French Chad

Chad was a part of the French colonial empire from 1900 to 1960. Colonial rule under the French began in 1900 when the Military Territory of Chad was established. From 1905, Chad was linked to the federation of French colonial possessions in Middle Africa, known from 1910 under the name of French Equatorial Africa. Chad passed in 1920 to French civilian administration, but suffered from chronic neglect.

Territory of Chad[1]
Anthem: La Marseillaise
StatusConstituent of French Equatorial Africa
Common languagesFrench (official)
Chadian Arabic, Sara, Kanembu, Sango
Islam, Christianity, traditional African religion
Overseas territory
Autonomous republic
Émile Gentil
Daniel Doustin
Prime Minister 
Gabriel Lisette
François Tombalbaye
September 5, 1900
 Merged with Ubangi-Shari
February 11, 1906
 Integrated into French Equatorial Africa
January 15, 1910
 Separate colony
March 17, 1920
 Status changed to overseas territory
October 27, 1946
November 28, 1958
August 11, 1960
1943[2]1,194,508 km2 (461,202 sq mi)
1950[3]1,283,993 km2 (495,752 sq mi)
CurrencyFrench Equatorial African franc
CFA franc
ISO 3166 codeTD
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Kingdom of Baguirmi
Bornu Empire
Ouaddai Empire
Rabih az-Zubayr
Borkou-Ennedi-Tibesti Prefecture
Governor-General Félix Éboué welcomes Charles de Gaulle to Chad

Chad distinguished itself in 1940 for being, under the governorship of Félix Éboué, the first French colony to rally by the side of Free France. After World War II, the French permitted a limited amount of representation of the African population, ushering the way to the clash in the political arena between the progressive and southern-based Chadian Progressive Party (PPT) and the Islamic conservative Chadian Democratic Union (UDT). It was eventually the PPT which emerged victorious and brought the country to independence in 1960 under the leadership of François Tombalbaye.

French conquest

European interest in Africa generally grew during the 19th century. By 1887, France, motivated by the search for wealth, had driven inland from its settlements on central Africa's west coast to claim the territory of Oubangui-Chari (present-day Central African Republic). It claimed this area as a zone of French influence, and within two years it occupied part of what is now southern Chad. In the early 1890s, French military expeditions sent to Chad encountered the forces of Rabih az-Zubayr, who had been conducting slave raids (razzias) in southern Chad throughout the 1890s and had sacked the settlements of Bornu, Baguirmi, and Wadai Empire. After years of indecisive engagements, French forces finally defeated Rabih az-Zubayr at the Battle of Kousséri in 1900. In the next years, the French gradually expanded into eastern and northern Chad, encountering heavy resistance such as during the Wadai War, and in Tibesti and Borkou.[4]

France conquered the last independent polities in Chad in 1917, and had defeated the last major native insurgencies by 1920.[5]

Colonial Administration

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; it was less important than non-African territories, North Africa, West Africa, or even the other French possessions in Central Africa. The French came to perceive Chad primarily as a source of raw cotton and untrained labour to be used in the more productive colonies to the south. Within Chad, there was neither the will nor the resources to do much more than maintain a semblance of law and order. In fact, even this basic function of governance was often neglected; throughout the colonial period, large areas of Chad were never governed effectively from N'Djamena (called Fort-Lamy prior to September 1973).

Chad was linked in 1905 with three French colonies to the south—Oubangui-Chari, Middle Congo (present-day Congo-Brazzaville), and Gabon. But Chad did not receive separate colony status or a unified administrative policy until 1920. The four colonies were administered together as French Equatorial Africa under the direction of a governor general stationed in Brazzaville. The governor general had broad administrative control over the federation, including external and internal security, economic and financial affairs, and all communications with the French minister of the colonies. Lieutenant governors, also appointed by the French government, were expected to implement in each colony the orders of the governor general. The central administration in Brazzaville tightly controlled the lieutenant governors despite reformist efforts toward decentralisation between 1910 and 1946. Chad's lieutenant governor had greater autonomy because of the distance from Brazzaville and because of France's much greater interest in the other three colonies. As for the number of troops deployed in the country, there were three battalions for a total of about 3,000 soldiers.

The lines of control from Brazzaville, feeble as they may have been, were still stronger than those from N'Djamena to its hinterland. In the huge Borkou-Ennedi-Tibesti Region, the handful of French military administrators soon reached a tacit agreement with the inhabitants of the desert; as long as caravan trails remained relatively secure and minimal levels of law and order were met, the military administration (headquartered in Faya Largeau) usually left the people alone. In central Chad, French rule was only slightly more substantive. In Ouaddaï and Biltine prefectures, endemic resistance continued against the French and, in some cases, against any authority that attempted to suppress banditry and brigandage. The thinly staffed colonial administration provided only weak supervision over arid Kanem Prefecture and the sparsely populated areas of Guéra and Salamat prefectures. Old-fashioned razzias continued in the 1920s, and it was reported in 1923 that a group of Senegalese Muslims on their way to Mecca had been seized and sold into slavery. Unwilling to expend the resources required for effective administration, the French government responded with sporadic coercion and a growing reliance on indirect rule through the sultanates.

France managed to govern effectively only the south, but until 1946 administrative direction came from Bangui in Oubangui-Chari rather than N'Djamena. Unlike northern and central Chad, a French colonial system of direct civilian administration was set up among the Sara, a southern ethnic group, and their neighbors. Also, unlike the rest of Chad, a modest level of economic development occurred in the south because of the introduction in 1929 of large-scale cotton production. Remittances and pensions to southerners who served in the French military also enhanced economic well-being.

But even the advantages of more income, schools, and roads failed to win popular support for the French in the south. In addition to earlier grievances, such as forced porterage (which claimed thousands of lives) and village relocation, southern farmers resented the mandatory quotas for the production of cotton, which France purchased at artificially low prices. Government-protected chiefs further abused this situation. The chiefs were resented all the more because they were generally the artificial creations of the French in a region of previously stateless societies. This commonality of treatment and the colonial organizational framework began to create during this period a sense of Sara ethnicity among persons whose collective identities had previously been limited to small kinship groups.

Although France had put forth considerable effort during the conquest of Chad, the ensuing administration of the territory was halfhearted. Officials in the French colonial service resisted assignments to Chad, so posts often went to novices or to out-of-favor officials. One historian of France's empire has concluded that it was almost impossible to be too demented or depraved to be considered unfit for duty in Chad. Still, major scandals occurred periodically, and many of the posts remained vacant.[4] In 1928, for example, 42% of the Chadian subdivisions lacked official administrators.

An event occurred in 1935 that was to have far-reaching consequences throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In that year, the French colonial administration negotiated a border adjustment with Italy, Libya's colonial master. The adjustment would have relocated the Libyan-Chad boundary about 100 kilometers south across the Aozou Strip. Although the French legislature never ratified the agreement, the negotiations formed part of the basis of Libya's claim to the area decades later.

Félix Eboué

In 1940 Chad became internationally prominent when its lieutenant governor, Félix Eboué, led the rest of the French Equatorial African (AEF) federation to support Free France under Charles de Gaulle rather than the government of Vichy France. Chad became the base for Colonel Jacques Leclerc's conquest of the Fezzan (1940–1943), and the entire episode became the basis of an enduring sentimental bond between Chad and the France of de Gaulle's generation. More funds and attention flowed to Chad than ever before, and Eboué became the governor general of the entire AEF in November 1940.

Born in French Guiana of mixed African and European parentage, Eboué was keenly interested in the problems of cultural dislocation resulting from unchecked modernization in Africa. He worked to return authority to authentic traditional leaders while training them in modern administrative techniques. He recognized a place for African middle-class professionals in cities, but he opposed the migration of workers to cities, supporting instead the creation of integrated rural industries where workers could remain with their families. When Eboué died in 1944, the AEF lost a major source of progressive ideas, and Chad lost a leader with considerable influence in France.

Territorial assembly under France

French voters rejected many of the progressive ideas of Eboué and others after World War II ended. Nevertheless, the constitution that was approved in 1946 granted Chad and other African colonies the right to elect a territorial assembly with limited powers. The Assembly, in turn, elected delegates to the French General Council of all the AEF. The position of governor-general was redesignated high commissioner, and each territory gained the right to elect representatives to French parliamentary bodies, including the National Assembly, the Council of the Republic, and the Assembly of the French Union. The African peoples became French citizens, and the colonies were designated overseas territories of France. But the real locus of authority remained in Paris, also because the 1946 reforms had sanctioned the existence of a dual college system for voting, with one reserved for the Europeans in Chad; the Africans could only vote for the collège des autochthones. French personnel continued to dominate the AEF's administration. No formal attempt was made to train Chadian Africans for civil service positions before 1955. On the bright side, the 1946 reforms abolished forced labour.

Local politics

Until the early 1950s, political forces originating in France dominated the development of politics in Chad. Local elections were won largely by members of the Chadian Democratic Union (Union Démocratique Tchadienne or UDT), founded in 1946, which was associated with a political party in France, the Gaullist Rally of the French People. The UDT represented French commercial interests and a bloc of traditional leaders composed primarily of Muslim and Ouaddaïan nobility. Chad's European community initiated the practice of using the civil service for partisan political ends; African civil servants who were identified with organizations opposed to the UDT soon found themselves dismissed or transferred to distant posts. For example, François Tombalbaye (later to become president) lost his job as a teacher and ended up making bricks by hand because of his union activities and his role in the opposition Chadian Progressive Party (Parti Progressiste Tchadien or PPT).

Nonetheless, by 1953 politics were becoming less European dominated, and the PPT was emerging as the major rival of the UDT. The leader of the PPT was Gabriel Lisette, a black colonial administrator born in Panama and posted to Chad in 1946. Elected as a deputy to the French National Assembly, Lisette was later chosen as secretary general of the African Democratic Rally (Rassemblement Démocratique Africain or RDA), an interterritorial, Marxist-oriented party considered quite radical at the time. The PPT originated as a territorial branch of the RDA and rapidly became the political vehicle of the country's non-Muslim intellectuals. Traditional rulers perceived the PPT to be antithetical to their interests and recognized that the local territorial assembly could adversely affect their revenue and power. These factors persuaded traditional rulers to become more active in the UDT, which, because of internal divisions, had changed its name in the late 1950s to the Chadian Social Action (Action Sociale Tchadienne or AST).

Although party names changed frequently and dramatic factional schisms occurred throughout the 1950s, electoral competition was essentially between three political blocs: the UDT [AST], the PPT, and the allies of Ahmed Koulamallah from Chari-Baguirmi and Kanem prefectures. A clever politician and charismatic leader of the Tijaniyya Islamic brotherhood in Chad, Koulamallah campaigned in different times and places as a member of the Baguirmi nobility (he was an estranged son of the sultan), a radical socialist leader, or a militant Muslim fundamentalist. As a result, politics in the 1950s was a struggle between the south, which mostly supported the PPT, and the Muslim sahelian belt, which favored the UDT [AST]. Koulamallah played a generally disruptive role in the middle.

Greater autonomy

In 1956 the French National Assembly passed the loi cadre (enabling act), known as Overseas Reform Act, which resulted in greater self-rule for Chad and other African territories. Electoral reforms expanded the pool of eligible voters, and power began to shift from the sparsely settled northern and central Chadian regions toward the more densely populated south. The PPT had become less militant, winning the support of chiefs in the south and members of the French colonial administration, but not that of private French commercial interests. In the 1957 elections, held on March 31, out of 65 seats, the PPT took 32; its allies, the Chadian Independent Socialist Party (PSIT) and the UDT, took 15; the Chadian Independents and Agrarians Rally (GIRT), an offshoot of the AST, 9; the AST, 8 and the last seat went to an independent candidate. As a result of this victory, Lisette and the PPT formed the first African government in Chad. He maintained a majority for only about a year, however, before factions representing traditional chiefs withdrew their support from his coalition government.

French federation versus full independence

In September 1958, voters in all of Africa's French territories took part in a referendum on the Fifth Republic's constitution, drawn up under de Gaulle. For a variety of political and economic reasons, most of Chad's political groups supported the new constitution, and all voted for a resolution calling for Chad to become an autonomous republic within the French Community. The three other AEF territories voted similarly, and in November 1958 the AEF was officially terminated. Coordination on such issues as customs and currency continued among the four territories through written agreements or on an ad hoc basis. Nonetheless, some Chadians supported the creation of an even stronger French federation, rather than independence. The leading proponent of this proposal was Barthélemy Boganda of Oubangui-Chari, but his death in 1959 and the vigorous opposition of Gabon resulted in political independence on a separate basis for all four republics.

After Lisette's coalition crumbled in early 1959, two other alliances governed briefly. Then in March the PPT returned to power, this time under the leadership of Tombalbaye, a union leader and representative from Moyen-Chari Prefecture. Lisette, whose power was undermined because of his non-African origins, became deputy Prime Minister in charge of economic coordination and international relations. Tombalbaye soon consolidated enough political support from the south and north to isolate the opposition into a collection of conservative Muslim leaders from central Chad. The latter group formed a political party in January 1960, but its parliamentary representation steadily dropped as Tombalbaye wooed individual members to the PPT. By independence in August 1960, the PPT and the south had clearly achieved dominance, but Tombalbaye's political skills made it possible for observers to talk optimistically about the possibility of building a broad-based coalition of political forces.

See also

Further reading

  • Brachet, Julien; Scheele, Judith (2019). The Value of Disorder : Autonomy, Prosperity, and Plunder in the Chadian Sahara. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781108428330.
  • Roberts, T. (2020). "The Comite de L'Afrique Francaise, the Chad Plan, And the Origins of Fashoda." The Historical Journal


  1. The name of the territory was changed several times during the French colonial period:
    • Military Territory of the Lands and Protectorates of Chad / (Territoire militaire des pays et protectorats du Tchad) — September 5, 1900 – July 5, 1902.
    • Circumscription of the Lands and Protectorates of Chad / (Circonscription des pays et protectorats du Tchad) — July 5, 1902 – December 29, 1903.
    • Territory of Chad / (Territoire du Tchad) — December 29, 1903 – February 11, 1906.
    • Military Territory of Chad / (Territoire militaire du Tchad) — February 11, 1906 – May 14, 1915.
    • Territory of Chad / (Territoire du Tchad) — May 14, 1915 – March 17, 1920.
    • Colony of Chad / (Colonie du Tchad) — March 17, 1920 – June 30, 1934.
    • Region of Chad / (Région du Tchad) — June 30, 1934 – December 31, 1937.
    • Territory of Chad / (Territoire du Tchad) — December 31, 1937 – November 28, 1958.
    • Republic of Chad / (République du Tchad) — November 28, 1958 – August 11, 1960.
  2. The Americana Annual 1946
  3. Britannica Book Of The Year 1953
  4. Brachet, Julien; Scheele, Judith (2019). The Value of Disorder : Autonomy, Prosperity, and Plunder in the Chadian Sahara. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 59–63. doi:10.1017/9781108566315. ISBN 9781108566315. S2CID 181557618.
  5. Azevedo, M. J. (2005), The Roots of Violence: A History of War in Chad, Routledge, p. 52, ISBN 978-1-135-30081-4

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