Chad

Long seen by travellers as a place to get through rather than visit, few visitors in Chad do more than spend a couple of days in N'Djamena, the busy, broken-down capital, on their way between Niger and Cameroon. And as the government increasingly loses its grip on the nation, travellers are getting fewer and further between. Even many NGO workers dread drawing this assignment.

Travelling here certainly poses many problems: few roads are paved, it gets hot as hell in summer, the costs are among the continent's highest, and the police and soldiers are quite nervous these days. But, of course, there are rewards in this struggling but interesting country for those who take the Chadian challenge and you will soon discover a wealth of warmth and culture beneath the rough exterior.

Known for its endless Sahelien expanses, Chad has a few surprises up its sleeve, too, like boat rides on Lake Chad or strolling the shady streets of southern towns where the dusty landscape, fed by small rivers, is interspersed with incongruously green scenes providing a quasi-tropical break from the rigours of the road. The best destinations - the otherworldly desert landscapes of Ennedi and the teeming wildlife of Zakouma National Park - lie way beyond backpacker budgets but are both world class.

FAST FACTS

Area 1,284,000 sq km ATMs Should work with Visa cards soon Borders Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Libya, Niger and Nigeria all open; Sudan closed; Libya and CAR not recommended

Budget From US$40 per day in N'Djamena, US$20 to US$30 per day in other towns Capital N'Djamena

Languages French, Arabic and more than 120 local languages Money Central African CFA; US$1 = CFA498 Population 9 million

Seasons Dry (October to May), wet (June to September) Telephone Country code 1® 235; international access code (®00 Time GMT/UTC + 1

Visas Must be obtained before arrival

HIGHLIGHTS

Zakouma National Park (p546) Keep an eye out, this is one of the best places to see wildlife in Central Africa. Gaoui (p544) Explore this fascinating village just minutes from N'Djamena. Sarh (p546) Chill out along the Chari River.

Bol (p547) Get out on Lake Chad from this frontier market town. Ennedi (p547) Marvel at dramatic desert scenery and rock formations.

CLIMATE & WHEN TO GO

Chad has three distinct climatic zones. In the tropical south, temperatures usually range from 20°C to 25°C, but can rise to 40°C before the rains. The centre, where N'Djamena and Lake Chad are located, often exceeds 45°C before the rains, and temperatures can get even higher in the north.

November to January is the coolest and thus best time for general travel, unless you are here for Zakouma National Park, then it's March and April (the hottest months). It is fascinating to see the Sahel turn green in July, but travel in the rainy season is not pleasant. You can't believe how waterlogged the capital becomes during July and August and road travel elsewhere slows dramatically.

ITINERARIES

Three Days Visit N'Djamena (p542) and Gaoui (p544).

One Week Visit N'Djamena and Gaoui while you get your permits in order, then

HOW MUCH?

Small calabash bowl US$1 100km Land Cruiser ride US$10 Coke US$0.50

30 minutes of internet use US$1 Handmade leather sandals US$4

LONELY PLANET INDEX 1L petrol US$1.20 1.5L bottled water US$1.20 Bottle of Gala beer US$1.20 Souvenir T-shirt US$10 Small bag of peanuts US$0.05

WARNING

At the time of publication rebel activity was intensifying and Chad appeared to be heading into all-out civil war, though fighting had so far been largely limited to the east. Check the situation very carefully before travelling here.

head north to Mao (p547) and Bol (p547), taking a boat trip out on Lake Chad if you can, or south to Moundou (p546) and Sarh (p546).

Two Weeks Add Zakouma National Park (p546) to the one-week itinerary, or visit towns both north and south of N'Djamena. Two weeks is the minimum time needed to properly explore Ennedi (p547).

HISTORY

Dominated historically by slave-trading Arab Muslims from the northern regions, Chad is primarily an agricultural nation with over 80% of the population living at subsistence level. Its recent history was shaped when the French began taking an interest in central and western Africa in the 1900s. By 1913 the country was fully colonised: sadly the new rulers didn't really know what to do with their conquest, and investment all but dried up after a few years, leaving much of the territory almost entirely undeveloped.

When independence was granted in 1960, a southerner became Chad's first head of state. Unfortunately, President François Tombal-baye was not the best choice. By arresting opposition leaders and banning political parties, he provoked a series of conspiracies in the Muslim north, the violent repression of which quickly escalated into full-blown guerrilla war. For the next quarter of a century, Chadian politics was defined by armed struggles, shifting alliances, coups and private armies, overseen and often exacerbated by France and Libya, who took a keen interest in the area. In addition, the Sahel drought of the 1970s and early 1980s destroyed centuries-old patterns of existence and cultivation, causing large-scale migration to urban centres.

In 1975 Tombalbaye was assassinated, and succeeded by General Malloum, a fellow southerner. Over US$1 million in cash was found in Tombalbaye's residence, along with plans to proclaim himself emperor.

540 CHAD •• History onelyplanet.com

Modern Politics

The Government of National Unity was then formed by Malloum and Hisséne Habré (a former northern rebel commander); it was a tenuous alliance between two men who shared little more than mutual distrust. The resulting internal power struggle in 1979 pitted north against south, and Muslim against Christian or animist, all colliding with destructive force in the capital, where thousands of civilians were massacred. Eventually Malloum fled the country, and Goukouni Oueddei - the son of a tribal chieftain from northwestern Chad and an arch-enemy of Habré - took over.

In 1980 Libyan forces supporting Oueddei briefly occupied N'Djaména. The French

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onelyplanet.com

army drove them northwards, leaving Habré as the nominal ruler of Chad. A stalemate ensued with the country divided in half, with neither France nor Libya willing to risk an all-out confrontation.

In 1987, both foreign powers agreed to withdraw their forces; however, Libya, whose forces had occupied northern Chad and the uranium-rich Aouzou Strip since 1977, reneged and attacked Habré's army. Armed with little more than swords and machine guns, the Chadian forces pushed the better-equipped Libyans across the border.

In 1990 Idriss Deby, a northern Muslim warlord in self-imposed exile in Sudan, swept back into Chad with a private army of 2000 soldiers and Libyan backing. Habré fled to Senegal (The African Pinochet', as Human Rights Watch calls him, is currently facing trial in Dakar to answer for his widespread use of torture and political murder), leaving Deby with a clear run to N'Djaména and the presidency of his war-ravaged country, which Deby consolidated by winning the first-ever presidential elections in 1996. While this ballot was widely regarded as rigged, the parliamentary elections a year later were considered much fairer. In 1998 a new rebellion broke out in the north, led by the Movement for Democracy and Justice (MDJT) under Deby's former minister Youssouf Togoimi.

Although Chad has enjoyed relative peace and close relations with Libya over the past few years (despite regular guerrilla raids in the Tibesti region of northern Chad), politically, little has changed. To nobody's surprise, Deby won the May 2001 presidential elections by a comfortable margin, although results from a quarter of the polling stations had to be cancelled because of'irregularities'.

Chad Today

In 2004 Chad became an oil exporter. The World Bank helped fund the lOOOkm-long pipeline crossing Cameroon to the coast only after Chad agreed to dedicate 80% of oil income to reducing poverty. Even before Deby broke this agreement at the start of 2006, there was virtually no change for average citizens in what Transparency International ranks as the world's most corrupt country.

But the World Bank is not Deby's biggest worry. Several rebel groups based in and surely supported by Sudan, and some led by members of Deby's family and former senior army officers, have their eyes on N'Djamena. They almost got it in April 2006 after launching an unsuccessful attack on the capital. The government was helped by the incompetence of the rebels, who had to ask directions when they arrived and ended up at the empty Palais du Peuple (the parliament) instead of the Palais du President.

Three weeks after the failed coup and one year after the constitutional two-term presidential limit was overturned, Deby won a presidential election boycotted by the opposition and most citizens. Power in Chad has always changed hands by the bullet, not the ballot, and most observers expect a rebel takeover sooner rather than later. While most Chadians would welcome this, there is concern that the rebel alliance will falter after taking control, bringing 1979-style anarchy, or perhaps worse. Already-emerging coordination between Chadian rebels and Sudan's Janjaweed, the militia behind the genocide in Darfur, have created 50,000 Chadian refugees in their own country.

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