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Chad Profile (A Brief History)

Updated: Oct 31, 2020

Chad, officially the Republic of Chad, is a landlocked country in north-central Africa bordered by Libya, Sudan, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Niger. Chad is the fifth largest country in Africa, but the northern part of the country is mostly covered by the Sahara Desert with very few inhabitants. With a population of 10 million people, Chad is home to over 200 ethnic and linguistic groups. Lake Chad the second largest wetland in Africa, from which the nation gets its name, lies on the western border with Niger and Nigeria. The capital of Chad is N’Djamena a large port-city and is also the nation’s largest city. French and Arabic are the official languages of Chad.

Early History of Chad

Archaeological evidence suggests that Chad is one of several potential sites for the cradle of humankind in Africa following the discovery of the seven-million-year-old human-like skull, now known as the Toumaï ('Hope of life') skull.

Sometime between 1800 BC and 500 BC, the region was not as arid as it is today, the earliest of the inhabitants of modern-day Chad lived and farmed around the shores of lake Chad in the north-central basin of the Sahara, people who probably migrated from the Nile Valley.

Sao Civilization

The Sao people, one of earliest documented civilizations, would go on to flourish around Lake Chad and the Chari River basin along the borders of modern-day Cameroon and Chad sometime around the sixth century BC. The city-state of Sao would create sophisticate workings in bronze, copper, and iron. Sometime around the first millennia CE the indigenous Sao people would be absorbed by the Kamen-Bornu Kingdom and the region became a crossroads for the trans-Saharan trade routes.

Kamen-Bornu Empire

The Kamen-Bornu Empire begin sometime around 700 AD under the nomadic Tebu-speaking Kanembu people. The success of the empire became attached to the domination of the trans-Saharan trade routes and would lead the empire to reign over most of modern-day Chad and parts of Nigeria, Libya, Niger, Sudan, and Cameroon until roughly 1900 AD. The Kamen-Bornu Empire sometime around 1075 AD became under the control of a Muslim King named Mai Humai and Islam would spread rapidly in the empire. The empire would continue to expand with land and wealth under various leaders and eventually around the 18th century began to decline.

Sudanese conqueror Rabih al-Zubayr in 1883 would come to control the Kamen-Bornu Empire but a few years later in 1900 Rabih was overthrown by the French, who absorbed the Kamen-Bornu empire and other kingdoms into the colony of French Equatorial Africa, based out of present day Central Africa Republic. Following the collapse of the central kingdoms, the region became something of a backwater ruled by local tribes and regularly raided by Arab slavers.

Colonization of Chad

Chad was not a priority colony for France, it was mostly sourced for cotton, labor, and soldiers. The French would do little to govern Chad or modernize the nation. It developed a decentralized colonization strategy and left most of Chad ungoverned. After World War II in 1946, the colony became an autonomous republic within the French empire.

Independence of Chad

An independence movement led by the first Premier and President, François Tombalbaye, achieved complete independence on Aug. 11, 1960. Tombalbaye was killed in the 1975 coup and succeeded by Gen. Félix Malloum, who faced a Libyan-financed civil war throughout his tenure in office. In 1977, Libya seized a strip of Chadian land and launched an invasion two years later.

Nine rival groups meeting in Lagos, Nigeria, in March 1979 agreed to form a provisional government headed by Goukouni Oueddei, a former rebel leader. Fighting broke out again in Chad in March 1980, when Defense Minister Hissen Habré challenged Goukouni and seized the capital. Libyan president Muammar al-Qaddafi, in Jan. 1981, proposed a merger of Chad with Libya. The Libyan proposal was rejected, and Libyan troops withdrew from Chad that year, but in 1983 they poured back into the northern part of the country in support of Goukouni. France, in turn, sent troops into southern Chad in support of Habré. Government troops then launched an offensive in early 1987 that drove the Libyans out of most of the country.

In 1990, Idris Déby, a former defense minister and head of the Patriotic Salvation Movement, overthrew Habré, suspended the constitution, and dissolved the legislature. In 1994 a new constitution was drafted and an amnesty for political prisoners was declared. Déby won multiparty elections in 1996 and was reelected in 2001. His rule has been marked by repression and corruption. Déby has faced about a half-dozen insurgencies since taking office.

Sudan Conflict

Rebels from three groups stormed N'Djamena in February 2008 and demanded the resignation of President Déby. Chad's military, however, repulsed the rebels. About 100 people died in the fighting. Leaders in Chad have accused Sudan of fomenting the rebellion. Sudan, on the other hand, claims that Chad sponsors the Sudanese rebels that are fighting the government and its militias. Tension continued to flare throughout 2008, with Sudan severing diplomatic relations with Chad, and Chad responding by closing the border with Sudan.

Deby met with Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir in March 2010, and the two said their countries are ready to normalize relations. Though no formal agreement was reached, many observers expressed hope that peace would take hold. The leaders themselves expressed optimism. Bashir said, "Deby and I are here to confirm to the Sudanese-Chadian people that we have turned the page of our differences and disputes between the two states. From today, our common battle is the realization of peace, security and stability for the affluence of the people of the two states." And Deby requested that Chadian rebels in Sudan put down their arms and return to Chad. The border between the countries reopened in April.

Economy of Chad

The economy of Chad has a GDP of 11 billion dollars that is mostly attributed to the export of oil and agricultural products.


Farming and livestock breeding accounts for 45% of GDP and employs 80% of the nation’s workforce with most of those farming to provide subsistence for their families. The main crops grown are cotton, sorghum, millet, peanuts, corn, rice, and potatoes.


The industrial sector contributes 14% to GDP, employs 3% of the workforce, but accounts for 60% total export revenues. Most of this sector is dominated by the oil sector which brings almost all the nation’s foreign investment dollars.

In June 2000, the World Bank agreed to provide more than $200 million in financing to build a $3.7-billion pipeline connecting the oil fields in Chad to those in Cameroon. Oil revenues were estimated to earn $2.5 billion per year over the next 30 years. Human rights groups were concerned that the project would only benefit the oil companies and the political elite in Cameroon and Chad. The World Bank, however, forced Chad to agree to spend 80% of the resulting oil revenues on education, health, infrastructure, and other social welfare projects desperately needed by this impoverished country. After the development of the pipeline, a decade later the World Bank would pull out of the deal for non-compliance as the government of Idris Deby would go on to spend revenues on other expenditures.


The service sector accounts for 38% of GDP and employs 15% of the workforce. Telecommunication and the banking industry account for much of this sector.

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