Country Listing

Chad Table of Contents




A ferry over the Chari River
Courtesy Audrey Kizziar


Trucks driving over dirt tracks in the sahelian zone
Courtesy UNICEF (Maggie Murray-Lee)

Historically, Chad has been a country of traders. The ancient kingdoms of Kanem, Borno, and Wadai built their power on trade with Libya, Egypt, and Sudan (see Era of Empires, A.D. 900-1900 , ch. 1). During the colonial period, trade increased with francophone countries and Nigeria. In the 1970s, the structure and direction of external trade remained similar to the pattern of colonial times, the most important trading partners being France and Nigeria. Exports to France were principally cotton fiber, and imports were finished manufactured goods and equipment. Much of the trade with Nigeria, consisting of cattle, fish, natron, and other traditional products, was unrecorded and did not pass through official channels. Since the civil upheavals of the late 1970s and early 1980s, which restricted all external trade, unofficial trade with Nigeria has resumed. Official trade with France declined after 1982, primarily because many French-affiliated firms closed during the conflicts. As of late 1987, many of those concerns had not reopened.

Controlling smuggling and black market activity was very difficult. Chad and its neighbors had few resources that could be devoted to border control. Collusion among smugglers and border patrols and customs agents was common. Moreover, Chad's unofficial trade with Nigeria, Cameroon, and Central African Republic has historical and social roots. Tribal and extended family connections across borders encouraged traders to maintain long-range commercial and financial networks beyond colonial and, later, national government control and taxes. Traders unofficially exported the bulk of Chad's exports of cattle, fish, and other traditional products. Unofficial imports consisted of petroleum products and consumer goods, such as sugar, cooking oil, soap, and cigarettes, that competed with production by national industries. The permeability of Chad's borders and the informality of traditional trading networks denied the government revenues ordinarily derived from export-import duties. Locally produced goods and legal imports fared badly in this market, burdened as they were with high production costs, lack of economies of scale, and price distortions imposed by government controls.

Data as of December 1988