Republic of Chad
The Republic of Chad is a land-locked country in Central Africa that is known as the “Dead Heart of Africa.” This is mainly due to the geography of the country, which consists of a relatively basin-shaped topography. Lake Chad is at the lowest elevation. This lake is the life force of the country and is located in the far west, near Nigeria. Along with Arabic, Chad has French as an official language. However, Chad is home to over 100 languages and dialects and over 300 ethnic groups. The Arab group is the second largest ethnic group, following the Sara. Within the Arab population, there are over thirty different dialects. The majority of languages in the south of the country were derived from prehistoric languages that were present in the area.
The long history of human habitation in the area and the thousands of years of migration into it might be one reason as to why Chad is so diverse. Although today the Northern area of the country is covered by the Sahara Desert and is primarily inhabited by few roaming nomads, conditions there were once considered more favorable for human habitation. Scientists have found evidence, in the form of what is considered a possible humanoid-like skull, which dates to 7 million years ago in Chad. They have also found a jaw bone, which confirms humanoid presence in the area around 3 million years ago. There are also cave paintings and carvings that suggest that present-day Chad was home to some of the most developed societies of the Neolithic period. Archaeologists are sure that Chad offers more possibilities for important pre-historic finds, but much of the landmass has yet to be searched for these clues. Outside of archaeological finds, very little else is known about Chad before the development of institutionalized governments, which came about in roughly 900 CE.
Along with language, religion is also very diverse throughout the country and the rise of Islam, while affecting the history of the country, has had a profoundly less significant impact than in most Arabic-speaking countries today. In fact, Islam in Chad tends to be a combination of pre-Islamic and traditional Islamic practices.
Islam was introduced by Arab traders who arrived in the area in about 700 CE, but the true impact of the new religion was not a significant force until about the 11th Century. However, Chad was not one of the initial territories that were captured during the Arab conquests, shortly after the initiation of Islam in the 7th Century. Rather, the earliest forms of government were small sort of states, while in addition there were populations of non-governed peoples. There was constant fighting both within each type of peoples and between each type of peoples.
Prior to the country’s colonization period by the French, there were three main kingdoms in the area: the Kanem-Bornu, the Ouaddai, and the Baguirmi. THe earliest of these kingdoms was the Kanem-Bornu. In the 11th Century the king, or Sayfawa, Hummay converted to Islam. He was the first Chadian ruler to do so, and set a precedent for the importance of Islam to the culture for centuries to come. Due to infighting and threats of war, the kingdom fled and was eventually culturally absorbed by the Kanembu peoples through intermarriage across several decades. However, some of the original kingdom remained, despite this fact and the kingdom officially declined in 1808 when conquered by Fulani warriors. Both the Ouaddai and the Baguirmi kingdoms emerged in the 16th Century. The Baguirmi were an Islamic group, while the Ouaddai were a non-Muslim. These two kingdoms are marked by fighting for control between each other. Eventually, Baguirmi was destroyed by the French in 1893. Ouaddai, on the other hand, was able to resist the threat of French Colonialism late into the 20th Century, although it was greatly weakened by the Sudanese conqueror, Rabah el Zobair.
French Colonialism is one of the key influences that have shaped Chad into the country it is today. The first of the French expeditions into the area were in 1890. Through contracts between the French and other European leaders, the French were supported in their claim to sovereignty over the country. Ten years later, in 1900, the Sudanese conqueror, Rabah was defeated by the French forces and the territory was reconstructed as a colony of the French. The entirety of Chad was never fully under the control of their subjugators, except perhaps in the southern-most portion of the country. Elsewhere, there was an almost complete lack of French presence, and very little procedures or policies throughout the territory. The French would posses the land until 1960, when Chad would become a free nation.
Shortly after World War II, during which Chad sided with the Allies, political parties began to develop with in the country. There were two main groups, the first was a more conservative party headed by nobility of both Muslim families and families descended from the earlier Ouaddia Kingdom. The second party was more progressive and was lead by Francois Tombalbaye, who would become the first President of Chad after liberation from the French.
However, although Tombalbaye was the leader of the progressive party, once in power he sought utilitarian rule and attempted to demoralize the concept of democracy. His aggressive approach to ruling resulted in thousands being taken political prisoners and the deaths of hundreds during protests for reform. In neighboring Sudan, the now infamous group the National Liberation Front of Chad (FROLINAT)was set up. The opposition between the government and the FROLINAT resulted in a civil war. FROLINAT was supported by the Libyans, who supplied the group with arms. This allowed Libya to control sections of Chad, until they were driven out of the country in 1987.
In 1975, Tombalbaye was assassinated in a coup. He was succeeded by another southern politician named General Felix Malloum and his ally Hissene Habre. However, the two soon found each other on opposite sides of the civil war and neighboring African countries stepped in, resulting in failed treaties and a continuation of civil war under newly appointed leaders.
The overthrowing of corrupt government officials and the presence of rebel forces with Chad have both plagued the country for the past several decades. Throughout the 80’s and 90’s, rebel groups interfered with elections. However, in 1996 elections were able to be held and Idriss Deby was returned to office. His first term was after he had overthrown a previous government in 1990. However, there was continued fighting and Deby was once again returned to office in disputed elections in 2001. In 2003, peace accords were signed between the rebels in the north and the government, after peace accords between the two in 2002 failed. Deby was reelected for his third official term in 2006, after an amendment was passed in 2005 allowing presidents to run for more than two terms.
Along with the threat of infighting within the country, Chad also has had disputes with the neighboring country of Sudan, resulting in several clashes between the two countries’ militias. Chad has become a safe haven for refugees, especially those from Darfur as well as those from the Central African Republic. The hostility between the two countries is something that continues to this day, with both sides blaming one another for supporting the rebels in Darfur. There have been several attempted pace treaties between the two that have all failed.
The multitudes of refugees from throughout Africa and the rest of the world have made for a rich culture in Chad. The destruction brought on by civil war and political strife has made for more modern aspects of culture to be less highly regarded than more traditional practices. The most popular forms of music are those that lie in tradition, although the cassette tape and CD have grown in popularity as a means of listening to music. There is very little cinematic developments in the country. In fact, there is only one theater in the entire country, but the first film ever to be made in Chad was in 1999. One of the most popular forms of entertainment for the Chadians is soccer, or football.