In 1940 Chad became internationally prominent when its lieutenant governor, Félix Eboué, led the rest of the AEF federation to support Free France under Charles de Gaulle rather than the government of Vichy France. Chad became the base for Colonel Jacques Leclerc's conquest of the Fezzan (1940-43), and the entire episode became the basis of an enduring sentimental bond between the France of de Gaulle's generation and Chad. More funds and attention flowed to Chad than ever before, and Eboué became the governor general of the entire AEF in November 1941.
Born in French Guiana of mixed African and European parentage, Eboué was keenly interested in the problems of cultural dislocation resulting from unchecked modernization in Africa. He worked to return authority to authentic traditional leaders while training them in modern administrative techniques. He recognized a place for African middle-class professionals in cities, but he opposed the migration of workers to cities, supporting instead the creation of integrated rural industries where workers could remain with their families. When Eboué died in 1944, the AEF lost a major source of progressive ideas, and Chad lost a leader with considerable influence in France.
French voters rejected many of the progressive ideas of Eboué and others after the war ended. Nevertheless, the constitution that was approved in 1946 granted Chad and other African colonies the right to elect a territorial assembly with limited powers. The Assembly in turn elected delegates to the French General Council of all the AEF. The position of governor general was redesignated high commissioner, and each territory gained the right to elect representatives to French parliamentary bodies, including the National Assembly, the Council of the Republic, and the Assembly of the French Union. The African peoples became French citizens, and the colonies were designated overseas territories of France. But the real locus of authority remained in Paris, and French personnel continued to dominate the AEF's administration. No formal attempt was made to train Chadian Africans for civil service positions before 1955.
Until the early 1950s, political forces originating in France dominated the development of politics in Chad. Local elections were won largely by members of the Chadian Democratic Union (Union Démocratique Tchadienne--UDT), which was associated with a political party in France, the Assembly of French People. The UDT represented French commercial interests and a bloc of traditional leaders composed primarily of Muslim and Ouaddaïan nobility. Chad's European community initiated the practice of using the civil service for partisan political ends; African civil servants who were identified with organizations opposed to the UDT soon found themselves dismissed or transferred to distant posts. For example, François Tombalbaye (later to become president) lost his job as a teacher and ended up making bricks by hand because of his union activities and his role in the opposition Chadian Progressive Party (Parti Progressiste Tchadien--PPT).
Nonetheless, by 1953 politics were becoming less European dominated, and the PPT was emerging as the major rival of the UDT. The leader of the PPT was Gabriel Lisette, a black colonial administrator born in Panama and posted to Chad in 1946. Elected as a deputy to the French National Assembly, Lisette was later chosen as secretary general of the African Democratic Assembly (Rassemblement Démocratique Africain--RDA), an interterritorial, Marxist-oriented party considered quite radical at the time. The PPT originated as a territorial branch of the RDA and rapidly became the political vehicle of the country's non-Muslim intellectuals. Traditional rulers perceived the PPT to be antithetical to their interests and recognized that the local territorial assembly could adversely affect their revenue and power. These factors persuaded traditional rulers to become more active in the UDT, which, because of internal divisions, had changed its name in the late 1950s to the Chadian Social Action (Action Sociale Tchadienne--AST).
Although party names changed frequently and dramatic factional schisms occurred throughout the 1950s, electoral competition was essentially between three political blocs: the UDT [AST], the PPT, and the allies of Ahmed Koulamallah from Chari-Baguirmi and Kanem prefectures. A clever politician and charismatic leader of the Tijaniyya Islamic brotherhood in Chad, Koulamallah campaigned in different times and places as a member of the Bagirmi nobility (he was an estranged son of the sultan), a radical socialist leader, or a militant Muslim fundamentalist. As a result, politics in the 1950s was a struggle between the south, which mostly supported the PPT, and the Muslim sahelian belt, which favored the UDT [AST]. Koulamallah played a generally disruptive role in the middle.
In 1956 the French National Assembly passed the loi cadre (enabling act), which resulted in greater self-rule for Chad and other African territories. Electoral reforms expanded the pool of eligible voters, and power began to shift from the sparsely settled northern and central Chadian regions toward the more densely populated south. The PPT had become less militant, winning the support of chiefs in the south and members of the French colonial administration, but not that of private French commercial interests. The PPT and allied parties won forty-seven of the sixtyfive seats in the 1957 elections, and Lisette formed the first African government in Chad. He maintained a majority for only about a year, however, before factions representing traditional chiefs withdrew their support from his coalition government.
In September 1958, voters in all of Africa's French territories took part in a referendum on the Fifth Republic's constitution, drawn up under de Gaulle. For a variety of political and economic reasons, most of Chad's political groups supported the new constitution, and all voted for a resolution calling for Chad to become an autonomous republic within the French community. The three other AEF territories voted similarly, and in November 1958 the AEF was officially terminated. Coordination on such issues as customs and currency continued among the four territories through written agreements or on an ad hoc basis. Nonetheless, some Chadians supported the creation of an even stronger French federation, rather than independence. The leading proponent of this proposal was Barthélemy Boganda of Ubangi-Chari, but his death in 1959 and the vigorous opposition of Gabon resulted in political independence on a separate basis for all four republics.
After Lisette's coalition crumbled in early 1959, two other alliances governed briefly. Then in March the PPT returned to power, this time under the leadership of Tombalbaye, a union leader and representative from Moyen-Chari Prefecture. Lisette, whose power was undermined because of his non-African origins, became deputy prime minister in charge of economic coordination and foreign affairs. Tombalbaye soon consolidated enough political support from the south and north to isolate the opposition into a collection of conservative Muslim leaders from central Chad. The latter group formed a political party in January 1960, but its parliamentary representation steadily dropped as Tombalbaye wooed individual members to the PPT. By independence in August 1960, the PPT and the south had clearly achieved dominance, but Tombalbaye's political skills made it possible for observers to talk optimistically about the possibility of building a broad-based coalition of political forces.
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