Photo Credit: Photo by Shelagh Murphy
On This Day In History: Chad Breaks Away From France On August 11, 1960
Chad, officially known as the Republic of Chad, is located in central Africa. It gained independence from France on August 11, 1960, which is relatively recent. Africa is the cradle of civilization and Chad, the fifth largest country there, shaped it.
According to South African History Online (SAHO), “Chad is one of several potential sites for the cradle of humankind in Africa. The discovery of a 6- to- 7 million year old hominid-like skull substantiates this claim.” Various tribes ruled Chad, with the Sao people among the first. But it wasn’t long before the Kanembu tribe usurped them; aided by “superior understanding of iron works and agriculture.”
Chad has known some dark days- and they didn’t start with French invasion. Slavery existed beforehand and colonialism worsened the state of the country. Not many French officials wanted to take up base there, which put the onus on local leaders to run things. These leaders used fear and violence to force obedience from the people. Kidnapping, stealing livestock and setting fire to homes were just three ways this was done. On pain of death, people did back-breaking work with no compensation.
The French established a “head tax” system and showed no mercy to those who evaded taxes. SAHO mentions a related incident that occurred in Bouna, in southern Chad. “The local chief who was in charge of collecting taxes in the area decided to charge double tax, and the Bouna people refused to pay.” France responded with military force, resulting in the deaths of thousands.
Even the elements conspired against Chad, as famine and drought were ongoing problems. According to SAHO, 30,000 people died of starvation between 1913 and 1918 alone.
Chad turned a new page in August 1960, with the election of the first president, François Tombalbaye. It was clear that he had his work cut out for him. The young nation wrestled with abject poverty, scant resources, poor infrastructure and conflict of one sort or the other. The president’s policies earned him many enemies, including the army. He banned all political parties he opposed and cast his rivals into exile or prison. The Chadian army assassinated him in 1975.
Tombalbaye wasn’t the only president to die in office. Idriss Déby, who was president for over thirty years, was killed by rebels in April 2021. His son, Mahamat, is in power now.
If you decide to travel to Chad, the best advice is to be mindful. The capital city of N’djamena has a national museum and a central market. If you want to be close to the Sahara, check out Faya-Largeau. South of the Sahara is Zakouma National Park, a refuge for elephants, giraffes and various birds.