Environmental factors in the northern part of Chadian land encouraged human settlement in the 7th millennium BC, and the area witnessed rapid population growth. Chad is home to some of the most significant African archaeological sites, primarily in the Borkou-Ennedi-Tibesti Region; some date back to before 2000 BC.
The Chadian Basin has been inhabited by agricultural and sedentary populations for about 2,000 years. The area evolved into a crossroads of civilizations. The mythical Sao was the first of them, as shown by artifacts and oral tales. By the end of the first millennium AD, the Sao had fallen to the Kanem Empire, the oldest and longest-lasting of the empires that emerged in Chad’s Sahelian strip. In the 16th and 17th centuries, two additional nations in the area arose: the Baguirmi Empire and the Wadai Empire. Kanem’s and its predecessors’ authority was built on control of the trans-Saharan trade routes that flowed through the area. Except for slave raids, these Muslim nations never extended their authority to the southern plains. Slaves made up about one-third of the population of Kanem.
In 1900, the Territoire Militaire des Pays et Protectorats du Tchad was established as a result of French colonial expansion. By 1920, France had gained complete control of the territory, including it into French Equatorial Africa. French authority in Chad was distinguished by the lack of unification policies and slow modernization in comparison to other French colonies.
The French saw the colony mainly as a source of unskilled labor and raw cotton; France began large-scale cotton production in 1929. Chad’s colonial government was severely understaffed and had to depend on the dregs of the French civil service. Only the Sara of the south was practically controlled; the French presence in the Islamic north and east was just symbolic. This negligence had an impact on the educational system.
Following World War II, France gave Chad the status of foreign territory, granting its people the right to vote in both the French National Parliament and a Chadian assembly. The Chadian Progressive Party (PPT), headquartered in the colony’s southern portion, was the biggest political party. Chad gained independence on August 11, 1960, with the PPT’s leader, a Sara people named François Tombalbaye, serving as the country’s first president.
Tombalbaye outlawed opposition groups and instituted a one-party government two years later. Interethnic hostilities were worsened by Tombalbaye’s authoritarian leadership and callous mismanagement. In 1965, Muslims launched a civil war. In 1975, Tombalbaye was deposed and murdered, but the resistance persisted. In 1979, rebel groups took control of the capital, and all central authority in the nation crumbled. Armed groups vied for control, with many coming from the north’s revolt.
The fragmentation of Chad led France’s position in the nation to crumble. Libya stepped in to fill the power vacuum, becoming embroiled in Chad’s civil war. Libya’s expedition ended in catastrophe in 1987, when the French-backed president, Hissène Habré, elicited a never-before-seen unified reaction from Chadians and drove the Libyan army off Chadian territory.
Habré established his dictatorship via a power structure based on corruption and brutality, with thousands of people murdered during his reign. The president favored his own ethnic group, the Daza, while discriminating against his erstwhile friends, the Zaghawa. In 1990, his general, Idriss Déby, deposed him. Attempts to prosecute Habré resulted in his detention in Senegal in 2005; in 2013, Habré was officially charged with war crimes committed during his reign. He was sentenced to life in jail in May 2016 after being found guilty of human-rights violations including rape, sexual enslavement, and ordering the death of 40,000 people.
Déby tried to bring the rebel factions back together and restore multiparty politics. Chadians adopted a new constitution via a referendum, and Déby comfortably won a contested presidential election in 1996. He was re-elected five years later. Oil extraction started in Chad in 2003, bringing with it expectations that the country would finally be able to enjoy some peace and prosperity. Instead, internal strife intensified, and a new civil war erupted. Déby unilaterally changed the constitution to eliminate the two-term restriction on the president, causing outrage among civil society and opposition parties.
Déby gained a third term in 2006 in elections that the opposition boycotted. Ethnic violence has risen in eastern Chad, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has warned that a genocide similar to that in Darfur may occur in Chad. Rebel troops tried to seize the capital by force in 2006 and 2008, but failed both times. The signing of an agreement for the restoration of peace between Chad and Sudan on January 15, 2010, marked the end of a five-year conflict. The improved ties resulted in the repatriation of Chadian rebels from Sudan, the reopening of the two nations’ border after seven years of closure, and the deployment of a combined force to guard the border. Chadian security forces thwarted a coup against President Idriss Deby in May 2013, which had been planned for many months.
Former Senegalese monarch Hissène Habré was condemned to life in prison in 2016 for crimes against humanity.