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Updated on January 16, 2012

This land-locked state in central Africa is one of the world's poorest countries. It has no railways, and most roads are unusable in the rainy season. The barren Sahara covers half of it. Chad, once part of French Equatorial Africa, kept its close ties with France after independence in 1960. Relations were strained in 1975, when the French tried to secure the release of two French hostages held by rebels. But in 1976 the two countries signed new economic and military agreements.

Chad consists of an enormous depression, bordered in the north, south and east by mountains. Lake Chad, on the western frontier, was once an inland sea. It is only 1.6 meters deep and its area varies from 9,840 to 25,760 square km depending on rainfall in the region.

The climate is tropical, but varies widely. The wooded savannah of the south has 100 em of rain a year. The desert north of Lake Chad has only 13 em. About 96% of Chad's people live by farming. Yet crops can be grown only in the wetter south, which produces millet, guinea corn, pulses and cotton - the chief export. Government schemes are increasing yields of groundnuts and rice, and of fish from Lake Chad.

Cattle, sheep and goats are raised in the north. This area is recovering from the severe drought of 1968-73, which killed many people and at least 70% of the livestock. The country's only mineral is natron - a carbonate of sodium. Apart from small textile and food processing plants at N'djamena, Sarh and Moundou, there is no manufacturing. Chad imports all its petroleum products, machinery, vehicles and most of its manufactured goods.

Life expectancy is low: 35 years for women and 29 years for men. But the population is increasing by 2% a year. More than 100 languages and dialects are spoken; French is the official language. The people of the south are Bantu-speaking negroes. To the north are Sudanese negroes, with Tuareg-Berbers in the far north.

Half of the people are Muslims, many speaking Arabic. About 5% are Christians and the rest follow tribal religions. Chad was part of the Kanem Empire from the 9th century AD and became part of French Equatorial Africa in 1897. It gained its independence in 1960.

Since 1965 many people have died in sporadic unrest caused by Muslim northerners, who accuse the government of favoring the Banru peoples.

A military group seized control in 1975, and appealed to the Muslims to join in building a new state.

In 1978 a government of national unity was established, but it failed. In April 1979 a transitional government took office under a Muslim, Mohamed Shawa.


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