A Brief History of Chad: Tombalbaye, Habre & Goukouni


The modern day nation of Chad was colonized by France during the early part of the twentieth century. Prior to French colonization, the northerners, mostly Muslims dominated Chad. However, after colonization the French encouraged the cultivation of cotton in the southern part of the country. The increase in commercial agriculture in the South gave that region changed the power dynamic between the North and the South. However, the Africans were never content with colonial rule.

In 1947, Gabriel Lisette formed the Chadian Progressive Party (PPT) but he was replaced by Francois Tombalbaye as the leader of the party in 1959. Francois Tombalbaye later became the first President of Chad. Tombalbaye was born on June 15, 1918 in the village of Bessada, Moyen-Chari Prefecture in the southern region of the French colony of Chad, close to the city of Koumara. He studied to become a teacher in the Republic of Congo’s capital of Brazzaville because they were no schools he could access in his own country.

After independence he eliminated opposition in his party and outside his party and banned all other political parties. In 1963, Tombalbaye dissolved the National Assembly. However, he began a nationalization/ Africanization program designed to empower the Africans and to move away from dependence on France. Tombalbaye’s Africanization program failed to account for the large population in the north and center of the country, who were Muslim and viewed his leadership with suspicion and merely as a shift of control from French colonials to the south. On November 1, 1965, riots in Guéra Prefecture led to 500 deaths.

Francois Tombalbaye

A new movement led to the formation of new groups such as the FROLINAT, or ‘Chad National Liberation Front’, based in Sudan. In order to resist the FROLINAT, Tombalbaye sought help from the French in 1968 and 1969. He was also able to resist an attack by the FROLINAT in 1972. In elections in 1969, several hundred political prisoners were released from prison, and in 1971, Tombalbaye admitted to the Congress of the PPT that he had made mistakes and was willing to reform.

He continued with his quest for Africanization, and Tombalbaye disbanded the PPT, replacing it with the National Movement for the Cultural and Social Revolution (MNRCS). He renamed towns and banned Christian names, and expelled missionaries. The capital of Fort-Lamy was renamed N’Djamena and Tombalbaye changed his name from François to Ngarta.

On April 13, 1975, a group of soldiers killed Tombalbaye and buried his body in Faya. The military installed Félix Malloum, by then a General, as the new head of state.

Malloum’s leadership was immediately besieged by problems because he guaranteed foreign investments and prohibited political activity. During his tenure, Libya continued to back FROLINAT which attempted to assassinate Malloum several times. France meddled again by arranging a coalition government in which Malloum would be head of state and Hissene Habre would be Prime Minister. But the union was short-lived and fighting broke out between the two factions because Malloum was seen as representing the Christian south and Habre as representing the Muslim north. Malloum resigned from the presidency on March 23, 1979 after signing the Kano Peace Agreement which allowed the rebels to form a provisional government.

Goukouni Oueddi

As soon as Goukouni Oueddi became, he began fighting Habre. The rivalry between Goukouni and Habré limited the government’s effectiveness and contributed to the perception of Goukouni as an indecisive puppet of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. In a last-ditch attempt to salvage his struggling government, Goukouni appointed Djidingar Dono Ngardoum as prime minister on 19 May 1982. The GUNT (Government of National Unity) was, however, overthrown by Habré loyalists on 7 June 1982. Goukouni fled from N’Djamena across the Chari River into Cameroon; he subsequently went into exile in Tripoli, Libya.

In 1982, Habre declared himself head of state after taking over the capital, N’Djamena.


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