the opportunity and became involved in Chad’s civil war.

However, in 1987, Chadians rallied together under President Hissène Habré, with French support, to force the Libyan army out of Chad.

Under Habré’s dictatorship from 1987 to 1990, corruption and violence were rampant, resulting in numerous human rights abuses.

Habré favored his own ethnic group, the Toubou, while discriminating against his former allies, the Zaghawa.

In 1990, General Idriss Déby, once Habré’s associate, overthrew him. Attempts to prosecute Habré led to his house arrest in Senegal in 2005. In 2013, Habré faced charges of war crimes committed during his rule and was found guilty in 2016, receiving a life sentence.

Déby attempted to reconcile rebel groups and reintroduced multiparty politics. A new constitution was approved by referendum, and Déby easily won presidential elections in 1996 and a second term five years later.

The exploitation of oil in 2003 brought hopes of peace and prosperity but instead worsened internal dissent and sparked a new civil war. Déby unilaterally modified the constitution to remove term limits, which drew criticism from civil society and opposition parties.

Déby won a controversial third term in 2006, despite opposition boycotts. Ethnic violence escalated in eastern Chad, raising concerns of a potential genocide similar to Darfur.

In 2006 and 2008, rebel forces attempted but failed to capture the capital. However, a 2010 agreement between Chad and Sudan improved relations, leading to the return of Chadian rebels from Sudan, the reopening of the border, and the deployment of joint forces to secure it.

In May 2013, security forces in Chad foiled a coup attempt against President Idriss Déby. Chad has been an active partner in the fight against Boko Haram and other Islamist militant groups in West Africa.

However, in April 2021, President Idriss Déby was killed during fighting with the FACT group in the northern region.

His son, General Mahamat Idriss Déby, was named interim president by a Transitional Council of military officers.

The new council replaced the constitution with a new charter, granting extensive powers to Mahamat Déby as the head of the armed forces and interim president.

Culture & Language

Chad is a diverse country with over 200 distinct ethnic groups. The people of Chad have ancestry from various regions of Africa, including Eastern, Central, Western, and Northern Africa.

The society in Chad is characterized by different social structures influenced by the local or regional community rather than a national society.

The Sara, the largest ethnic group in Chad, lives in the southern part of the country and have a sedentary lifestyle, with lineage being an important social unit.

The Arab community, the second major ethnic group, includes both settled merchants and nomadic populations and resides in the Sahel region. The northern part of Chad is primarily inhabited by nomadic Toubou people.

Arabic and French are the official languages but there are more than 100 languages and dialects spoken in the country.

Chadian Arabic has become a lingua franca due to the presence of itinerant Arab traders and settled merchants.

Chad is a religiously diverse country. The population is estimated to be 52-58% Muslim and 39-44% Christian.

Within the Muslim population, there are various denominations, including Sunni, Shia, and Ahmadi. Sufism, particularly the Tijaniyah order, is a common expression of Islam in Chad, incorporating local African religious elements.

Catholicism is the largest Christian denomination, and there are also Protestant and evangelical Christian communities. Indigenous religions are practiced by a small proportion of the population.

The distribution of religious groups in Chad varies geographically, with Muslims predominantly living in the northern and eastern regions, while Christians and animists are concentrated in the south and Guéra region.

Chad’s constitution guarantees religious freedom and recognizes the country as a secular state. Chad is a destination for foreign missionaries from Christian and Islamic groups, and there is support from Saudi Arabia for social and educational projects as well as mosque construction.

Millet is the primary food staple in Chadian cuisine, used to create paste balls that are enjoyed with various sauces.

While alcoholic beverages are not commonly consumed in the north, they are popular in the south, where millet beer, called billi-billi when made from red millet and coshate when made from white millet, is enjoyed.

Chadian music encompasses a variety of instruments, including the kinde (a bow harp), kakaki (a long tin horn), and hu hu (a stringed instrument with calabashes as loudspeakers).

Different ethnic groups have their own preferred instruments, such as whistles, balafons, harps, and kodjo drums among the Sara, and a combination of drums and flute-like instruments among the Kanembu.


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