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Colonial period: 1900-1958

The extensive area of central Africa from the Ubangi river to the Sahara has been a heartland of the slave trade during the 17th to 19th centuries. People captured here, usually by neighbouring tribes in warfare or slave raids, are sold to Arab traders to be taken north through the Sahara or to middlemen for the journey down the Ubangi and the Congo to the Atlantic coast.

The initial French advance into this area in the late 1890s is complicated by the strength of a local ruler, Rabah Zubayr, who has recently established a strong kingdom at Baguirmi, east of Lake Chad. An ex-slave and an active slave trader, Rabah proves a formidable adversary. He is finally defeated and killed by a French force in 1900.


French control is not secure for some while after this, but from 1910 the region is included in French Equatorial Africa as Ubangi-Shari-Chad. This inaccessible territory is difficult to administer, other than at a great drain to the public purse. So the French government leases large tracts of land to private companies, giving them virtually unlimited power over the people in their charge (a method of exploitation copied from the Congo Free State).

The result is often brutal exploitation, with Africans used as forced labour in the gathering of wild rubber or on newly established cotton plantations. These abuses are vividly revealed to the world by André Gide in two books - Voyage au Congo (Voyage to the Congo, 1927) and Le Retour du Tchad (The Return from Chad, 1928).


Gide's revelations lead to improvements in social conditions. And by the time of World War II French investment is also proving more profitable, particularly in the export of gold and diamonds from the southern region, Ubangi-Shari.

From 1920 the territory has been separated into two colonies, Ubangi-Shari and Chad, within the broader French Equatorial Africa. Each sends its own deputies to Paris from 1946. In 1958 both opt to remain within the French Community after the dissolution of French Equatorial Africa. Both become independent in 1960, with Ubangi-Shari adopting the name Central African Republic.


In 1998 a line seems to be drawn beneath Chad's long dispute with Libya, when the Libyan president Moamar al-Gaddafi pays a state visit to his relatively impoverished southern neighbour. But Chad does also have potentially the same source of wealth as Libya - oil.

At the end of the century the economic prospects are much improved by a plan to carry the nation's extensive oil supplies by pipeline through Cameroon to the Atlantic port of Kribi. The cost of construction, estimated at about $3 billion, is to be met mainly by Exxon and Shell. The project, if implemented, will make Chad the fourth largest African exporter of oil.


Independence: from1960

The first president of the new nation is N'Garta Tombalbaye, who in 1961 succeeds in merging two rival parties into a new Union for the Progress of Chad. This is the only party which contests the elections held in 1963.

Tombalbaye's rule is threatened by Frolinat (Front for the National Liberation of Chad), a guerrilla group operating in the north of the country. But he remains in power until he is assassinated in 1975. Thereafter the main struggle for power is conducted between rival leaders of Frolinat, with the situation complicated by the involvement of Libya. This is prompted by a probably mistaken belief that there is uranium in the Aouzou Strip in the extreme north of Chad, bordering Libya.


The Libyan president, Gaddafi, wants the Aouzou Strip and maintains that Libya has a historic claim to it. In 1980 he sends his tanks across the border in support of one of the Frolinat leaders, Goukouni Oueddi, who is willing to cede him the territory. Civil war continues for several years between Oueddi and his main rival, Hissen Habré, each in turn claiming to be in charge of the national government.

In 1982 Habré establishes some measure of central control, though the entire north of the country is in the hands of Oueddi with the support of Libyan troops. During the 1980s Libya continues to send military excursions deep into Chad, but with US and French assistance Habré is able to repel them.


However there is no French support when Habré faces a military campaign launched against him in 1990 by one of his military advisers, Idriss Déby. At the end of the year Habré flees into neighbouring Cameroon. Déby forms a new government with himself as president.

Déby denies reports that his coup has had Libyan support, but one of his first achievements in government is persuading Libya to submit the dispute over the Aouzou Strip to the International Court of Justice. The court in 1994 awards the entire strip to Chad.


On his accession to power, Déby promises multi-party democracy. It takes a long time coming, while war continues between rival factions during a protracted period of transitional government. But in 1996 there is improvement on both fronts. More than a dozen rebel groups sign peace agreements with the government, bringing fighting to an end. And a multiparty presidential election is held.

There are widespread accusations of electoral fraud but the incumbent president, Idriss Démy, is elected with 69% of the vote. In 1997 Démy's party, the Patriotic Salvation Movement, also wins more seats than any other party in the national assembly.


In February 2000 former president Habré, living in exile in Senegal, is arrested and brought before a Senegalese court on charges of torture and barbarity. The indictment details 97 cases of political murder and many others of torture and 'disappearances'.


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