Tombalbaye, Francois-Ngarta

1918–1975
President of Chad

The first president of CHAD, Francois-Ngarta Tombalbaye promoted the interests of Christian groups in southern Chad at the expense of Muslims in the north. Born in southern Chad and educated by Protestant missionaries, Tombalbaye became a school teacher. However, his interests eventually turned to politics, and in 1946 he helped create the Chad Progressive Party. He later became president of the first Chadian trade union. After being elected to the French National Assembly in 1952, Tombalbaye rose in importance, serving as vice president of the Grand Council of French Equatorial Africa and as Chad’s prime minister.

Tombalbaye, Francois-Ngarta

When Chad became independent in 1960, Tombalbaye won the presidency. He began 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 revived a traditional, but long abandoned, INITIATION RITE. The ceremony, which involved deep facial scarring, caused many of Tombalbaye’s supporters to leave his political party.

By the mid-1970s Tombalbaye faced strong opposition in the north, growing political unrest in the south, and dissatisfaction among the military. On April 13, 1975, a group of army officers and police surrounded Tombalbaye’s residence and asked him to surrender. Resisting arrest, he was shot dead in his home.