• Indigenous peoples in Chad

    Indigenous peoples in Chad

    Two peoples are considered indigenous to Chad: the Mbororo sub-group of the Fulani people and the Toubou. The Mbororo Fulani live primarily from pastoralism and subsistence farming.

Indigenous World 2019: Chad

Chad is one of the six member states of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC). Its population is estimated at 14 million inhabitants living across an area covering 1,284,000 km2. The country is divided into three broad ecosystems: desert in the north, savannah in the centre and forest in the south.

Two peoples are considered indigenous to Chad: the Mbororo sub-group of the Fulani people and  the  Toubou.  The Mbororo Fulani live primarily from pastoralism and subsistence farming. According to the 1993 census, they number some 250,000 clustered in the dry centre and tropical south where there is pasture for their livestock. It is estimated that they make up some 10% of the Chadian population. Many of the Fulani have emigrated to neighbouring Cameroon, the Central African Republic or Niger. They can be recognised by their way of life, culture, language, and by the discrimination they suffer. The Fulani are often poor, the majority of them are illiterate and they have no political representation at the national level.

The Toubous are considered one of the oldest groups currently living in the Sahara. Their origin remains a mystery and they have always been an enigma in the eyes of others. Warriors and pastoralists like many other Saharan peoples, these nomads are feared by their neighbours, and owe their reputation to their legendary capacity for adaptation and survival in the particularly arid environment of the Tibesti mountains. They rear camels and cattle and live largely in northern Chad, with the exception of small communities settled in Niger, Libya and Egypt.

Chad was absent on the day of the vote on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in the UN General Assembly.

Due to a lack of available information on the Toubou, this article will limit itself to the situation of the Mbororo.

General situation of the Mbororo Fulani people in Chad

The Fulani are a large group living throughout the whole Sudano-Sahelian belt, largely in West and Central Africa. They can be divided into several sub-groups, including the Mbororo, who now live in five countries: Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Central African Republic. In Chad, they are represented by several dozen communities, including the Wodaabé, Dya-dyaé, Bibbé Woila, Fukarabé etc., and are also commonly known as “Fulbé Laddé”. When nomadic, their communities practise cross-border transhumance, following the rhythm of the seasons in search of water and pasture for their cattle. Primarily pastoralists, some communities are 100% nomadic while others are semi-nomadic, practicing subsistence farming. These latter are generally nomads who have lost their cattle due to land grabbing, the closure of transhumance corridors and climate change.

Increasing but still insufficient recognition

The Mbororo people are not officially recognised by the Chadian government in law. Despite the lack of official recognition, the UNDRIP ensures recognition through self-identification: a people must recognise itself as indigenous and meet all the criteria as specified in the Report of the African Commission’s Working Group of Experts on Indigenous Populations/Communities.1

An International Forum on Indigenous Peoples of Central Africa (FIPAC)2 was held in Impfondo in the Republic of Congo in 2014. President Idriss Deby Itno of Chad opened the Forum alongside President Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo, and Boni Yayi, then Head of State of Benin. This conference also resulted in a further conference of Central African ministers, which culminated in the creation of an indigenous peoples’ structure in the sub-region. Although recognition of indigenous peoples remains a challenge in Chad, the cause is becoming increasingly understood and recognised. At the same time, the conditions and way of life of these peoples are being increasingly threatened by environmental phenomena and climate change. This makes them more vulnerable and their most fundamental rights are not yet recognised and/or applied.

Land issues

Given the absence of any legal clarifications on land, there are still many ongoing problems in this regard. Nomadic land issues are regulated by Law 004 of 1959 (enacted during colonisation), which governs “pastoral lands”. This was updated by a Pastoral Code in 2014,3 some parts of which were adopted or rejected by parliament and the government. The lack of legal clarity disadvantages not only Chad’s Fulani but its nomadic communities as a whole.

The closure of transhumance corridors, privatisation of water sources and land grabbing remain a major obstacle, preventing indigenous peoples’ access to land and natural resources.

A planned decision by the Ministry of Livestock in 2012 on whether or not to re-open 60,000 km of transhumance corridors would have returned the indigenous peoples’ right to land and prevented conflicts between farmers and cattle herders. However, after six years, at the end of 2018, it remains at the draft stage.

The administrative division of Chad means that nomadic indigenous peoples are reliant on decisions from several different administrative districts which do not communicate. When moving from one area to another, they often have to pay the same taxes several times. In addition, this division acts to marginalise indigenous peoples, preventing their access to political processes. In 2018, very few Fulani were able to participate in decision-making circles and even fewer could access the arenas in which the implementation of these decisions are planned.

Consequences of climate change on the living conditions of Chad’s Fulani

Climate change and continued desertification exacerbated land and natural resource difficulties throughout the Sahel in 2018. Workshops with indigenous communities raised numerous land-related problems, often highlighting abuses by the local authorities which include: payment of illegal taxes and fines; improper sale of land; and abnormal increases in farmland titles across the country.4 These sales and re-allocations of land contribute to the destruction of Chad’s indigenous peoples’ way of life and culture. They reduce and, at worst, completely close off the transhumance corridors. Although nomadic and semi-nomadic indigenous groups in 2018 helped maintain the Sahel’s fragile natural ecosystems, the closure of transhumance corridors and conflicts over land, as well as changes in their way of life (including government attempts to settle them) are increasing the environment’s vulnerability and reducing its resilience to climate change. This has been demonstrated in several studies, including efforts by the UN Environment Program (UNEP) to highlight sustainable pastoralism.5


In 2010, the indigenous organisation Women’s Association of Indigenous Fulani in Chad (AFPAT) participated in a study organised by the Ministry of Education and Livestock Rearing on the education of isolated and remote nomadic children. This resulted in the creation of a Department for Nomadic Children’s Education (DNCE) in 2012. Despite the implied progress, however, the real impact for indigenous communities is minimal. The rare schools that do exist, and serve these indigenous groups, often have charitable origins, independent of the government. AFPAT has run workshops with these communities, and reports that a lack of resources devoted to the DNCE has resulted in a failure to achieve satisfactory results. Average school registration rates among nomadic children remained very low in 2018, at less than 1% for boys and virtually zero for girls.

Health and healthcare

In 2014, AFPAT participated in a study on nomadic health which resulted in the creation of a Health Programme for Nomadic Peoples, another step in the right direction. Four years on, however, there are no health centres along any of the transhumance corridors nor in many indigenous villages. These groups remain unable to benefit from primary healthcare. Women, children and the elderly suffer the highest rates of mortality among certain sectors of the population due to childbirth and numerous preventable diseases. The lack of facilities means that they are forced to travel long distances to reach health centres and, once there, they face discrimination, for instance being referred to as dirty, poor people.

Civil registry

In 2018, entire nomadic communities lack birth certificates. Often there are just a handful of men with identity cards in any settlement or village, largely because they are required to travel for the cattle trade. Despite a lack of documentation, most community members have voting cards, meaning that the state sets more store on distributing polling cards for electoral purposes than on providing identity cards. Without an identity card it is impossible to access most government services, including schools and medical centres.

Clean water

Access to drinking water is improving for semi-nomads as they themselves are paying for new pumps or water towers. The religious departments of Arab countries that build mosques in the country also provide water points. The nomads, however, to this very day drink the same water as their cattle, be it from a river, pond or lake. This basic right to clean water thus remains a great challenge and a source of conflict, particularly around Lake Chad.

Lack of progress in adopting a Pastoral Code

Worthy of note is Law No 4 of 31 October 1959 “On regulating nomadism over the territory of the Republic of Chad”.6 Since its enactment, this law has been invoked by indigenous peoples to obtain respect for their traditional areas of transhumance. Social harmony thus up until recently was maintained between the indigenous and the majority non-indigenous population. Poverty and the impacts of climate change have broken this understanding. The heads of non-indigenous communities are selling land to generals, ministers and others with more resources.

Given that the draft Pastoral Code regularising transhumance and other rural activities was largely rejected by the government, the 1959 law remains the only valid legal text.

In 1987, a new law, the Law on Protected Areas, placed restrictions on pastoral areas. These protected areas continued in 2018 to create problems and legal disputes between nomadic Fulani and sedentary farmers; security issues caused by forest guards who abuse the pastoralists; and problems of limited access to pasture because these areas are now closed.

Since the climate change conference COP21 in 2015, however, the Ministry of Environment and the Metrology Department have involved increasing numbers of indigenous people in their work in order to better understand their needs.

Indigenous women and climate change

Indigenous women are disproportionately vulnerable to the consequences of climate change. In traditional Mbororo society in Chad, women are responsible for most day-to-day tasks: preparing meals, fetching water and firewood, and the education and health of their children. Their activities further include the sale of milk and other livestock products.

According to different studies by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the main impacts of climate change on the Sahel are:

  • Lower rainfall, which is affecting pastoral communities by reducing their milk production, forcing them to change their transhumance routes and reducing the productivity of their farming activities;
  • Flash flooding, which can destroy crops and threaten herds;
  • Increased heatwaves, which threaten human and animal

AFPAT’s work with the communities has noted the following consequences of climate change on the indigenous peoples of the Sahel:

  • Declining incomes linked to milk and agricultural production;
  • Shortage or disappearance of some plant varieties used for traditional medicine or animal pasturing;
  • Increasing conflicts with settled farmers over land and natural resources, linked to changing transhumance corridors due to climate change;
  • Conflicts over the use of water, linked to a depletion of

AFPAT has developed a project to face up to the consequences of climate change. It is supported by the French Embassy in Chad and the Swiss Cooperation and is enabling women from nomadic and semi-nomadic communities to obtain additional incomes with which to offset the decline in milk production related to the change in seasons.

Two communities have thus far benefited from a series of training workshops aimed at understanding the challenges of climate change and fundamental rights and they have also been provided with investment to establish women’s income-generating cooperatives:

  • In the communities of Mayo Kebbi – Est, at Gournoida, the women have set up a cooperative to transform groundnuts, which are plentiful in the region, into paste and oil for
  • In the communities of the Centre – Chari Bagrimi, at Wouro Biridgi, a cooperative has been established to transform millet, thus enabling women not only to lighten their daily workload but also to obtain additional

Notes and references

  1. See ACHPR, “Expert Report on Indigenous Communities,” available at: http://bit.ly/2T55zSk
  2. MEFDD, “FIPAC 3 Impfondo Capitale De La Promotion De L’economie Des Savior Faire Traditionnels Des Popu,” available at: https://bit.ly/2VsRKK1
  3. See the Pastoral Platform of Chad, available at: http://bit.ly/2N6dxEt
  4. These issues were raised in the context of workshops run by AFPAT, who can provide reports if so required. Available at: afpat.net
  5. See UNEP’s article, “Putting sustainable pastoralism global agenda,” available at: http://bit.ly/2N6wo2b
  6. See Law No 4 of 31 October 1959, “On regulating nomadism over the territory of the Republic of Chad,” available at: http://bit.ly/2T3q8yt

Hindou OUMAROU IBRAHIM is President of the Women’s Association of Indigenous Fulani in Chad (AFPAT). Her organisation joined the African Indigenous Women’s Organisation (AIWO) in 1999. She has regularly participated in meetings of indigenous women’s organisations since 2001, ensuring that the voices of Chad’s indigenous Fulani women are heard, particularly at the Beijing+10 Conference, at meetings of indigenous women on the Convention on Biodiversity (CDG) and at COP21 in Paris.



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