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New Internationalist


October 1986

new internationalist
issue 164 - October 1986


[image, unknown] Often dismissed in official reports as the poorest nation in the world, Chad is a complex and varied country with almost 200 ethnic groups, a population of four million speaking scores of languages - but only 50 miles of paved roads.

Like Caesar's Gaul, Chad divides into three parts. The northern area is a vast section of the Sahara, sparsely populated by nomads and with just a few oasis towns dotted around. In the middle and south-east lies the Sahel, severely affected by drought in recent years and the scene of intermittent civil war from 1965 to1982. Here the population is a mix of semi-nomadic herders and more settled farmers growing millet and sorghum. The predominant religion is Islam. The heavily populated south-west is quite different people are black rather than brown, speak Central African languages and are Christian or animist in religion. The land is fertile. This is the area which produces cotton, the Government's main source of revenue apart from foreign aid.

Since independence in 1960 from France, Chad has suffered a series of debilitating civil wars, culminating in major battles between rival factions in the capital, N'Djamena, in 1979 and again in 1980, which left much of the city in ruins. Not till 1982 and the victory of the present President, Hissène Habré, did some semblance of political stability return.

Nevertheless, almost the whole Sahara belt continues to be controlled by ex President Goukouni Oueddai, supported by Colonel Gaddafi and up to 5,000 of his soldiers. Rebel advances southwards and a Libyan bombing attack on the airport in N'Djamena earlier this year have persuaded the French to station warplanes and troops in the country again and the Americans too have rushed in military aid. This all strengthens Habré's hand and a push by him north is on the cards.

If militarily the Government's fortunes are improving, economically they could hardly be worse. The world price of cotton has fallen by about 50 per cent in a year as China's enormous production has hit the international market and the dollar has weakened. This year Chad could lose about 30 cents for each pound of cotton it exports. Ironically, if the Government were to stop buying cotton from the peasant producers, this could lead to a popular uprising in the volatile south west where army violence in late 1984 and early 1985 did much damage and caused bitter resentment.

So despite last year's good rains and a reasonable harvest of grain, the economic outlook for Chad remains grim. But one suspects that with a little help from the donors, the country will muddle through.

Jim Smith

Leader: President Hissène Habré

Economy: GNP per capita $80 (1983) (US $14,110)
Monetary unit CFA Franc (Franc de Ia Communauté Financière Africaine)
Main exports: Cotton, meat, resins

People: 4 million

Health: Infant mortality 140 per thousand live births (1983) (US 11 per 1,000)
Percentage of population with access to drinking water: 26 (1983)

Culture: Religion: Muslim; also animist and Christian
Language: French official language; Arabic and African languages also used

Source: State of the Worlds Children 1986

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Not much wealth to distribute

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Dependence on foreign aid

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Regional / religious variation

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Pro-Western military style

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Female 8%, male 35% education slowly picking up after civil war

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Sporadic violence harassment of Southerners

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43 - Very low
(USA 74 years)

Health care disrupted by war

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This feature was published in the October 1986 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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