Know Chad

Officially the Republic of Chad, Chad is bordered by Sudan to the east, the Central African Republic to the south, Cameroon and Nigeria to the southwest, Niger to the west, and Libya to the north. It is landlocked and is in central Africa. It is often referred to as the “Dead Heart of Africa” due to its distance from the sea and desert climate.

Chad has three geographical regions. These are the northern desert, the Sahelian belt in the center, and the fertile southern Sudanese savanna zone. Lake Chad is the second largest in Africa and the largest in Chad. Emi Koussi is the highest peak. N’Djamena is the largest city and was known as Fort-Lamy. 200 ethnic groups reside in the country and Arabic and French are the national languages. The most heavily practiced religions are Christianity and Islam.

Humans moved into the region in the 7th millennium BC. A series of empires rose and fell in Chad’s Sahelian strip by the end of the 1st millennium BC. Each had focused on controlling trade routes across the Sahara. In 1920 the French conquered the area and include it in its French Equatorial Africa colony.

Chad earned independence in 1960 under Francois Tombalbaya’s leadership. Muslims in the north resented his policies and a civil war began in 1965. The rebels conquered Chad’s capital in 1979. Infighting amongst the rebel commanders ended when Hissene Habre defeated his rivals. In 1990 Idriss Deby overthrew him. Sudan’s Darfur crisis has impacted Chad and destabilized it with hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees living in the country.

There are political parties but President Deby and his party, the Patriotic Salvation Movement, control the country. Political violence and attempted coups plague Chad.

Chad is one of the world’s poorest and most corrupt countries. Most of its people are subsistence herders and farmers. Oil production has been the country’s primary export since 2003.


Ecological conditions in northern Chad in the 7th millennium BC favored settlement, resulting in a population increase. Some of Africa’s most important archaeological sites, mainly in Borkou-Ennedi-Tibesti Region, are in Chad.

The Chadian Basin has been inhabited for more than 2,000 years by agricultural peoples. It became a crossroads of civilization. The Sao were the first, known for their artifacts and oral history. The Kanem Empire overthrew the Sao and became the first of the empires in Chad’s Sahelian strip. The Kanem and its successor kingdoms based on the control of the Saharan trade routes passing through the area. The kingdoms did not expand their borders to southern areas except to raid for slaves.

On April 22, 1900, France defeated Rabih az-Zubayr at the Battle of Kousseri, opening up Chad to colonization. By 1920, Chad had been incorporated into French Equatorial Africa. France’s failed to implement unification policies. In France’s view, the colony was a source of raw cotton and labor. Administration was understaffed. The southern part of the colony was well governed. The educational system suffered under French control.

France granted Chad overseas territory status after World War II and allowed its people to elect representatives. The Chadian Progressive Party was the largest and was based in the south. On August 11, 1960, Chad earned independence. The first president was Francois Tombalbaye, the PPT’s leader.

After two years, opposition parties were banned and Tombalbaya established a one-party system. This exacerbated ethnic tensions. Muslims began a civil war in 1965. In 1975, they overthrew and killed Tombalbaye, but the rebellion continued. In 1979, the capital was conquered and all government authority collapsed. The rebel forces then contended for power.

France’s position collapsed with Chad’s governments. Libya moved in and was involved in the civil war. In 1987, the president, Hissene Habre, united the country and removed the Libyans from Chad.

Habre relied on corruption and violence to consolidate his power. 40,000 were estimated killed during his rule. Habre favored his own ethnic group and discriminated against others. Idriss Deby, a general, overthrew him in 1990.

Deby attempted to reintroduce multiple parties. A new constitution was approved and 1996 Deby won election. Five years later he won a second term. In 2003, oil exploration began. Dissent then worsened, leading to a new civil war. Deby removed the two term limit which caused uproar in the opposition. In eastern Chad, ethnic violence has increased. The U.N. has warned that genocide, like that seen in Sudan, is possible. In 2006 and again in 2008, rebels attempted to take the capital, but were repulsed both times.

Politics and Government

Chad has a strong executive branch. The president dominates the political system, with the power to appoint the Prime Minister and the cabinet. The president also has influence over judicial appointments and selection of generals, provincial officials and heads of para-state firms. The president may also declare a state of emergency in consultation with the National Assembly. The president serves a five year term and is elected by popular vote. Constitutional term limits were removed in 2005.

The removal of term limits allows a president to stay in power beyond two terms. Deby’s key advisors are mostly from the Zaghawa ethnic group.

Chad’s legal system derives from French civil law. While the constitution sets forth judicial independence, judicial officials are appointed by the president. Since 2000, the highest jurisdictions, the Supreme Court and Constitutional Council, have been operational. The president appoints the chief justice and the 15 Supreme Court councilors. The National Assembly also appoints the councilors. Nine judges head the constitutional court and serve nine year terms. It reviews international agreements, treaties, and legislation. The National Assembly consists of 155 members elected to four year terms. The Assembly’s sessions occur twice a year but the prime minister can hold special sessions. Every two years, deputies elect a National Assembly president every two years. When a law is passed, the president has 15 days to sign or reject it. The National Assembly’s vote of no confidence can force a prime minister to resign. The president has the power to disband the National Assembly if it rejects the executive’s plan of government twice in one year. The president’s party, the Patriotic Salvation Movement, holds a large majority.

Deby’s MPS was the sole political party until opposition parties were legalized in 1992. There are now 78 active political parties. When Deby ran for a third term, human rights organizations and the opposition parties boycotted the elections. There were reports of irregularities in the process. According to correspondents, the 2006 elections were merely a formality.

Armed groups in opposition to Deby exist and are united in their desire to overthrow him. Rebels attacked the capital in 2006, but the government repelled them. France still maintains 1,000 troops in Chad. These troops helped Deby repulse the attacks and provide the army with training and intelligence. When oil rights were granted to Exxon in 1999, Franco-Chadian relations cooled.

The dispersed population and reluctance of parents to send children to school are problems for the education system. Only 68 percent of boys attend school despite education being compulsory. More than half the population is illiterate. The University of N’Djamena provides higher education.

Since 2001, a humanitarian crisis has existed. Chad has over 280,000 Sudanese refugees, 55,000 from the Central African Republic and 170,000 internally displaced people.

After the battle of N’Djamena in February 2008, the U.N. expressed concern the conflict would affect the ability of aid to be delivered.

Religions and Departments

Chad has 22 regions as of 2008. Each is headed by a governor. 61 departments are headed by prefects. Departments are further divided into 200 sub-prefectures. They are further subdivided into 446 cantons. Once the legal and regulatory structure is complete, the cantons will be replaced by communautes rurales. Local assemblies are to be elected, but these have never occurred.

Chad’s regions are Bahr el Gazel, Batha, Borou, Chari-Baguirmi, Ennedi, Guera, Hadjer-Lamis, Kanem, Lac, Logone Occidental, Logone Oriental, Mandoul, Mayo-Kebbi Est, Mayo-Kebbi Ouest, Moyen-Chari, Ouaddai, Salamat, Sila, Tandjile, Tibesti, Wadi Fira, and N’Djamena.


Chad is the 21st largest country in the world at 1,284,000 sq. km (496,000 sq. mi.).It is slightly larger than South Africa. Countries bordering Chad are Sudan to the east, Niger, Nigeria, and Cameroon to the west, the Central African Republic to the south, and Libya to the north. The capital is 1,060 km from the nearest seaport. Due to its isolation from the sea and the desert climate, the country is referred to as the “Dead Heart of Africa.”

Due to the colonial history, Chad’s borders do not fit with natural boundaries. The dominant physical feature is a wide basin bounded by mountain ranges. The country is named after Lake Chad.

It covers 17,806 sq. km. and has heavy seasonal fluctuations. It is Africa’s second largest lake. The highest point in Chad is Emi Koussi, a volcano in the Tibesti Mountains, which is 3,414 meters above sea level.

Birds, reptiles, and mammals thrive in the regions grasslands. Chad’s major rivers are the Chari and Logone.


The intertropical front crosses Chad yearly bringing with it a wet season from May to October in the south and from June to September in the Sahel. There are three main geographical zones. In the northern third, the Sahara receives under 50 mm of rainfall. This changes to the Sahelian belt in the country’s center. There is more rainfall in this area. Next is the Sudanese zone, with the most average rainfall.

Chad is a member of the Customs and Economic Union of Central Africa, the Bank of Central African States, and the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa. The CFA franc is the nation’s currency. Investors have been scared off by the civil war and have only recently begun to return. In 2000, investment in oil production began.

80 percent of the population relies on subsistence livestock and farming to survive. Local climate determines the crops that are grown. The most fertile land is in the south. Sorghum and millet are grown in this area. In the Sahel only the hardy millet varieties grow and at much lower yields. The Sahel does have great pastureland for commercial animal herds.

Prior to oil development, cotton dominated the export earnings of Chad. It remains a major export, but figures are no longer available. The major cotton company has been rehabilitated through financing from France, the Netherlands, the E.U. and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

A consortium that has invested 3.7 billion in oil development is led by ExxonMobil and includes Chevron and Petronas. The country has an estimated one billion barrels in oil reserves. A pipeline was completed in 2003 linking southern fields with Atlantic coast terminals in Cameroon. The World Bank required 80 percent of oil revenue be used for development projects in order to secure its assistance. When the government reduced this amount, the World Bank suspended its aid program. A memorandum of understanding was signed on July 14, 2006 where the government agreed to spend 70 percent on poverty reduction.

Transportation development was crippled by the civil war. There were only 30 km of paved roads in 1987. For several months out of the year, roads are still unusable. Chad has no railways, so it depends on Cameroon’s rail system for its imports and exports.

The capital has an international airport that regularly provides flights to African cities and Paris. There is an expensive telecommunications system. The state telephone company is SotelTChad. It has one of the lowest telephone rates in the world. Mismanagement has caused the electrical system to suffer. Chad Water and Electric Society provides power for 15 percent of the capital and 1.5 percent of the national population. The cities face serious difficulties and only 48 percent of resident have potable water access and 2 percent have basic sanitation.

The capital, N’Djamena, is the main television audience. The state-owned TeleTchad is the only television stations. There are 13 private radio stations. Newspapers are limited with small circulations. The constitution defends expression, but the government has not respected this right.


Chad’s has an estimated 15,664,409 population as of 2019. There is a young population with 47.3 percent under 15. The mortality rate is 16.69 and there are 42.35 births per 1,000 people. There is a 47.2 year life expectancy.

There is not an even distribution of population with density of .1/ sq. km. in the Saharan Borkou-Ennedi-Tibesti area and 54/ sq. km. in the Logone Occidental Region. It is higher in the capital. The southern fifth of the country houses half the nation’s population.

Most of the capital’s population engages in commerce. The other towns, Sarh, Moundou, Doba, and Abeche, are growing and becoming an important economic force.

39 percent of women live in polygamy, which is legally permissible. Domestic violence is common despite it being against the law. While prohibited, female genital mutilation is practiced widely, with 45 percent of women in the country undergoing the procedure. Certain ethnic groups have higher rates, such as Arabs, Hadjarai, and Ouaddaians. While the laws do not discriminate against women, local leaders favor men in inheritance cases.

With 200 ethnic groups, Chad has a diverse population. While the government has tried to establish national authority, local governments are the most important influences. The main ethnic group, the Sara, live in the south. Sedentary groups live with nomadic ones in the Sahel. Nomads inhabit the north. French and Arabic are the official languages, but there are over 100 others spoken.


In 1993, 54 percent of the country was Muslim, 20 percent Roman Catholic, 14 percent Protestant, 10 percent animist, and 3 percent atheist. Most of the religions have diverse practices, many that have come from animist beliefs. Muslims live primarily in the north and the Christians live primarily in the south. Religious freedom is guaranteed in the constitution and generally all faiths co-exist.

Most Muslims in Chad are part of Tijaniyah, which uses some elements of traditional beliefs. There are some strict Muslim fundamentalists.

Most Christians are Roman Catholic and Protestants are affiliated with evangelical groups. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Baha’i are also in the country but were introduced after independence.


Six national holidays are observed in Chad. Christian and Muslim holidays are observed.

Music in Chad is played on instruments like the kinde, a bow harp, and the kakaki, a tin horn. Other stringed instruments are also used. Some groups prefer their own instruments. The Sara prefer whistles and harps and the Kanembu use flute like instruments and drums.

Chari Jazz, a music group was formed in 1964. It started the countries musical scene. Other groups like the African Melody and International Challal mix musical tradition. Chadians have usually disliked modern music. This has changed since 1995 and the distribution of CD’s and audio cassettes. Piracy is a problem in the country.

The main staple food is millet and it is used to make balls that are dipped in sauces. A dish known as alysh is popular in the north and in the south, biya is a large part of the cuisine. Fish is also popular and is typically smoked in different forms. A sweet drink, carcaje is popular and extracted from hibiscus leaves. In the south, people drink millet beer.

Chad’s literature has suffered due to the country’s problems. Authors have had to write from exile and typically wrote on themes of oppression. Joseph Brahim Seid, Baba Moustapha, Antoine Bangui, and Koulsy Lamko are well known authors. Ahmat Taboya, the country’s sold literary critic, published a literature anthology to further international recognition of Chad’s writers.

Civil war hindered the Chadian film industry’s development. There is only one theater in the whole country. In 1999, the first Chadian film, Bye Bye Africa, was made by Mahamat Saleh Haroun. His later films were praised and one, Daratt, won the Grand Special Jury Prize at the the 63rd Venice Film Festival.

Football is the most popular sport. There is a national team with a following and many players have played for French teams. Wrestling, in traditional forms, and basketball are also popular.

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