November 10, 2010 § 7 Comments


Note this piece is now out of date in some respects. The original content is included for reference but make sure you check the updated sections in italics for the most up-to-date information.

Who lives there?: About ten million people. All of Chad is very very dry and barely habitable but it gets slightly damper – and thus more populous – the further north you get. About 50% are Muslim, the other 50% are a largely Christian mix. The further north you go the more Muslim it gets.

There has been an attempt to categorise Chadians (along with the population of neighbouring countries) into two groups: Arab nomadic Muslims, and African Christian or Animist farmers. Whilst there is a kernel of truth to this it understates the complexity of the 200+ ethnic groups and 100+ languages spoken, and ignores the fact that many Chadians do not neatly fall into just one of those two categories.

How does the system work? (the theory): Almost all power, executive or otherwise, is invested in the President.  The President is elected by first past the post with a runoff if required for a five year term. There was a two term limit but it has just been scrapped.

The National Assembly is the unicameral Parliament. 155 seats are elected of which 25 are elected through runoff FPTP in single member constituencies and 130 are elected in 34 multi-member constituencies. In the multi member constituencies a party winning 50% of the vote wins all the seats. If no party does so then seats are allocated by highest average PR (I assume d’Hondt)

UPDATE This is now not the case. I now know more about Chad’s parliamentary elections than I ever wanted to. I’ve written an article for Think Africa Press about it. In gist it is now entirely multi-member with 71 constituencies electing between 2 and 7 MPs. More than 50% of the vote wins all the seats, the rest is done under Highest Remainder PR with Hare Quotas.

Whilst Chad is divided into prefectures and municipalities local government is fairly meaningless as all officials are appointed by the President, even at the very lowest levels. However in practice the traditional chief is in power in many prefectures and municipalities.

How does the system work? (the practice): Elections in Chad are not free or fair. The president holds all the power and was elected in polls which were widely derided and boycotted by many of the opposition parties. Turnout was officially reported as 53% but there were suggestions that it was actually much lower – dipping below 10% in many areas. Legislative elections were last held in 2002 and have been due since 2006. They have been delayed on various pretexts and are now tentatively expected in February of 2011.

All told, coups seem to have proven a far more popular method of expressing dissatisfaction with the government. The traditional (and usually ineffective) method of deposing the leader being to attack the parliament building with around 300 soldiers. There have been at least four such “battles of N’Djamena” as well as numerous other coups. Parts of Chad are in the grip of an active civil war which has been going on and off since 1965 and very much on since 2005.

Various parts of the country have been overrun by the civil wars of the Central African Republic, Sudan, Congo and Uganda and other areas are caught up in the partly-frozen conflicts with Sudan, Congo and Libya.

UPDATE having looked into the matter I now have my own views on vote rigging in Chad. (Think Africa link)

How did we get here?: Chad has some of the oldest and most important archaeological sites in Africa – some dating back to the 7th millennium BC. Various civilizations came and went but by 1900 the area was under the control of a warlord known as Rabih az-Zubayr. He angered the French and, after a lengthy campaign, his head ended up on a French bayonet and Chad became a French colony.

France introduced large scale cotton production but it wasn’t a huge success and, along with the rest of French south west Africa, the French were happy to see Chad go independent by 1960. Such little development as there was in the country under French rule had been concentrated in the south and so it was small wonder that Chad’s first leaders came from the south, or that they introduced a one party state to ensure the south stayed firmly in charge.

The inevitable result was a civil war with the Muslim north. This started in 1965 and raged until 1979 when Muslim forces sacked the capital. Libya entered the resultant power vacuum in the hope of seizing the north of the country. This led to the “Toyota wars” in which, with French assistance, the tiny and lightly armed Chadian army unified around the leadership of Hissène Habré and thrashed the much larger Libyan army.

A great General, in peacetime Habré proved to be a horrific leader – executing up to 40,000 people and favouring only his tiny Daza ethnic group. There was general delight when he was overthrown by his General Idriss Déby in 1990. Déby started out as a reformer: introducing multi-party elections and winning presidential elections which were initially quite competitive. However as his rule has continued it has become more authoritarian and his opponents (primarily southerners – Déby is a Muslim from the north) have increasingly taken up arms against him. Déby accuses Sudan of backing the rebels; Sudan counter-accuses Déby of backing rebels in northern Sudan and the countries have gone to war over the issue more than once.

Who’s in charge?: The naming of political parties in Chad is a little confusing: it’s all a bit “Judean People’s front”. Déby and his northern based Patriotic Salvation Movement have an iron grip on the government. His only real democratic challenger is the southern based National Rally for Development and Progress of Delwa Kassiré Koumakoye. Koumakoye is a former judge who rose to fame by sentencing former President Habré to death (Habré was, and remains, in Senegal so the sentence was not carried out). In the last presidential election in 2006 Déby beat Koumakoye by 65% to 15% and then, as a consolation prize, made him Prime Minister.

However they soon fell out and Emmanuel Nadingar is now Prime Minister. Another southerner, he merged his own political party into the Patriotic Salvation Movement when he was offered the job of PM.

The parliament elected in 2002 still functions after a fashion. The Patriotic Salvation Movement has 113 of the seats, all the other parties belong to the opposition umbrella group: the Coordination of Political Parties for the Defense of the Constitution (CPDC).

Two parties have ten seats: the  Rally for Democracy and Progress is the northern based party of a man (Lol Mahamat Choua) who was briefly President in the chaos of 1979. Whilst advocating a pro-northerner line not dissimilar to Déby, Déby has had Choua under house arrest for the last two years. The other party is the “Federation, Action for the Republic” which advocates a federal state with regional autonomy to satisfy the conflicting demands of north and south. They are considered a “radical” opposition party in that they refuse to have any dealings with Déby – as such their leadership are often arrested and tortured.

Small parties have 22 seats between them. Koumakoye’s National Rally for Development and Progress has 5 seats, as do the National Union for Democracy and Renewal, another southern party which has joined the Déby government on occasions in the past but is not currently doing so. They may or may not have links to the rebel groups.

Then we get into the really tiny parties: the Union for Renewal and Democracy (a local party based around Wadel Abdelkader Kamougué: an interesting figure, both a southerner and the leader of the 1975 northern coup; both a former government minister and a former rebel leader) have 3 seats, the Chadian Action for Unity and Socialism (a communist party allied to the Federation party) have 1 seat, the National Rally for Democracy in Chad (a moderate opposition party willing to work with Déby) have 1 seat. Seven other parties have one seat each. Each have names which contain words like “national”, “renewal”, “rally”, “democracy”, “development”, and “progress” in various orders which makes it almost impossible to tell them apart or find out what they stand for.

chad parties

Anyway so much for the government – there is an ongoing civil war and much of the country is in the hands of various southern rebel groups and coalitions of rebel groups. Helpfully they have names such as the Union  of Forces for Democracy and Development, the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development – Fundamental, the Rally of Democratic Forces, and the United Front for Democratic Change. This helps to distinguish them from groups that want democratic change. FFS.

Many of the rebel groups also have political parties but are currently boycotting elections.

UPDATE Parliamentary elections were finally held in February. Here are the detailed results:

Party Seats Allies Seats Total








URD 8 8
RNDT 6 RNDT Le Reveil 2 8
FAR-PF 4 4
CTPD 2 2
PDSA 2 2
UDR 2 2
AND 1 1
AND/R 1 1
MPDT 1 1
MPTR 1 1
PAP-JS 1 1
PUR 1 1
UDT 1 1
UET-V 1 1
UFD-PR 1 1

And here is some more on that election and the upcoming Presidential one

What does it look like?: It is very dry and desert like. The further south you go the more rainfall there is, but even in the far south it is still bone dry savannah. There is some vegetation around the (now mostly dry) Lake Chad and there is some around various underground lakes (for example around the town of Faya-Largeau).

What are the issues?: Chad is arguably the world’s poorest country. It is an AIDS afflicted dictatorship racked by civil and national war, coups, endemic corruption, ethnic and religious division, torture, illiteracy and hunger. It would be quicker to say what the issues aren’t.

Oil was found recently and it is thought that this might change Chad’s fortunes. So far it hasn’t; in fact it has made matters worse as the USA and France have been squabbling over extraction rights and penalising Chad for not taking their side.

A good source of impartial information is: There is no free press, literacy is around 25%, internet availability is below 1% and the national languages are French and Arabic. You will struggle to get news about Chad. Chad News is a website that searches the internet for news about Chad – badly. Setting up a BBC alert for Chad is your best bet.

A good book is: There are a couple of very good books about the Voulet-Chanoine Mission: a French attempt around 1900 to subdue Chad during which absolutely everything that could possibly go wrong did. It’s an amazing story of disaster derring do, and recent books are sensitive to the fact that the mission had a fairly evil intention.The Killer Trail: A Colonial Scandal in the Heart of Africa concentrates exclusively on the story. Exterminate All the Brutes: One Man’s Odyssey into the Heart of Darkness covers it in the context of the British Campaigns in the Sudan and Belgian campaigns in the Congo.

The State and Water Conflicts in Africa: A Focus on Lake Chad is a brand new study of Chadian relations with its western neighbours. There are a couple of decent academic books out there: Chad: A Nation in Search of Its Future is free, Africa’s Thirty Years’ War: Chad-Libya-the Sudan isn’t.

When are the next elections?: Presidential elections will be held later in 2011


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