Chad is one of several potential sites for the cradle of humankind in Africa -- following the discovery of seven-million-year-old human-like skull, now known as the Toumaï ('Hope of life') skull.
7000 years ago the region was not as arid as it is today -- cave paintings depict elephants, rhinoceroses, giraffes, cattle, and camels. People lived and farmed around the shores of lakes in the north central basin of the Sahara.
The indigenous Sao people who lived along the Chari river during the first millennia CE were absorbed by the Kamen-Bornu and Baguirmi kingdoms (which stretched from Lake Chad deep into the Sahara) and the region became a crossroads for the trans-Saharan trade routes. Following the collapse of the central kingdoms, the region became something of a backwater -- ruled by local tribes and regularly raided by Arab slavers.
Conquered by the French during the last decade of the 19th century, the territory was declared pacified in 1911. The French initially placed control of the region under a governor-general in Brazzaville (Congo), but in 1910 Chad was joined to the larger federation of Afrique Équatoriale Française (AEF, French Equatorial Africa). It was not until 1914 that the north of Chad was finally occupied by the French.
The AEF was dissolved in 1959, and independence followed on 11 August 1960 with Francois Tombalbaye as Chad's first president. It was not long, unfortunately, before civil war erupted between the Muslim north and Christian/animist south. Tombalbaye rule became more brutal and in 1975 General Felix Malloum took power in a coup. He was replaced by Goukouni Oueddei after another coup in 1979.
Power changed hands twice more by coup: to Hissène Habré in 1982, and then to Idriss Déby in 1990. The first multi-party, democratic elections held since independence reaffirmed Déby in 1996.