Chad is one of the poorest countries in Africa and is mired in ongoing political instability and religious-cultural divisions. As a tourist destination, however, it does have more appeal than its national profile. Chad boasts stunning natural features such as Lake Chad, the Sahara Desert, the Tibesti Mountains, and national parks that serve as habitats for safari animals.
Chad is landlocked in the heart of Africa. That may not be so bad if it had a railway link to the sea, but it doesn’t. The country stretches from the Sahara in the north to the fertile farmlands and tropical savannas in the south. Most of the big cities and population of Chad is concentrated in the south, particularly the southwest.
The country sits on the eastern half of the African interior basin and slopes down from the Tibesti Mountains in the north to the Ennedi Plateau in the east to the Djourab lowlands, which are just north of Lake Chad. The latter is a large freshwater lake that lies 925 feet above sea level at the convergence of Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria. Its size varies greatly from season to season and has shrunk in recent years.
The main attraction of Chad is Lake Chad, which was once one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. Unfortunately, the lake has been gradually shrinking as a result of reduced rainfall and irrigation. The lake offers the sight of hippos, crocodiles, and various shore birds including waterfowls.
Another natural spectacle in Chad is the Zakouma National Park, which stretches over an immense plain through which the Bahr Salamat and other river tributaries flow. The park has been ravaged by the civil war and poachers, but visitors today can still see herds of elephants, lions, and giraffes.
The Tibesti Mountains is another gem of Chad. You’ll find some of the best camel racing in the world in this region. The mountains have served as the home of the Toubou tribe for centuries. The Tibesti feature crags, chasms, and peaks like the Emi Koussi, which stands 11,200 feet high.
It is also worth visiting N’Djamena, the capital of Chad. Its National Museum has a treasure chest of Sarh artifacts, a culture that dates back to the 9th century.
More history can be seen at Abeche, which was the former capital of the Kingdom of Ouaddai. The streets are narrow, cobbled, and lined with mosques, old markets, and bazaars.
Chad is home to several ethnic groups. The north is inhabited mainly by Muslims – the Arabs and Toubou. In the south, there are a number of non-Muslim groups including the Sara, the Massa, and the Moudang. Most non-Muslims practice animistic beliefs, while a small percentage are Christian. The people in the north speak Arabic dialects whereas the groups in the south each have their own distinct language.
For the most part, the people in Chad live a rural lifestyle. In the south, the wooded savannas, grasslands, trees, fertile farmlands, and rainy seasons give way to an agricultural way of life. Traditional hierarchical families dominate and family members all reside in one straw roofed house that is shaped like a cone and enclosed by clay walls. They grow crops such as peanuts, rice, and beans and fish the rivers of Shari and Logone, which they smoke and dry for the markets.
In the interior parts of the country, the open grassland and limited rain permit both farming and the raising of livestock. People grow peanuts, wheat, and corn, and also fish from Lake Chad. They also raise millions of goats, cattle, and sheep in this region. The livestock farmers are semi-nomadic and reside in movable tents. They move around to graze during dry season and sow millet fields during the rainy season.
In the northern Sahara, the people farm date palms in the oasis towns of Fada, Kebir, Ouinianga, and Largeau (or Faya), raise camels and cattles as nomads, or extract salt from the mines. During December, nomads move farther south to find sources of water, usually in the Ennedi Plateau. Most of the nomads sell their herds and transport dates and salt to the market at Abeche.
The earliest settlers of the Lake Chad basin were the Sao who lived in formal towns and worked in bronze and terra-cotta. In the 7th century, desert nomads known as Zaghawa began to surface. Traders from North Africa arrived around the 10th century searching for salves and gold. They introduced the religion of Islam to Chad.
From the late 11th century until the 19th century, several African kingdoms succeeded one another in the Kanem region (the west), starting with the Kanem Empire which was followed by the Bornu Empire, Kingdom of Bagirmi, and the Ouaddai Kingdom.
In the late 19th century, French explorers arrived and found weak local kingdoms. They eventually gained control of Chad by 1913 and made it part of the colony of French Equatorial Africa.
In 1960, Chad was granted independence. Francois Tombalbaye was established as the country’s first president. As a black African of the Sara ethnic group, he was opposed by Muslims in the north. When Tombalbaye banned opposition parties and set up a one-party system, the Muslims revolted, triggering a civil war in 1965. Tombalbaye was eventually overthrown and killed in a military coup. The civil war continued until President Habre was overthrown by General Idriss Deby in 1990. Deby reconciled the rebel groups and re-introduced multiparty politics.
Unfortunately, a new civil war broke out in 2003. Ethnic violence continues to plague this country.