Inhabited since prehistoric times by hundreds of different ethnic groups, Chad is so remote that little is known about its history before it became a source of slaves for European and Arab traders in the 18th and 19th centuries. France established control over the region in 1913 but never had as strong a presence there as in its North and West African colonies, largely because of Chad’s apparent lack of natural resources. Despite substantial oil reserves and large swathes of arable land, most of the population continues to live by subsistence agriculture in a fairly traditional way.
As France withdrew from its African colonies in 1960, it ceded power to President François Tombalbaye, whose inability to establish control over the country, combined with authoritarian tendencies, touched off a civil war that has more or less continued since then. Although control of the state has nominally shifted between several parties
and leaders, few have been able to rule effectively in the country’s outlying areas, particularly the north and east. Turbulent relations with neighboring Sudan and the Central African Republic have led to conflicts around the border areas as well.
The Top 5: Local Advice
1. Chad is home to more than 200 indigenous ethnic groups (many with their own languages), and a dialect called Chadian Arabic is used the most often as the lingua franca. Visitors can usually get by in French, especially in N’Djamena. Learn at least a few phrases before you go.
2. The majority of Chad’s population is Muslim, although social conventions, especially for women’s dress and behavior, are generally more relaxed than in North and West Africa. Make sure to eat with your right hand only; many Chadians, Muslim or not, consider it offensive to use one’s left hand, and the issue is almost certain to come up since most locals eat with their hands except in upscale restaurants.
3. As in Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea, the official currency in Chad is the Central African CFA franc, not to be confused with the West African CFA franc. Credit cards are rarely accepted. You can change money at the airport or the larger banks in N’Djamena.
4. Officially, all photographing in Chad requires a government permit. While this rule is unlikely to be enforced, particularly with foreigners, police may use it as an excuse to confiscate your camera or demand a bribe. If you plan on staying in Chad for a long period of time and taking many photos, you might consider getting the permit.
5. Especially during the wet season, malaria can be a major problem in Chad. Take antimalarial medications with you, along with insect repellent and mosquito netting, as many hotels do not have the latter.