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Chad has had decades of civil war, and is still subject to many rebellions. Its future could be transformed by oil

Chad's territory forms a basin centred on Lake Chad on the western border. The terrain rises steadily, eventually reaching mountains in the north and east between which, in the north-east, lies a sandstone plateau. The climate varies from hot and dry in the north to tropical in the south, where the country's small amount of arable land is to be found.

Chad is ethnically very diverse, with more than 200 distinct groups. Conventionally, these are divided into the Islamic north, where most people raise cattle and the common language is Arabic, and the Christian or animist south, where people are farmers and the common language of the élite is French. The dividing line is taken to be the Shari River. Though the two parts have roughly the same population, the south represents less than one-tenth of the territory. This north–south divide is something of a simplification, since each part has numerous internal divisions, but generally the north has been more traditional, and the south, which was more effectively colonized by the French, is economically more modern.

Throughout the country, poverty is severe and widespread. Infant mortality is high, life expectancy is low, and the literacy rate is only 26%. Over the past 30 years up to 400,000 people have died as a consequence of warfare. Since 2004 Chad has also received 250,000 refugees from Darfur in Sudan and 60,000 from the Central African Republic.

Until very recently Chad's economy has seen little progress since independence, hampered by poor infrastructure and endemic political conflict. Though agriculture now generates only 9% of GDP it employs the majority of the workforce. Sedentary agriculture is almost entirely in the south, on the lake shore, and along the river valleys.

In a good year, production of rice, sorghum, millet, wheat, and other foodstuffs is sufficient for local consumption, but output has frequently been constrained by drought and civil conflict. Cash crops include sugar and peanuts, but the most important, and the major export earner, is cotton—which directly or indirectly is thought to employ about one million people. In the centre and north of the country people rely for income on their livestock—around five million cattle and six million sheep and goats. Most of Chad's industry has also involved processing agricultural products—ginning cotton and producing meat and hides.

But things have changed radically in recent years. Following oil discoveries in 1994, ExxonMobil, Petronas, and Chevron have developed oilfields in Doba in the south and built a 1,100-kilometre pipeline to the port of Kribi in neighbouring Cameroon. The first oil was pumped in July 2003.

Oil income going to a select few

Oil income is expected to boost Chad's budget by 50% over the next 25 years. How will this windfall be used? The omens are not good. In 2008, the World Bank, which helped finance the pipeline, subsequently withdrew its support because the government had not abided by its promise to allocate oil revenues for poverty-reducing projects. Local people seem unlikely to gain very little extra direct income. The main beneficiaries seem to be traders and others catering to expatriates.


Subjects: History

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