Today is Independence Day in Chad, officially the Republic of Chad, marking the end of French colonial rule on this date in 1960. In the past I have not celebrated countries with poor human rights records, but a friend recently challenged this policy saying that (a) a country’s people should not necessarily be held responsible for the actions of its leaders, and (b) anniversaries of this sort are a chance to highlight abuses. So here is Chad.
Chad is a landlocked country in Central Africa. It borders Libya to the north, Sudan to the east, the Central African Republic to the south, Cameroon and Nigeria to the southwest, and Niger to the west. Due to its distance from the sea and its largely desert climate, the country is sometimes referred to as the “Dead Heart of Africa.” The territory now known as Chad possesses some of the richest archaeological sites in Africa. A hominid skull was found by Michel Brunet in 2002 in Borkou that is more than 7 million years old, the oldest discovered anywhere in the world. It has been given the name Sahelanthropus tchadensis. In 1996 Brunet had unearthed a hominid jaw which he named Australopithecus bahrelghazali, and unofficially dubbed Abel. It was dated using beryllium based radiometric dating as living circa. 3.6 million years ago.
During the 7th millennium BCE, the northern half of Chad was part of a broad expanse of land, stretching from the Indus River in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west, in which ecological conditions favored early human settlement. Rock art of the “Round Head” style, found in the Ennedi region, has been dated to before the 7th millennium BCE and, because of the tools with which the rocks were carved and the scenes they depict, may represent the oldest evidence in the Sahara of Neolithic industries. Many of the pottery-making and Neolithic activities in Ennedi date back further than any of those of the Nile Valley to the east. In prehistoric times, Chad was much wetter than it is today, as evidenced by large game animals depicted in rock paintings in the Tibesti and Borkou regions.
Recent linguistic research suggests that all of Africa’s major language groupings south of the Sahara Desert (except Khoisan), i. e. the Afro-Asiatic, Nilo-Saharan and Niger–Congo phyla, originated in prehistoric times in a narrow band between Lake Chad and the Nile Valley. The origins of Chad’s peoples, however, remain unclear. Several of the proven archaeological sites have been only partially studied, and other sites of great potential have yet to be explored.
Toward the end of the 1st millennium CE, the formation of states began across central Chad in the sahelian zone between the desert and the savanna. For almost the next 1,000 years, these states, their relations with each other, and their effects on the peoples who lived in stateless societies along their peripheries dominated Chad’s political history. Recent research suggests that indigenous Africans founded most of these states, not migrating Arabic-speaking groups, as was believed previously. Nonetheless, immigrants, Arabic-speaking or otherwise, played a significant role, along with Islam, in the formation and early evolution of these states.
Most states began as kingdoms, in which the king was considered divine and endowed with temporal and spiritual powers. All states were militaristic (or they did not survive long), but none was able to expand far into southern Chad, where forests and the tsetse fly complicated the use of cavalry. Control over the trans-Saharan trade routes that passed through the region formed the economic basis of these kingdoms. Although many states rose and fell, the most important and durable of the empires were Kanem-Bornu, Baguirmi, and Ouaddai, according to most written sources (mainly court chronicles and writings of Arab traders and travelers).
The Kanem Empire originated in the 9th century CE to the northeast of Lake Chad. Historians agree that the leaders of the new state were ancestors of the Kanembu people. Toward the end of the 11th century the Sayfawa king (or mai, the title of the Sayfawa rulers) Hummay, converted to Islam. In the following century the Sayfawa rulers expanded southward into Kanem, where was to rise their first capital, Njimi. Kanem’s expansion peaked during the long and energetic reign of Mai Dunama Dabbalemi (c. 1221–1259).
By the end of the 14th century, internal struggles and external attacks had torn Kanem apart. Finally, around 1396 the Bulala invaders forced Mai Umar Idrismi to abandon Njimi and move the Kanembu people to Bornu on the western edge of Lake Chad. Over time, the intermarriage of the Kanembu and Bornu peoples created a new people and language, the Kanuri, and founded a new capital, Ngazargamu.
Kanem-Bornu peaked during the reign of Mai Idris Aluma (c. 1571–1603). Aluma is remembered for his military skills, administrative reforms, and Islamic piety. The administrative reforms and military brilliance of Aluma sustained the empire until the mid-17th century, when its power began to fade. By the early 19th century, Kanem-Bornu was clearly an empire in decline, and in 1808 Fulani warriors conquered Ngazargamu. Bornu survived, but the Sayfawa dynasty ended in 1846 and the Empire itself fell in 1893.
In addition to Kanem-Bornu, two other states in the region, Baguirmi and Ouaddai, achieved historical prominence. Baguirmi emerged to the southeast of Kanem-Bornu in the 16th century. Islam was adopted, and the state became a sultanate. Absorbed into Kanem-Bornu, Baguirmi broke free later in the 17th century, only to be returned to tributary status in the mid-18th century. Early in the 19th century, Baguirmi fell into decay and was threatened militarily by the nearby kingdom of Ouaddai. Although Baguirmi resisted, it accepted tributary status in order to obtain help from Ouaddai in putting down internal dissension. When the capital was burned in 1893, the sultan sought and received protectorate status from the French.
Located northeast of Baguirmi, Ouaddai was a non-Muslim kingdom that emerged in the 16th century as an offshoot of the state of Darfur (in present-day Sudan). Early in the 12th century, groups in the region rallied to Abd al-Karim Sabun, who overthrew the ruling Tunjur group, transforming Ouaddai in an Islamic sultanate. During much of the 18th century, Ouaddai resisted reincorporation into Darfur.
In about 1804, under the rule of Sabun, the sultanate began to expand its power. A new trade route north was discovered, and Sabun outfitted royal caravans to take advantage of it. He began minting his own coinage and imported chain mail, firearms, and military advisers from North Africa. Sabun’s successors were less able than he, and Darfur took advantage of a disputed political succession in 1838 to put its own candidate in power. This tactic backfired when Darfur’s choice, Muhammad Sharif, rejected Darfur and asserted his own authority. In doing so, he gained acceptance from Ouaddai’s various factions and went on to become Ouaddai’s ablest ruler. Sharif eventually established Ouaddai’s hegemony over Baguirmi and kingdoms as far away as the Chari River. The Ouaddai opposed French domination until well into the 20th century.
The French first penetrated Chad in 1891, establishing their authority through military expeditions primarily against the Muslim kingdoms. The decisive colonial battle for Chad was fought on April 22, 1900 at the Battle of Kousséri between forces of French Major Amédée-François Lamy and forces of the Sudanese warlord Rabih az-Zubayr. Both leaders were killed in the battle. In 1905, administrative responsibility for Chad was placed under a governor-general stationed at Brazzaville, capital of French Equatorial Africa (AEF). Chad did not have separate colonial status until 1920, when it was placed under a lieutenant-governor stationed in Fort-Lamy (today N’Djamena).
Two fundamental themes dominated Chad’s colonial experience with the French: an absence of policies designed to unify the territory and an exceptionally slow pace of modernization. In the French scale of priorities, the colony of Chad ranked near the bottom, and the French came to perceive Chad primarily as a source of raw cotton and untrained labor to be used in the more productive colonies to the south. Throughout the colonial period, large areas of Chad were not governed effectively: in the huge BET Prefecture, the handful of French military administrators usually left the people alone, and in central Chad, French rule was only slightly more substantive. France managed to govern effectively only the south. During World War II, Chad was the first French colony to rejoin the Allies (August 26, 1940), after the defeat of France by Germany. Under the administration of Félix Éboué (lead photo), France’s first black colonial governor, a military column, commanded by Colonel Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque, and including two battalions of Sara troops, moved north from Fort Lamy to engage Axis forces in Libya, where, in partnership with the British Army’s Long Range Desert Group, they captured Kufra.
After the war ended local parties started to develop in Chad. The first was the radical Chadian Progressive Party (PPT) in February 1947, initially headed by Panamanian born Gabriel Lisette, but from 1959 headed by François Tombalbaye. The more conservative Chadian Democratic Union (UDT) was founded in November 1947 and represented French commercial interests and a bloc of traditional leaders made up primarily of Muslim and Ouaddaïan nobility. The confrontation between the PPT and UDT was more than simply ideological; it represented different regional identities, with the PPT representing the Christian and animist south and the UDT the Islamic north.
The PPT won the May 1957 pre-independence elections thanks to a greatly expanded franchise, and Lisette led the government of the Territorial Assembly until he lost a confidence vote on 11 February 1959. After a referendum on territorial autonomy on 28 September 1958, French Equatorial Africa was dissolved, and its four constituent states – Gabon, Congo (Brazzaville), the Central African Republic, and Chad became autonomous members of the French Community from 28 November 1958. Following Lisette’s fall in February 1959 the opposition leaders Gontchome Sahoulba and Ahmed Koulamallah could not form a stable government, so the PPT was again asked to form an administration – which it did under the leadership of François Tombalbaye on 26 March 1959. On 12 July 1960 France agreed to Chad becoming fully independent. On 11 August 1960, Chad became an independent country and François Tombalbaye became its first President. Since then Chad has been torn apart by coups and attempted coups, civil war, external wars and interventions, insurgencies, brutal repression, civilian massacres, government corruption, and constant abuses of human rights. Nothing much new on the horizon.
Like most cuisines of central Africa, Chadians use a variety of grains, mainly millet sorghum and rice, vegetables, such as okra, tomatoes and cassava, and meats, including goat, mutton, beef and chicken. Fish is the most easily available protein in the region around Lake Chad. Here’s my version of a local goat stew. It’s not easy to find goat in the West. I used to find it frozen (in bony chunks) in an immigrant community in Rockland County, NY. It requires long, slow simmering to be tender, but it is very flavorful.
© Chadian Goat Stew
Over high heat in a deep, heavy skillet sauté, in a little vegetable oil, 1 Kg of goat meat cut in chunks until nicely browned on all sides. Add 3 onions coarsely chopped, 1 clove of garlic minced fine, 1 teaspoon of freshly ground nutmeg, 1 tablespoon of chili powder, 1 (8 ounce) can of tomato paste, salt and pepper to taste, and light stock to cover. Bring slowly to a gentle simmer and cook, covered for 2 hours or longer, until the meat is rags. Add more stock if the stew begins to dry out.
Add ½ cup of smooth peanut butter and stir well to incorporate. Heat through for about 20 minutes. Serve with boiled white rice.