Born: 15 June1918
Died: 13 April 1975
François Tombalbaye (later called N'Garta Tombalbaye) was born in the south of Chad, educated in Brazzaville (then the capital of French Equatorial Africa, now capital of the Republic of the Congo) and became a teacher in the early 1940s. Chad became a territoires d'outre-mer (overseas territory) of the French Republic in 1946. Tombalbaye, who had been active in the trade unions through the latter half of the 1940s, was elected to the territorial legislature in 1952.
Road to Independence
A degree of autonomy was extended to Chad by France under the constitutional law of 1957, with a territorial government formed under Gabriel Lisette, a West Indian who was leader of the Parti Progressiste Tchadienne (PPT, Chadian Progressive Party). The PPT, a local affiliate of the inter-territorial Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA, African Democratic Rally), had been co-founded by Tombalbaye, and he was appointed as a member of the General Council for French Equatorial Africa.
On 28 November 1958 Chad was declared an autonomous republic within the French Community, and complete independence was achieved on 11 August 1960.
Tombalbaye Takes Charge
Tombalbaye had become prime minister of Chad on 23 March 1959, replacing Lisette as leader of the PPT, by manipulating fears over the strength of conservative Islamic groups to the north and gaining support from more moderate Islamic factions. The country was strongly divided between the black, Christian south and non-black Muslim north. The south was politically and economically progressive, the north consisted of a series of traditional feudal states. Further problems were caused by political interference by Libya.When Chad achieved independence in 1960, Tombalbaye became its first president.
From Coalition to One-Party State
In 1961 Tombalbaye negotiated a fusion between the southern based PPT and the northern based principal opposition, Parti National Africain (PNA, National African Party), forming the Union pour le Progrés du Tchad (UPT, Union for the Progress of Chad). Tombalbaye's rule was dictatorial, and rather than uniting the government his policies encouraged disunity.
In 1963 the National assembly was dissolved following an alleged conspiracy by Muslim elements in the government. Ministers previously associated with the PNA were arrested. In December 1963 new elections were held in which only UPT candidates were allowed – a one-party state had been created.
1966 saw the creation of Front de Libération Nationale du Tchad (Frolinat, Front for the National Liberation of Chad) and the Front National Tchadien (FNT, Chad National Front). Frolinat, which operated out of the Libyan oasis Kufra, was an Islamist group which had connections to the Muslim Brotherhood and was mainly active in the north. The FNT operated in the eastern-central parts of Chad. Both groups aimed to bring down Tombalbaye's government and halt links with France.
By the end of the 1960s Chad was in turmoil, and Tombalbaye asked for French assistance in fighting what was effectively a civil war. France agreed, but demanded reforms of government and military. Tombalbaye reinstated the role of traditional leaders in the north as tax collectors, and started a process of liberalisation. However in 1969's elections, Tombalbaye was still the only candidate for the presidency.
France withdrew its troops in 1971 after considerable concessions had been made, but an attempted coup d'état in August, which was linked to al-Gaddafi's regime in Libya, brought things to an end. Diplomatic links to Libya were ended, and in response al-Gaddafi formally recognised what remained of Frolinat.
In the south, social unrest highlighted by a student's strike, prompted Tombalbaye to replace his Chief of Staff with Colonel Félix Malloum N'Gakoutou. He also had almost 1,000 political activists re-arrested (they had been previously freed under the French inspired reforms).
Overtures to the Arab World
In 1972, feeling increasingly exposed politically, Tombalbaye made overtures to the Arab world, improved relations with Libya – and in return received military aid and a promise to expel Frolinat guerrillas. Libya, however coveted the Aouzou Strip on the border between the two countries (claiming it was theirs from colonial times). The following year Libya started military operations in the Strip, which Tombalbaye ignored out of convenience.
In 1973 Tombalbaye launched Authenticité, a form of Africanisation which aimed to remove all signs of foreign (European) influence in Chad and promote a Chadian culture instead. Unfortunately, the culture was strongly based on southern Chad ethnicity, and required adult males to undergo an initiation rite previously found only amongst the southern Sara people. (The punishment for refusal was execution.)
The PPT was renamed Mouvement National pour la Révolution Culturelle et Sociale (MNRCS, National Movement for the Cultural and Social Revolution). PPT leaders, including Malloum, were arrested, the capital was renamed N'Djamena (previously Fort-Lamy), Tombalbaye changed his name from François to N'Garta, and called himself 'Citizen' rather than 'President'.
On 13 April 1975, following an attempted purge of the army, Tombalbaye was assassinated during a coup d'état and Félix Malloum N'Gakoutou was installed as Head of State. The social/political turmoil and authoritarian government of Tombalbaye's era, however, remained the standard for the next few decades.