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Atlas Chad

Country (long form)
Republic of Chad
Total Area
495,755.17 sq mi
1,284,000.00 sq km
8,424,504 (July 2000 est.)
Estimated Population in 2050
French (official), Arabic (official), Sara and Sango (in south), more than 100 different languages and dialects
48.1% total, 62.1% male, 34.7% female (1995 est.)
Muslim 50%, Christian 25%, indigenous beliefs (mostly animism) 25%
Life Expectancy
48.5 male, 52.56 female (2000 est.)
Government Type
1 Communaute Financiere Africaine franc (CFAF) = 100 centimes
GDP (per capita)
$1,000 (1999 est.)
Labor Force (by occupation)
agriculture 85% (subsistence farming, herding, and fishing)
cotton textiles, meat packing, beer brewing, natron (sodium carbonate), soap, cigarettes, construction materials
cotton, sorghum, millet, peanuts, rice, potatoes, manioc (tapioca); cattle, sheep, goats, camels
Arable Land
cotton, cattle, textiles
machinery and transportation equipment, industrial goods, petroleum products, foodstuffs, textiles
Natural Resources
petroleum (unexploited but exploration under way), uranium, natron, kaolin, fish (Lake Chad)
Current Environmental Issues
inadequate supplies of potable water; improper waste disposal in rural areas contributes to soil and water pollution; desertification
Telephones (main lines in use)
5,000 (1995)
Telephones (mobile cellular)
0 (1995)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
1 (1999)

2500 years ago Lac Chad was about as big as present-day Greece and Yugoslavia combined. The climate was much wetter and wild animals were abundant. In the debilitating 1984 drought, it was possible to walk across the lake, and today, in the far north of the country, in the expanse of desert that was once lake and shore, archaeologists have uncovered a rich range of fossils and rock engravings made by hunters.

These hunters began raising cattle in settlements which later became walled cities. These Sao people developed the 'lost wax' method of bronze sculpture and were experts at pottery. Before the 9th century, people moved to the region from the Nile Valley, intermarrying with the Sao and eventually overwhelming them. The state of Kanem was founded in the region and lasted 1000 years. Over the next 300 years, increased trade in salt, slaves, copper and gold brought traders from the Mediterranean and the lower Nile. By 1200, Islam was the dominant religion. The kingdom expanded on the backs of slaves, becoming known as Kanem-Bornu, and held the mantle of 'empire' by the 17th century. In 1812 the empire collapsed when the Fulani people raided the capital.

At the same time, two other slave-trading Arab kingdoms had sprung up, controlling the trade routes and raiding the southern people for slaves. The Black Africans in the south were the focus of slave raids until the early 20th century, selling for the price of a horse; even poor Arab fishermen by Lac Chad owned a couple of slaves. About one in every five slaves captured died of cold, hunger, famine or disease en route to the Muslim trading areas. When the dregs of the French colonial system arrived in Chad at the end of the 19th century, abolishing the slave trade, they became, not surprisingly, heroes of the beleagured southern population.

As soon as the French arrived, they began leaving, making Chad the most neglected of all French colonial outposts. France concentrated their efforts in the fertile south, establishing cotton farms, taking a head tax and imposing quotas. They soon lost their popularity in the south, having never had it in the north. The northerners weren't offered the same educational opportunities as those in the south. Northerners also lost the Aouzou Strip on the northern border to Libya during WWII. When independence came in 1960, southerners took charge, displeasing the northerners, who viewed the Black Africans as either subjects or slaves; certainly not leaders. Poor and unstable at independence, things only got worse with the onset of cyclical droughts from the late 1960s. Unrest turned into civil war. The Black African government banned opposition parties and carried out mass killings. Like its neighbours, Chad fell into a pattern of military crackdowns and attempted coups.

In 1968 French troops were called in to settle the fighting between the government and a guerilla group called Frolinat. Nothing was settled and in 1971 Libya weighed in, supplying arms to the rebels. The government released political prisoners and accepted Libyan leader Gaddafi's offer to stop supporting the guerillas if Chad renounced claims to the Aouzou border strip. Then Chad's leader, Tombalbaye, began to lose his grip on reality in a frenzy of voodoo and nationalistic fervour, forcing the entire population to change their names to traditional African ones and making the civil service and the military undergo the yondo initiation rites of Tombalbaye's own tribe. Anyone who refused was summarily executed.

Tombalbaye had often claimed that he'd survived more plots on his life than any other African leader. Luck ran out in 1975, however, when he was assassinated in an army coup. At this point, things got really complicated. Gaddafi recommenced supplying arms to Frolinat, which splintered into three or four groups, with one led by Hissène Habré, expelled from Frolinat and fighting with his 500-strong army. Libya increased aid and Frolinat made headway, getting within 250km (155mi) of N'Djamena. France again stepped in, defeating Frolinat and installing a dual leadership with Habré as president and another tribal leader, Malloum, as head of state. France again stepped out, creating a political vacuum. Thousands of people were killed in the ensuing power struggle in 1979. France forced the resignations of both leaders and for a few months, peace was restored. With five armies occupying the capital, however, it wasn't long before itchy trigger fingers were scratched. Many people fled this second 'Battle of N'Djamena' as Libya again weighed in with 2000 Libyan-trained Chadian troops. A Libyan-sponsored government lasted about six months before Habré's troops marched again victorious into the city in 1982.

Frolinat, beaten back to the north, was still active when its leader was placed under arrest by Libya for attempting to swap sides in 1985. Gradually, all the rebels began fighting the Libyans, turning a civil war into an international conflict. With French and US support, the Chadians drove Libya into the Tibesti mountains. Gaddafi signed an agreement relinquishing the mineral-rich Aouzou strip and, it seemed, the war was over. When a plane from N'Djamena carrying, among others, the US ambassador's wife was blown up, many belived the Libyans were responsible.

While great in battle, Habré wasn't so hot as a national leader. His key advisors plotted his overthrow. In late 1990 he was run out of office by Idris Déby, a military advisor. The day before leaving the country, the volatile Habré went on a killing spree, ordering the execution of 300 political prisoners. He is now in exile in Senegal, but in early 1992 made a foray back into Chad, capturing two towns near Lac Chad before government troops and French paratroopers drove him back.

In 1992 and 1993 there were five attempted coups and numerous crackdowns. In one of these, 15,000 civilians fled to the Central African Republic following massacres allegedly by government troops. Now, under pragmatic president Déby, something resembling order exists throughout Chad. Numerous border hot-spots remain, and human rights groups still deplore the unofficial police shoot-to-kill policy on criminals and voice concern over the number of disappearances and summary executions.

Although Chad has enjoyed a period of relative peace and close relations with Libya over the past few years, conflict is never far away. Guerrilla raids are still common in the Tibesti region of northern Chad (despite accords signed in 2002 and 2003 with the MDJT and National Resistance Army rebel groups) and armed clashes with Nigerian forces occur occasionally around Lake Chad over ongoing demarcation issues. Politically, little has changed: much to nobody’s surprise, Deby won the May 2001 presidential elections by a comfortable margin, although results from a quarter of the polling stations had to be cancelled because of ‘irregularities’. The MPS also confirmed its majority in the parliamentary elections in April 2002, winning 110 of the 155 seats.

After years of NGO objections and environmental concerns, oil extraction is finally underway in the Doba Basin, where an estimated deposit of one billion barrels is located. According to the government and the three international companies involved, the first saleable supplies should hit the market in 2004; over its lifetime the project is expected to net over US$2 billion for the Chadian economy, although how much of this reaches the people who need it remains to be seen.