Lake Chad, which gave the name to the country, was once one of the largest lakes in the world. Over recent decades, it has dried up considerably, shrinking from 26 000 square kilometers (more than 10 000 square miles) in 1960, to less than 1 500 square kilometers (less than 600 square miles) today. The Sahara Desert covers more than half the country.

Chad is isolated in the heart of the African continent, “stuck” between powerful and turbulent neighbors, and with violence occasionally spilling over the border: Libya to the north, Sudan and the region of Darfur to the east, and Nigeria to the west. In other words Chad was dealt a rough geographical hand.

At the turn of the 20th century, the country was the battleground for clashes between Muslim conquerors and French colonial forces, with great violence and bloodshed (1900-1960). What remained after was an assortment of ethnic groups and a weak, incompetent, corrupt administration unable to bring them together. Not only was there the burden of fate for geography, but also for history.


As a result, the fifty years of independence were marked by revolts, military putsches, guerilla movements, civil wars, foreign military intervention, plus competition between foreign powers both near and far for geostrategic interests and mining wealth (oil, since 2003, with Exxon and Shell, and uranium, as yet unmined).

But the country did not disappear, one of the reasons being the permanent presence of French troops and, more recently, UN forces, that brought with them a “realistic” warning about human rights abuses, large-scale corruption and electoral fraud.

A career in the armed forces has always been and still is a natural choice for young, sometimes very young, men in Chad.

Tension and skirmishes have not stopped, but conflicts are now configured different compared to the situation in the 1980s (the period covered by this exhibition). At the time, Chad was a target for the Soviet regime (backed by Libya and Colonel Gaddafi) and the West (France and the USA). The current regime under General Idriss Déby Itno, who has been in power since 1990, is supported by Libya, China, the United States and France.

By opening up to the oil industry with the wealth it brings, the State has been able to embark on a policy of economic and social achievements, to “pay off” opponents more easily, and provide vast resources to equip the army, ultimately improving the country’s chances of stability.

The winds of democracy that blew in with the fall of the Berlin wall have helped foster civil society, as seen, for example, in the press and with human rights associations, sowing the seed of a multi-party system.

There is now hope for future generations. However, the country today has no political or academic elite, no thinkers who are tolerant and competent, and when combined with the cynicism of the major countries, then progress becomes slower, and setbacks often occur, e.g. rebellions are revived and opponents to the regime go missing.

Many of the fighters we see in the photos in the exhibition are still actively involved in the higher ranks of either government armed forces or rebel movements, where they often work shoulder to shoulder with their own children or the children of their fallen comrades.

Tanguy Loyzance

Tanguy Loyzance

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