History & Politics

North and South

The fertile area around Lake Chad has been inhabited for thousands of years.

A powerful kingdom

From the 9th century, groups of Berbers banded together into a tribal confederation known as the Kanem-Bornu Kingdom (see map below). This powerful kingdom was converted to Islam from around the 11th century. But over the next centuries, there was frequent rivalry and fighting between the sultanates and chiefdoms of the region.

Kanem-Bornu kingdom, by ArnoldPlaton (Own work, svg version of Afrika-Kanem-Bornu.png) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

By around the 8th century, the development of agriculture brought settled communities. However, in the drier north and east people often remained nomadic or semi-nomadic, moving across wide areas to graze their livestock.

Across the north (and in North Africa as a whole) the peoples became known as the Berbers (from the Greek for ‘barbarian’).

Southern Chad became home to various ethnic groups. The largest group in this region was the Sara – see People & Culture. Southerners were often victims of slave raids made by northern Muslim groups (Muslims are prohibited from taking other Muslims as slaves). This caused great resentment.

The French takeover

The French arrived in the region at the end of the 19th century. Southern groups such as the Sara welcomed them, because the French brought an end to the slave raids from the north.

By 1913, the French had completed their conquest of the region, which became a colony of French Equatorial Africa. Under French colonial rule, the south received the most attention. Cotton-growing was introduced here and many people converted to Christianity. Northern regions were generally neglected and their representatives excluded from power. Nevertheless it was the people of the south who were the first to demand independence, which was granted in 1960.

Fighting after independence

Neighbour disputes

During the Gaddafi era, Libya took a great interest in Chad; at one stage, Libya annexed a strip of northern Chad. It took a unified Chadian offensive in 1987, with French and US assistance, to force Libya out of the country. Chad has also suffered from a long running dispute with its eastern neighbour, Sudan. Thousands of Sudanese have fled to Chad to escape fighting in the Darfur region of western Sudan.

In the first decade after independence, northerners were mostly excluded from national politics. Rebellion movements formed in the north, notably the National Liberation Front (FROLINAT).

Civil wars occurred in the 1970s and 1980s. During 1982-1990, a northern-dominated government created terror in the south, under the leadership of Hissen Habré. He was overthrown in 1990 by Idriss Déby, whose party won parliamentary elections the following year.

Surviving many attempts to overthrow his government, President Déby remains in office today.