|“||Although our countries have gained their political independence, mental decolonization remains to be won. We are convinced that the mental decolonization of our people will enable us to resolve some of the difficulties which oppose us to each other.||„|
François Tombalbaye (June 15th, 1918 – April 13th, 1975) also known as N'Garta Tombalbaye, was a school teacher and a trade union activist who served as the first president of Chad from 1960 until his assassination in 1975 as head of the Chadian Progressive Party (PPT).
Tombalbaye was born on June 15, 1918, in the village of Bessada, Moyen-Chari (prefecture) in the southern region of the French colony of Chad, close to the city of Koumara. His father was a prominent trader and he was of the Sara ethnic group, the prominent ethnicity of Chad's five southern prefectures. He attended a primary school, run by Protestant missionaries, in Sarh, and secondary school in Brazzaville. As a young man, Tombalbaye studied to become an educator in the Republic of Congo's capital of Brazzaville, due to the lack of in-country schools.
Tombalbaye was elected prime minister in 1959 and president in August 1960 and proclaimed the independence of Chad. After independence he eliminated opposition in his party and outside his party and banned all other political parties. In 1963, Tombalbaye dissolved the National Assembly and began a nationalization/ Africanization program designed to empower the Africans and to move away from dependence on France. However, Tombalbaye’s Africanization program failed to account for the large population in the north and center of the country, who were Muslim and viewed his leadership with suspicion and merely as a shift of control from French colonials to the south.
Tombalbaye eventually took a heavy handed approach, supporting Christian interests—particularly those of his own ethnic group, the Sara—over those of the nation’s Muslims and ruthlessly eliminated his Muslim political opponents from northern Chad. At the same time, he launched a cultural revolution aimed at restoring national unity. However, his revolution failed when he forcefully revived a traditional, but long abandoned, yondo initiation ritual exclusive to only a subgroup of his Sara people. The ritual, which involved deep facial scarring, caused many of Tombalbaye’s supporters to leave his political party, after he forced Chadians to undergo the ritual which went against much of the strong Christian and Muslim beliefs that citizens held.
During the early 1970s, he chose to follow DRC strongman Mobutu Sese Seko in his move towards remaking African cultural institutions.
Progress came to a grinding halt in August 1971, when an attempted coup d'état with links to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was uncovered. Tombalbaye immediately severed relations with his northern neighbor and even allowed anti-Qadhafi forces to operate from his territory. In return, Gaddafi 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 Colonel Félix Malloum. 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 yondo in order to gain promotion in the civil service and the military.
As the drought worsened, Tombalbaye forcefully volunteered people to work in a major effort to increase cotton production in order to improve the current dismal ecomony. With his support in the south diminished, Tombalbaye lashed out at his army, making arbitrary promotions and demotions. Finally, on April 13th, 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 secretly buried his body in Faya.