History Files

African Kingdoms

Central Africa



The modern African country of Chad is directly south of Libya, taking in large swathes of the Sahara Desert in its northern territories. Sudan is to the east and Niger to the west, while the Central African Republic is to the south. Small tribal kingdoms began to coalesce into large states from around AD 900 onwards, and it was the Bornu empire which formed the basis for modern Chad.

Zaghawa / Duguwa Kingdom
c.AD 900 - c.1400

Zaghawa was a medieval kingdom in northern Chad (on Sudan's western border and Libya's southern border), in the Tibesti Highlands beyond the Bodele Depression, which was established by Berber nomads and was especially influential from circa 1000 to circa 1350. There exists almost no data about the region, although the Zaghawa exist to this day as an identifiable Berber ethnic group. Zaghawa was important in the Islamicisation of Kanem, to the south, in 1085.

? - c.850

Kanem is part of the Zaghawa kingdom.

Sahara sandstone
Chad's northern territories include portions of the Sahara, in which these sandstone pinnacles which were eroded by rain prove that the region was much wetter in prehistory

c.900 - c.1080

Unknown rulers

Names and the number of rulers not recorded.

? - 1086


Last Duguwa king of the Sayfawa dynasty.


Hummay, a member of the Sayfawa establishment who is already a Muslim, discards the last Duguwa king and establishes the new Sayfuwa dynasty.

c.1086 - c.1400

Unknown rulers

Names and the number of rulers not recorded.


Zaghawa power is broken by the rise of the Bornu empire, and the Sayfawa are reduced to controlling desert regions to the east.

Kanem Empire
c.AD 900 - 1389

The Kanem empire was situated in modern Chad and Libya. Originating at an unknown period to the north-east of Lake Chad, it was known to the Arabian geographers as the Kanem-Bornu empire from the ninth century AD onwards and it lasted, in one form or another, until 1893. At its height it encompassed an area covering not only much of Chad, but also parts of modern southern Libya and eastern Niger. The rulers were known as mais.

The extremely sketchy history of the empire from the thirteenth century onwards is mainly known from the Royal Chronicle, or Girgam, which was discovered in 1851 by the German traveller Heinrich Barth. There is the suggestion of a pre-Christian origin of Kanem in connection with the Phoenician expansion into Africa, although this is unconfirmed.

? - c.850

Part of the Zaghawa kingdom.

fl c.785


Sayfawa dynasty rulers govern the empire.

fl c.835


fl c.893


fl c.942


fl c.961


fl c.1019


fl c.1035


fl c.1077


fl c.1081

Abd al-Djelfl


The kingdom converts to Islam under the influence of Zaghawa.

1085 - 1097


1098 - 1150

Dunama I

1150 - 1176

Biri I

1176 - 1193


1193 - 1210

Abd al-Djel Selma

1210 - 1224

Dunama II Dabbalemi

1224 - 1242


1242 - 1262

Kachim Biri



1262 - 1281


1281 - 1301

Ibrahim I Nikale

1301 - 1320

Abdullah I


Increased aggression from Egypt and internal discord leads to the collapse of the neighbouring kingdom of Dongola in Nubia.

1320 - 1323


1323 - 1325

Kure Gana

1326 - 1327

Kure Kura

1327 - 1329

Mohammed I

1329 - 1353

Idris I

1353 - 1356


1356 - 1369

Othman I

1370 - 1389

Internal struggles and external attacks tear Kanem apart. Six mais reign in this period, but Bulala invaders (from the area around Lake Fitri to the east) kill five of them. This proliferation of mais results in numerous claimants to the throne and leads to a series of internecine wars.

1369 - 1371

Othman II

1371 - 1372

Abu Bakr Lagatu

1372 - 1380

Idris Dunama III / Umar Idrismi

Moved the capital to Bornu.


The Bulala force Mai Umar Idrismi to abandon Njimi and move the Kanembu people to Bornu on the western edge of Lake Chad.

1380 - 1388

Omar I



1388 - 1389

Kade Alunu

Kanem-Bornu Empire
AD 1389 - 1890

The once strong Sayfawa dynasty was forced out of Kanem and back into the nomadic lifestyle they had abandoned nearly 600 years ago. Around 1396, the Kanembu finally overcame attacks from their neighbours (Arabs and Berbers, and the Hausa of modern Nigeria), to found a new state in Bornu. After a shaky start which saw a total of fifteen mais on the throne during the course of the fifteenth century, they succeeded in re-establishing domination over their former territory in Chad, eastern Niger and southern Libya, as well as north-eastern Nigeria and northern Cameroon.

The capital was located on the western edge of Lake Chad. Over time, the intermarriage of the Kanembu and Bornu peoples created a new people and language, the Kanuri.

(Additional information from Ba Karim: An Account of Rabeh's Wars, Michael Horowitz (African Historical Studies 3, 1970), from La vie du sultan Rabah, Gaston Dujarric (Paris, 1902), and from External Link: Encyclopaedia Britannica.)

1389 - 1421

Biri II

1421 - 1422

Othman Kalinuama

1422 - 1424

Dunama IV

1424 - 1432

Abdullah II

1432 - 1440

Ibrahim II

1440 - 1446


1446 - 1450

Dunama V

1450 - 1451

Mohammed II

1451 - 1453


1453 - 1458

Mohammed III

1458 - 1463


1463 - 1473

Othman III

1473 - 1474

Omar II

1474 - 1479

Mohammed IV

1479 - 1507

'Ali Gazi

1507 - 1529

Idris II Katakarmabe

1529 - 1544

Mohammed V

1544 - 1548

'Ali I

1548 - 1566

Dunama VI

1566 - 1573

Abdullah III

1573 - 1589

Aissa Kili N'guirmamaramama


1580 - 1617

Idris III Alaoma / Idris Aluma

The empire peaked at this time.

1617- 1632

Mohammed VI Bukalmarami

1632 - 1639

Ibrahim III

1639 - 1657

Hadj Omar


Sustained by the reforms of Idris III (1580-1617), the empire now begins to fade.

1657 - 1694

'Ali II

1694 - 1711

Idris IV

1711 - 1726

Dunama VII

1726 - 1738

Hadj Hamdan

1738 - 1751

Mohammed VII

1751 - 1753

Dunama VIII Gana

1753 - 1793

'Ali III

late 1700s

Bornu's rule now extends only westwards, into the land of the Hausa of modern Nigeria.

1793 - 1808


1808 - 1811

Dunama IX Lefiami

1811 - 1814

Mohammed VIII

1814 - 1846

When the semi-nomadic alliance of Muslim tribesmen take over the empire under Mohammed, the Sayfawas return to the old capital of Kanem under Dunama IX to remain titular monarchs.

1814 - 1835

Mohammed el Amin I al-Kanemi

Non-Sayfawa dynasty ruler.

1814 - 1817

Dunama IX Lefiami

Rival Sayfawa ruler restored at Kanem.

1817 - 1846

Ibrahim IV

Rival Sayfawa ruler at Kanem.

1835 - 1853

Omar / Umar

Son of Mohammed el Armin al-Kanemi. Deposed by his brother.


'Ali IV Dalatumi

Rival Sayfawa ruler at Kanem. Last of the Sayfawas.


Ali V takes part in a civil war in league with Ouaddai tribesmen. He is defeated by Omar and one of the longest ruling dynasties is ended. The title of mai is dropped for the more modest one of shehu (sheikh).

1853 - 1854

Abdul Rahman

Brother of Omar. Usurper. Defeated.

1854 - 1880



1880 - 1884

Bukara Kura



The Sudanese revolt is led by Muhammad Ahmad ibn Abd Allah, the Mahdi (the Guided One), against Turco-Egyptian administration. It quickly gains popularity amongst the disaffected and fractured Sudanese people.

1884 - 1885

Ibrahim Kura

Brother. Gained throne through bribery.

1885 - 1893

Hashimi / Ashimi

Brother. Fled and assassinated.

1893 - 1894


Nephew. Captured and executed.

1890 - 1893

The empire is conquered by Great Britain.


Sanda Limananbe Wuduroma

Brother. Captured and executed. No successor until 1902.

1893 - 1894

Rabih az-Zubayr, a warlord from eastern Sudan who has subjugated the nearby Ouaddai-Chari sultanate, turns his attentions towards the fading Bornu empire. He makes short work of capturing the minor sultanate of Karnak Logone, which catches the attention of the Bornu emperor, Hashimi. He sends 15,000 men to confront Rabih but they are routed not once but twice. Hashimi, instantly broken, flees to the north of the empire where he is assassinated under the orders of his nephew, Kyari. Kyari himself is soon defeated (in 1894) and Rabih's Zobeir dynasty has the diminished empire for itself.

Kyari's official successor, Sanda Limananbe, is also captured and executed, this time by one of Rabih's henchmen. The Bornu succession remains vacant until 1902 when the shehus are re-established, although now they hold little real power and their empire is a thing of history.

Zobeir Dynasty of Ouaddai-Chari & Bornu
AD 1890 - 1901

The Zobeir formed a short-lived dynasty in territory to the east of Lake Chad, much of which had formerly belonged to the Bornu empire. A Sudanese slave trader and warlord called Rabih az-Zubayr served as the lieutenant of the notorious Sebehr Rahma, the 'Slaver King' who provided British Governor-General Charles George Gordon with some opposition in Sudan in the 1870s. Rahma's son, Suleyman, led a revolt against the British in 1878, but he was defeated by a native governor and surrendered in 1879. By that time Rabih had already retreated southwards, having suffered heavily losses to his own forces. With a command that totalled about fourteen hundred men he spent the next few years carving out a brutal and violent domain in territory between the Nile basin and that of the Ubangi, in the lands of Dar Benda and Kreich.

By 1885 those lands had been laid waste, so Rabih attempted to return to Sudan at the invitation of Muhammad Ahmad ibn Abd Allah, 'The Mahdi'. Learning of a plot to assassinate him, he turned away, invading Darfur instead. There he was defeated by the sultan of Ouaddai, being deflected instead into Ouaddai-Chari (Ubangi-Shari, named after the two rivers between which it lay and later part of French Equatorial Africa). This time he was successful, deposing the Muslim chieftain there and installing the chieftain's nephew as his puppet. To seal the arrangement, Khadija, the daughter of the new chief, Al-Mahdi al-Senoussi, was married to Rabih's son, Fad el Allah. Rabih went on to lead attacks on neighbouring provinces and kingdoms before invading the Bornu empire in 1893. In the end, having stirred up a hornet's nest of trouble with the colonial French, Rabah's forces were overwhelmed by them in 1900.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Ba Karim: An Account of Rabeh's Wars, Michael Horowitz (African Historical Studies 3, 1970), from La vie du sultan Rabah, Gaston Dujarric (Paris, 1902), and from External Link: Encyclopaedia Britannica.)

1890 - 1893

Having set himself up in the minor territory of Ouaddai-Chari, Rabih az-Zubayr leads attacks on a number of local regions, including Dar Runga, Kreich, Goula, and then Banda Ngao. With the colonial French showing an interest in the region, an expedition of theirs is attacked in 1891. The expedition's French leader is killed and the weapons are collected to rearm Rabih's own forces. The Baguirmi kingdom to the south-east of Lake Chad is attacked in 1892. The capital is besieged and in 1893 is completely destroyed.

Rabih az-Zubayr
Rabih az-Zubayr, perhaps a typical south Sudanese warlord of any period right down to the modern age, captured an empire but couldn't keep it in the face of French superiority - instead he ended up on the end of the spear of a French native soldier

Also in 1893, Rabah turns his attentions towards the fading Bornu empire. He makes short work of capturing the minor sultanate of Karnak Logone on the empire's eastern border, which catches the attention of the Bornu emperor, Hashimi. He sends 15,000 men to confront Rabih but they are routed not once but twice. Hashimi, instantly broken, flees to the north of the empire where he is assassinated under the orders of his nephew, Kyari. Kyari himself is soon defeated (in 1894) and Rabih has the diminished empire for himself and his puppet sultan, Al-Mahdi al-Senoussi.

1893 - 1900

Rabah 'the Conqueror' / Rabih az-Zubayr

Sudanese warlord who captured the Bornu empire. Killed.


Rabih has spent seven years rebuilding the Bornu empire in his image, re-equipping the army and founding new forts. However, his troops are still primitively armed by Europeans standards. Talks with the French lead to the explorer Ferdinand de Béhagle being arrested and hanged, and the commander of a French unit being killed in action. In response, three French columns are sent against him, and on 22 April 1900 Rabih's forces are overwhelmed and Rabih killed during an attempted escape.


Fad el Allah / Fadlallah

Son. Defeated and killed by the French.

1901 - 1960

Fad el Allah attempts to hold together the splintering forces of his father, but he is quickly defeated and killed. Chad is taken by France while Borno goes to Great Britain to be incorporated into the Northern Nigeria Protectorate, neighbouring the Southern Nigerian Protectorate and its defeated Benin empire territory (merged in 1914 to form the beginnings of modern Nigeria). In 1903 the French also gain Ouaddai-Chari, adding it to French Equatorial Africa. French control of Chad is fully secured by 1920 as part of French Equatorial Africa, and remains in place until 11 August 1960, when Chad gains independence and a republic is formed.

Modern Chad
AD 1960 - Present Day
Incorporating Heads of State (1960-2022)

The modern republic of Chad is a landlocked, semi-desert country in central sub-Saharan Africa. It is bordered to the north by Libya, to the east by Sudan, to the south by the Central African Republic, to the south-west by Cameroon, and to the west by Nigeria and Niger. The capital is Chad's largest city, N'Djamena, a port city which sits at the confluence of the Logone and Chari rivers on the country's south-western border.

The region first entered recorded history rather late, at the start of the tenth century AD. Both the highly-obscure Zaghawa kingdom and the Kanem empire emerged at approximately the same time within modern Chad's borders. The former emerged in the Tibesti Highlands beyond the Bodele Depression, close to Libya's southern border. This may have been little more than a Berber tribal state, at least in its early years. The latter emerged to the north-east of Lake Chad from, again, highly-obscure origins, this time in the ninth century AD.

Perhaps remarkably, the Kanem empire survived in one form or another until the very start of the twentieth century. Then its territory was largely taken by France, while Borno went to Great Britain to be incorporated into the 'Northern Nigeria Protectorate', which neighboured the 'Southern Nigerian Protectorate' and its defeated Benin empire territory. In 1903 the French also gained Ouaddai-Chari, adding it and the rest of their gains to French Equatorial Africa. French control of Chad was fully secured by 1920, and remained in place until 11 August 1960, when Chad gained independence.

The republic of Chad was created on 11 August 1960. A president was elected, but this quickly turned into a dictatorship and civil war followed in what was always a poor country. Since then the country's history has been marked by instability and violence, stemming mostly from tension between the mainly Arab-Muslim north and the predominantly Christian and animist south. The civil war was largely a north-versus-south affair, with the fertile south being backed by France and the desert north and arid centre by Libya.

Despite its overall reputation as a dry and dusty country, southern Chad is home to many forests. Over the years, though, these have systematically been chopped down, first by people who were seeking firewood and then for charcoal which burns for longer and produces less smoke. This makes it cheaper than wood, but it is also less efficient so more trees need to be felled to produce it. As well as it being illegal to chop down trees in Chad, the making of charcoal is also forbidden, although this does not stop hundreds of trees being felled every week. However, Chad is rich in gold and uranium and stands to benefit in the twenty-first century from its recently-acquired status as an oil-exporting state.

Sub-Saharan Africa

(Information by Peter Kessler and the John De Cleene Archive, with additional information from Encyclopaedia Britannica (Eleventh Edition, Cambridge (England), 1910), from Washington Post, and from External Links: BBC News, and BBC Country Profiles, and Chad, Death of a Dictator (Time Magazine), and President of the Republic of Chad (official website), and Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB), and Chad (Rulers.org), and Chad (Zárate's Political Collections (ZPC)), and Unity 'the only way forward' (The Guardian), and Hissène Habré dies at 79 (BBC News), and Devastating floods (2022) (The Guardian).)

1962 - 1975

François 'N'Garta' Tombalbaye

'Head of state' (to 1962) then president. Dictatorial. Killed.

1960 - 1962

Tombalbaye is the first president of the republic (albeit with the position being entitled 'head of state' until 1962). He quickly introduces dictatorial rule with the banishment of the multiparty system, and it takes just two years to get from independence to dictatorship.

Tibesti Mountains
The Tibesti Mountains are formed from a range of inactive volcanoes which are located in northern Chad's arid Borkou and Tibesti regions, abutting Libya's south-eastern border


Muslims in the country - largely located in the north - begin a civil war against the president (he being a Christian southerner). This initially takes the form of relatively ineffective guerrilla warfare and is combined with a severe drought.


Signs of liberalisation appear, with Tombalbaye admitting that he has made mistakes in his presidency and rule of the country. Reform is initiated, and France withdraws the last of its troops from the country.

Later in the same year a coup attempt is uncovered, with links to Libya's Muammar al-Gaddafi. The reforms come to a shuddering halt, the border with Libya is closed, and Tombalbaye allows anti-Gaddafi rebels to operate from northern Chad.


The war continues, and Tombalbaye lashes out at his own military. Seemingly arbitrary promotions and demotions, and also arrests to prevent a perceived (but probably non-existent) coup, lead to him being assassinated during a very real coup by a group of officers.

General Noël Milarew Odingar leads the country during a short transition between the coup and the selection of another Christian southerner as the new leader, this being Félix Malloum.

François 'N'Garta' Tombalbaye
President François 'N'Garta' Tombalbaye of Chad, born 1918 in the village of Bessada in southern Chad and still bearing tribal scarring to his face


Noël Milarew Odingar

Military officer who oversaw the transition period.

1975 - 1979

Félix Malloum

Dictator. Resigned after failing to unite north and south.


Libya has become directly involved in the war, with this northern neighbour hoping to take control now that France has lost any influence. It backs a northern Chadian leader, Goukouki Oueddei, who replaces Malloum when the north conquers the capital at N'Djamena.

The country's infrastructure collapses completely, and the fighting continues with armed factions contending for power, many of them formerly part of the north's civil war against the south. Once the warlords of the defeated south have fought it out to see who will lead them, a former defence minister, Hissène Habré, emerges as their new commander.

1979 - 1982

Goukouki Oueddei

Dictator. Deposed and fled to the north.

1980 - 1981

Not content with supporting rebel groups, Libyan forces now invade and occupy the Aozou Strip. This is followed later in the same year with the occupation of much of northern Chad, but the Chadians under Hissène Habré force them out in 1981.


With continued French support, Hissène Habré reaches the capital and is able to capture it. Goukouki Oueddei is able to escape by fleeing to the north of the country where he forms a rival government. Habré's term of office quickly turns into another dictatorship, with corruption and violence seemingly endemic in everyday life.

Hissène Habré
Having been found guilty in 2016 of crimes which were committed during his term of office, ex-President Hissène Habré died in 2021 at the age of seventy-nine, having required treatment for a coronavirus infection

1982 - 1990

Hissène Habré / Hissen Habre

Dictator. Deposed by his own general.

1983 - 1987

The Libyans return in 1983 to take northern Chad above Koro Toro. The presence of the Libyans in Chad is almost universally disliked. With extremely unusual levels of support from fellow Chadians, Hissène Habré's forces eject them from the country, although it takes until 1987 to achieve this feat.


Hissène Habré's regime of violence and discrimination against his former allies has worn out the patience even of his supporters. In his turn he is ousted, this time by another Libyan-backed candidate in the form of Idriss Déby, one of Habré's own generals. This northern candidate for dictatorship effectively replaces the shadow government of Goukouki Oueddei.

1990 - 1996

Idriss Déby

Military general who introduced free and fair elections.


The general responsible for overthrowing Habré, Idriss Déby, has overseen a stabilisation of events in the country and also the introduction of a multiparty political system. In 1996 he wins free and fair elections to become the country's first legitimate, democratically elected leader since 1960. He also wins a second term of office five years later, in 2001.

President Idriss Déby of Chad
Despite making Chad a constructive force in terms of joining its neighbours in attempting to quell regional rebellions, Chad's President Idriss Déby was a more controversial figure at home, where he was killed by rebels shortly before he could give an acceptance speech following a sixth elections victory

1996 - 2021

Idriss Déby Itno

'President' for unlimited time. Effectively a dictator. Killed.

1998 - 2002

An armed insurgency begins in the north, despite President Déby himself being from the north. His former defence chief, Youssouf Togoimi, is the insurgency's leader. A Libyan-brokered peace deal in 2002 fails to put an end to the fighting.

2003 - 2004

In February 2003, rebels in the western region of Darfur in Sudan rise up against the government, claiming that the region is being neglected by Khartoum. In January the following year, the army moves to quell the rebel uprising and hundreds of thousands of refugees flee to neighbouring Chad.


A peace deal is agreed which ends the Second Sudanese Civil War, but Chad and Sudan accuse one another of backing and harbouring rebels, and the dispute leads to a four-year break in relations between 2006-2010.

2006 - 2009

Internal dissent springing from recent oil drilling delivers renewed conflict. Following his removal of the two-term limit on his presidency, Déby enjoys victory in a third election which is boycotted by the rebels. Full-blown civil war is the expected result, but no side is able to gain decisive control. By 2009, after two failed attempts to take the capital, the rebel attacks are little more than minor firefights.

Chad's rebels
The rebels who were fighting Chad's rare democratically-elected government in the first decade of the twenty-first century were based in neighbouring Sudan, but by 2009 they were militarily weak and Chad soon had other problems to worry about


A coalition of forces from Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, and Gabon send forces into the Central African Republic (CAR) to help the government halt a drive by rebel troops from 'Union for the Democratic Forces for Unity' (UFDR). The attempt fails so much so that the CAR president is forced to flee and the rebels take control of the presidency.


From late in 2013 Chad begins to play host to tens of thousands of refugees who flee the fighting in the neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR). Chad also sends forces to Mali to support its beleaguered government, with more success than in its venture into CAR.


Chad pledges military support to Cameroon and Nigeria in repelling the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency. Boko Haram responds by attacking the Chadian shore of Lake Chad, raising fears that the insurgency may spread eastwards. However, the rebel capital at Gwoza is captured by coalition forces in April 2015.


On 20 April 2021, according to the military, President Idriss Déby is killed in battle against the rebel 'Front for Change and Concord' (FACT). The military use the event to stage a coup, suspending the constitution for eighteen months, and installing Déby's son, General Mahamat Idriss Déby, as chairman of a transitional military council.

FACT rebels in Chad
About a week after killing President Idriss Déby, rebels from the 'Front pour l'alternance et la concorde au Tchad' (FACT) were routed by the Chadian armed forces and had to retreat into Niger

2021 - On

Mahamat Idriss Déby

Son. Military council chairman (to 2022), then president.


Chad's new prime minister is appointed by President Mahamat Idriss Déby to head an interim national unity administration. Saleh Kebzabo is tasked with leading the country towards fully free and fair elections, along with several other former rebels who are appointed to government ministerial posts. The elections are scheduled to take place in 2024.

In the same year tremendous floods strike Chad, Niger, and Nigeria between June and November, made worse by climate change. They are amongst the deadliest on record for the region. Hundreds of people are killed, 1.5 million are displaced, and more than 500,000 hectares of farmland is damaged.

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