Cave paintings indicate that Chad was a fertile and populous country in ancient times. By the 9th century ad, the kingdom of Kanem was established in what is now western Chad, with its capital at Njimi, near Mao. Its rulers adopted Islam in the 11th century. Kanem was subjected to neighboring Bornu in the 16th century, and in the succeeding period the chief powers were the sultanates of Baguirmi and Wadai in the south. The export of slaves to North Africa was an important sector of the economy of these states.
In the late 19th century the area was subdued by the Sudanese conqueror Rabih al-Zubayr, and it was taken over by the French on his death. In 1910 Chad became a part of the French Equatorial Federation, with headquarters in Brazzaville, the Republic of the Congo, about 2,400 km (about 1,500 mi) away. The change to colonial status resulted in little interference in the way of life of the indigenous peoples and little development beyond the establishment of cotton plantations in the south.
In 1960 Chad, like other French colonies in Africa, became independent. Desperately poor, the governments of President Francois Tombalbaye, a southerner, were supported by French aid. The dissatisfaction of northern Muslims first surfaced in 1963 and forced some changes in the Bantu-dominated one-party government. This, however, was not enough to satisfy them, and in 1969 Muslim guerrillas began to operate in the north. With support from neighboring Libya, their attacks escalated during the following years. Despite military aid from France, Tombalbaye’s situation was made totally untenable by the drought of the early 1970s. He was assassinated in 1975.
Tombalbaye’s successor, General Felix Malloum, was not able to end the civil strife. By 1979 the war had engulfed the south, Malloum was overthrown, and a northerner, Goukouni Oueddei, emerged as president. In 1980 Libya intervened to support Oueddei against rebels under former defense minister Hissene Habre, who was backed by Sudan and Egypt. After the Libyan forces withdrew late in 1981 at Oueddei’s request, Habre renewed his offensive, and his troops captured N’Djamena in June 1982. In 1983 the ousted Oueddei formed a rival government in the north. In the continued civil strife, Oueddei had the backing of Libyan troops, while France sent troops and supplies to keep Habre in power. By the end of 1988, Libyan forces had been driven out of Chad, and the two nations had normalized diplomatic relations. In December 1990, however, Habre was ousted by an insurgent group, the Patriotic Salvation Movement, which had Libyan support. The rebel leader, General Idriss Deby, then assumed the presidency. In January 1992 the Deby government claimed to have crushed a rebellion by forces loyal to Habre, and France sent more troops as a safeguard. In the early 1990s Chad continued to suffer from widespread political and ethnic unrest, including the massacre of 82 civilians by President Deby’s private guard in August 1993.
In 1994, however, the government reached a cease-fire agreement with the rebel group Comite de Sursaut National pour la Paix et la Democratie (CSNPD); the CSNPD committed to withdraw troops from southern Chad, and the government agreed to appoint members of the CSNPD to the national army. In addition, a 20-year territorial dispute with Libya came to an end when the International Court of Justice ruled that Chad had sovereignty over the Aozou Strip, a stretch of land along the Libyan border covering about 115,000 sq km (45,000 sq mi). In June and July 1996, under a new, democratic constitution, Deby was popularly elected president in the nation’s first presidential elections. Deby was reelected in May 2001.