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A former French Foreign Legion fort in Fada
Courtesy Michael R. Saks

At independence Chad's economic and strategic importance was limited. Isolated and landlocked, it boasted no developed natural resources, and most of its inhabitants lived at the subsistence level. There were few enduring disputes or traditional animosities likely to precipitate discord with its African neighbors. Because of Chad's good relations with its neighbors, it was a very unlikely candidate for international attention.

In spite of these factors, Chad's vast territories have been a demographic and cultural crossroads where outside forces have often competed for influence. The most significant of these forces has been Libya, whose efforts to assert itself in Chad have historical roots (see Civil Conflict and Libyan Intervention , this ch.). In modern times, however, these efforts have been ascribed to the ambition of Libyan leader Muammar al Qadhaafi, who hoped to impose his concept of Islamic unity on African states bordering the Sahel (see Glossary). Asserting a legal claim to the Aozou Strip in northern Chad, Libya occupied the territory in 1972. To further his claim to the region, Qadhaafi used troops from Libya's Islamic Legion--a unit whose members were recruited from among Muslims of Central African and West Africa. With no demonstrated economic value, the area was useful primarily as a forward base to facilitate Libya's interference in Chadian military and political affairs. In response to Libya's claims, Chadian forces, supplied by France and the United States, inflicted a series of defeats on Libya in 1987. These strokes alleviated the threat from Qadhaafi, although continued Libyan occupation of the Aozou Strip left the ultimate resolution of the conflict undecided.

No other adjacent state has sought to stake out areas of influence or to assert territorial claims in Chad. In 1987 three of Chad's neighbors--Niger, Cameroon, and Central African Republic-- had only nominal military establishments, which posed no threat to the relatively large and well-equipped Chadian army. Their mutual relations, moreover, were amicable, based on their shared experience as members of the French colonial empire and continued military collaboration with France. Several regional states, including Cameroon, Gabon, and Zaire, have directly or indirectly supported Chad in its conflict with Libya.

Bordering Lake Chad, Nigeria, the most powerful of Chad's sub-Saharan neighbors, has been involved at various times with Chad in a peacekeeping role. One purpose of Nigeria's involvement was to reduce Chad's need for a French military presence; Nigeria has historically viewed French interests in Africa with suspicion. But a more important purpose was to prevent Qadhaafi from gaining a foothold in sub-Saharan Africa, from which he could further his vision of radical Arab socialism under an Islamic banner.

Chad's other large neighbor, Sudan, had given refuge to Habré and had helped reequip his army after its defeat in 1980 by the combined forces of Goukouni and Libya. Subsequently, fearful of offending Qadhaafi and inciting him to aid the rebellion in its own southern region, Sudan adopted a neutral posture. Chad's border with Sudan remained volatile in 1988. Rebellious tribal groups, dispersed remnants of Goukouni's defeated northern forces, Libyan troops, and members of the Islamic Legion were all involved in cross-border fighting. In this environment, banditry could not easily be distinguished from civil conflict.

Since Chad's independence in 1960, the absence of cohesive social and economic forces has produced conditions of almost constant domestic turmoil and violence. Competing groups have tried to protect their own interests by supporting local "armies"--often armed bands of no more than a few hundred ill-trained recruits. Badly equipped and lacking a stable source of funds, these factions turned to foreign patrons to keep their movements viable.

Concurrent with the success of his military campaigns, Habré pursued a policy of reconciliation with dissident groups. As a result, by 1987 he had either won over or defeated all his major rivals. Several former factional leaders who had contested Habré on the battlefield had been granted senior positions in the central government, and their forces either had been integrated into the national army or had peacefully demobilized. As of 1988, only two rivals of any stature remained--Goukouni and Acheikh ibn Oumar. Goukouni no longer commanded significant military forces, and his reconciliation with Habré remained a possibility. Oumar's Democratic Revolutionary Council (Conseil Démocratique Révolutionnaire--CDR) had been decimated in the 1987 fighting, and the smaller Arab groups that constituted his following were of little significance. Nonetheless, revival of these movements with the aid of Libyan patronage could not be ruled out. It was feared that Libya might use support for them as a pretext for renewed intervention.

Few observers believed that ethnic rivalries had been permanently suppressed or that new factional disputes would not arise to threaten domestic stability. In 1987 reports revealed that one small resistance force, recruited among the Hajerai ethnic group, had become active in the mountains of Guéra Prefecture (see fig. 1; Languages and Ethnic Groups , ch. 2). Known as the Movement for the National Salvation of Chad (Mouvement pour le Salut National du Tchad--MOSANAT), it claimed to have been formed in protest against heavy taxes and exactions by the government, which northerners dominated. In late 1987, however, MOSANAT rebels had fled across the nearby Sudanese border (see Internal Security Conditions , this ch.).

Data as of December 1988

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