The region has been known to traders and geographers since the late Middle Ages. Since then, Chad has served as a crossroads for the Muslim peoples of the desert and sahelian regions, and the animist African tribes of the savanna regions to the south. While the former developed coherent political entities that became the powerful kingdoms of Kanem-Bornu, Baguirmi, and Ouaddai, controlling much of northern and central Chad as well as parts of Nigeria and Sudan, the southern regions were much less politically developed and remained splintered into small, local, tribal chiefdoms. Contact between the two regions was dominated by regular raids conducted by Muslims into the non-Muslim south to secure slaves for their own use and for trade into North Africa and the Middle East.
The French first entered Chad in 1891, establishing their authority through military expeditions that reduced the politically backward south and by defeating the armies of the northern and central Muslim kingdoms, culminating in decisive victory over the powerful kingdom of Baguirmi in the battle of Kousseri (today in Cameroon). The French did not consider the territory pacified until 1911; armed clashes between French forces and local resistance fighters continued for years thereafter.
France ruled southern Chad ("le Tchad Utile," or Useful Chad) as a typical colony with civil administration, basic education, urbanization of major centers, and missionary activity, while exploiting the region’s agricultural potential. The French ruled northern and central Chad ("le Tchad des Sultans," or Chad of the Sultans) differently, confining the colonial footprint to a few military garrisons and relying on traditional tribal and religious leaders to administer the local populations in time-tried ways. The French made Chad, along with what are today Gabon, the Central African Republic, and the Republic of the Congo, part of a colonial federation called French Equatorial Africa, under a governor-general resident at Brazzaville in what is now the Republic of the Congo.
In 1959, the territory of French Equatorial Africa was dissolved, and its four constituent states--Gabon, the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, and Chad--became autonomous members of the French Community. In August 1960 Chad became an independent nation under its first president, Francois Tombalbaye, a southerner.
Tombalbaye's authoritarianism and distrust of democracy led him in 1962 to ban all political parties except his own Chadian Progressive Party (PPT) and to attempt to concentrate all power in his own hands. His treatment of opponents, real or imagined, was extremely harsh, filling the prisons with thousands of political prisoners. His discrimination against the mostly Muslim central and northern regions and his attempt to impose his own ethnic group’s customs on other tribes in Chad resulted in a tax revolt in 1965 that precipitated civil war with northern and central militants taking up arms to oust Tombalbaye and end the South’s political dominance.
Despite the help of French combat forces, the Tombalbaye government was never able to quell the insurgency. Tombalbaye's rule became more irrational and brutal, leading the military to carry out a coup in 1975, assassinating Tombalbaye and installing General Felix Malloum, another southerner, as head of state. In 1978, Malloum's government was broadened to include more northerners. Internal dissent within the government led the northern prime minister, Hissein Habre, to send his fighters against the national army in the capital in 1979, reigniting the civil war.
Nigeria and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) attempted to bring the Chadian factions together. In August 1979, the Lagos accord established a transitional government pending national elections planned within 18 months. Goukouni Oueddei, a northerner, was named President; Colonel Kamougue, a southerner, Vice President; and Habre, Minister of Defense. Early in 1980, however, the accord broke down and fighting broke out again between Goukouni's and Habre's partisans. With assistance from Libya (which asserted a claim to the northern Chadian territory called the Aouzou Strip), Goukouni regained control of the capital and other urban centers and Habre retreated into Sudan. Goukouni’s policy of political union of Chad and Libya, however, was unpopular and generated support for Habre, whose forces took N'Djamena in June 1981. He proclaimed himself President. French troops and an OAU peacekeeping force of 3,500 Nigerian, Senegalese, and Zairian troops remained neutral during the conflict.
Habre continued to face armed opposition on various fronts and brutally repressed opposition to his rule. In 1983, Goukouni’s forces launched an offensive against the Habre government’s positions in northern and eastern Chad with Libyan military support. This provoked French and Zairian forces to intervene to support Habre, pushing Goukouni’s and Libyan forces northward. In 1984, the French and Libyan Governments announced the mutual withdrawal of their forces from Chad. The French and Zairian troops withdrew, but Libyan forces backing Goukouni continued to occupy northern Chad.
Habre defeated southern rebel groups and began a process of national reconciliation with former armed enemies and regime opponents. In 1986, Habre’s forces, with French and U.S. financial and logistical support, attacked and decisively defeated the Libyans and Goukouni’s forces in northern Chad in what was known as the Toyota War, from Habre’s desert warriors’ preference for using light trucks and desert-warfare tactics in overcoming the more numerous and better-armed and -equipped enemy. With Libyan forces expelled from nearly all of Chadian territory, a cease-fire was declared in 1987 and Chad and Libya restored normal relations in 1989. In 1994 the International Court of Justice confirmed Chadian sovereignty over the Aouzou Strip, effectively ending residual Libyan occupation of parts of Chad.
Habre’s increasingly authoritarian rule and perceived favoritism of his own Gorane ethnic group weakened the coalition of northern and central groups on which he depended for support. In 1989, Idriss Deby, one of Habre's leading generals and a Zaghawa, defected and fled to Darfur in Sudan, from which he mounted a Zaghawa-supported series of attacks on the Habre regime. In December 1990, with Libyan and Sudanese assistance, Deby's forces successfully marched on N'Djamena, causing Habre to flee the country. Deby's Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS) approved a national charter on February 28, 1991, with Deby as president.
During the 1990s and into the new century, Deby ruled in an authoritarian fashion, although proclaiming a desire for a democratic transition while surviving frequent coup and assassination attempts. He promulgated a new constitution in 1996, legalized political parties in 1992, and held an inclusive “National Conference” in 1993 aimed at political and electoral reform leading to a pluralist democratic regime.
In 1996, Deby won the country's first multi-party presidential election, defeating General Kamougue. In 1997, Deby’s MPS party won 63 of 125 seats in legislative elections. International observers noted numerous serious irregularities in both electoral events. In 2001, Deby won reelection in a flawed contest, gaining 63% of the votes. In 2002, the MPS was successful in similarly flawed legislative elections.
In 2004, the National Assembly voted to amend the constitution to abolish presidential term limits; the amendment was approved in a 2005 national referendum. In 2006, Deby was elected to his third 5-year presidential term with 78% of the vote.
As a result, opposition parties boycotted the 2006 National Assembly elections, precipitating a political crisis. The government responded by signing an agreement with the opposition coalition for a program of political and electoral reforms aimed at credible national legislative, municipal, and presidential elections, codified in an August 13, 2007 accord. The accord also extended the mandate of the 2002 Assembly until such time as the reforms were achieved and the elections held.
Dissatisfaction with Deby’s long rule among many ethnic groups, including subsets of Deby’s own Zaghawa ethnic group, and tensions between Chad and Sudan caused by the Darfur crisis led in 2004 to the creation of a renewed and serious rebel threat: several newly-formed Chadian rebel groups found refuge in Sudan and support from the Sudanese Government, enabling them to mount frequent armed attacks into Chad, with the intention of violently toppling the Deby regime. Deby’s situation was complicated by the influx of 300,000 Darfuri refugees into Chad and the displacement of 200,000 Chadians in eastern Chad. The Governments of Chad and Sudan soon became involved in a deadly proxy war, with the Government of Chad supporting Sudanese rebels committed to regime change in Khartoum and the Government of Sudan supporting Chadian rebels with the same goal vis-a-vis Chad. Sudanese rebels reached the Chadian capital twice, in 2006 and 2008, nearly overrunning the city in the latter instance, before being repulsed by government forces.
In 2008-2009, after the Chadian Army had defeated three major rebel attacks, and the Sudanese Army repulsed a rebel attack that reached the suburbs of Khartoum, international pressure for the normalization of Chad-Sudan relations intensified. Several Chad-Sudan agreements brokered by third parties had failed from 2006 to 2008, following which N’Djamena and Khartoum moved to resolve their differences bilaterally. This resulted in January 2010 in a Chad-Sudan peace accord, according to which the sides agreed to end the proxy war by breaking with rebel clients, normalize relations, and secure their border through joint military cooperation. President Deby publicly renounced past support for Sudanese rebels, a key Sudanese and international demand, and committed Chad to assist international efforts to resolve the Darfur crisis through peaceful negotiation.
The humanitarian effort to assist refugees and displaced persons in eastern Chad led to the deployment of two international peacekeeping operations, a European one from 2007-2008, and a UN one called MINURCAT, beginning in 2008. In 2010, the Government of Chad declined to agree to a renewal of MINURCAT's mandate, claiming that the project had been ineffective and proposing to provide better security with its own resources. MINURCAT ceased operations in December 2010. Chad provides security in and around refugee camps and to humanitarian personnel providing assistance through the Detachement Integre de Securite (DIS), a Chadian national police force created by the Chadian Government expressly for this purpose.
The August 13, 2007 accord on political and electoral reforms continues to be implemented. The accord has been facilitated through technical and political support from the European Union (EU), the U.S., France, Germany, the African Union (AU), and Switzerland, and they and the UN actively support the electoral process. In February 2011, Chad held legislative elections. Approximately 56% of the electorate voted, and the election was conducted without major incidents or any violence. On February 27, Chad’s electoral commission announced that the ruling MPS and its allies had won 133 of 188 National Assembly seats. Opposition leaders alleged that fraud and irregularities invalidated the elections, but Chad’s Constitutional Court did not nullify the results. International observers noted the lack of election preparation and some irregularities, but did not consider the government to have engaged in fraud.
Chad held presidential elections in April 2011. President Deby won easily, with approximately 88% of the vote, although turnout appeared low to international observers. Leading opposition figures boycotted the presidential elections due to concerns that deficiencies in the legislative elections had not been corrected. Municipal elections were scheduled for January 2012.
Reference: US State Department - updated January 6, 2012