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President Tombalbaye marching in a parade celebrating the tenth anniversary of independence.

François Tombalbaye, also called Ngarta Tombalbaye (June 15, 1918 – April 13, 1975), was a teacher and a trade union activist who served as the first president of Chad. He was born in the southern region of the country in the Moyen-Chari Prefecture near the city of Koumara and was of the Sara ethnic group, the prominent ethnicity in the five southern prefectures. Tombalbaye succeeded Gabriel Lisette as head of the Chadian Progressive Party (PPT), heading Chad's colonial government from 1959. He ruled the country during its independence on August 11, 1960, and was appointed its first head of government.

Tombalbaye managed to create a coalition of progressive forces from both the north and south of the country and isolating the more conservative Islamic factions in the center as a colonial legislator. After independence he adopted an autocratic form of government, eliminated opposition both within his party and outside his party by banning all other political parties. In 1963 Tombalbaye dissolved the National Assembly in response to rioting. He began nationalizing the civil service, replacing French administrators with less competent locals. He imposed a "National Loan", greatly increasing taxing, to fund the nationalization.

In October, 1968 Tombalbaye was a guest of President Lyndon B. Johnson in Washington, D.C. Following brief talks with Johnson, he traveled to Texas, meeting with research scientists at ICASALS (International Center for Arid and Semiarid Land Studies), part of Texas Tech University.

Tombalbaye's Africanization program failed to account for the large population in the north and center of the country, who were Muslim and did not identify with the Christian and animist south. The Gorane saw independence as a shift of control from French colonials to the south. On November 1, 1965, riots in Guéra Prefecture led to 500 deaths. This sparked a series of disturbances throughout the north and center of the country, compounded by involvement by Chad's neighbors, Libya to the north and Sudan to the east. The most prominent movement in this period was the FROLINAT, or 'National Liberation Front of Chad', based in Sudan. Though FROLINAT was plagued by rivalry and division, it was able to resist Tombalbaye's authoritarianism. Tombalbaye called upon France, Chad's former colonial power, for assistance, citing treaties two countries had signed at independence.

France agreed to enter the fray, provided that Tombalbaye initiate a series of reforms to the army, government, and civil service. Taxes and laws imposed arbitrarily by Tombalbaye were to be rescinded, and the country's traditional sultans had their role as tax collectors restored, for which they received 10% of the income. He agreed to France's terms in 1969 and Chad embarked on a gradual liberalization process. In elections in 1969, several hundred political prisoners were released from prison, but Tombalbaye was still the only candidate on the ballot.

A further sign of liberalization came in 1971, when Tombalbaye admitted to the Congress of the PPT that he had made mistakes. Steps were taken to reform the government, and more Gorane were included in his new government. Order seemed to have been restored, and France withdrew its troops from the country.

Progress came to a grinding halt in August 1971, when an attempted coup d'état with links to Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi was uncovered. Tombalbaye immediately severed relations with his northern neighbor and even allowed anti-Qadhafi forces to operate from his territory. In return, Qadhafi granted formal recognition and aid to what remained of the FROLINAT opposition to Tombalbaye. Meanwhile, in the south, where Tombalbaye had his greatest support, he responded to a strike by students by replacing the popular Chief of Staff Jacques Doumro with then-Colonel Félix Malloum, who later became the Chadian Head of State. Chad was in the grip of a crippling drought, and Tombalbaye rescinded his amnesty to political prisoners. By the end of 1972, over 1,000 political prisoners had been arrested. At the same time, he also made overtures to the Arab world, reducing Libyan support for, and fomenting infighting in, FROLINAT.

Nevertheless, Tombalbaye felt insecure with his own government as well. Tombalbaye arrested major PPT leaders, including Malloum, for allegedly using witchcraft to overthrow him in what was known as the "Black Sheep Plot," for the animals they allegedly sacrificed. In August, Tombalbaye disbanded the PPT and replaced it with the National Movement for the Cultural and Social Revolution (MNRCS). Under the guise of authenticité, the new movement promoted Africanization: the capital of Fort-Lamy was renamed N'Djamena and Tombalbaye himself changed his given name from François to Ngarta. Christianity was disparaged, missionaries were expelled, and all non-Muslim males in the south between the ages of sixteen and fifty were required to undergo traditional initiation rites known as yondo in order to gain promotion in the civil service and the military. These rites, however, were native to only one of Chad's ethnic groups, Tombalbaye's own Sara people, and even then, only to a subgroup of that people. To everyone else, the rituals were harsh and foreign.

Meanwhile the drought worsened throughout Africa, so in order to improve the dismal economy, people were forced to "volunteer" in a major effort to increase cotton production. With his support in the south diminished, Tombalbaye lashed out at the army, making arbitrary promotions and demotions. Finally, on April 13, 1975, after some of the country's leading officers had been arrested for involvement in an alleged coup, a group of soldiers killed Tombalbaye and installed Félix Malloum, by then a general, as the new head of state.

See also

References

Political offices
Preceded by
(none)
Head of State of Chad
1960–1975
Succeeded by
Noël Milarew Odingar
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