The Tubu, or Teda, have inhabited the Tibesti Mountains region, which spans Libya, Chad, and Niger, for over thirty centuries. At one time, their kingdom stretched into Egypt and Sudan. Also, a branch of the Tubu created the Kanem-Bornu kingdom that stretched even further south into Northern Nigeria and Northern Cameroon.
The language, Tedaga, of the Tubu is an ancient oral language. It has only recently been developed in written form. Today, there are fewer than one million Tubu in the entire world and most live in the Tibesti Mountains.
The colonial period brought great struggles and warfare to preserve the Tubu culture, identity, way of life, and freedom. As is the case with European colonization in Africa, their territory was divided by arbitrary boundaries crossing several countries (Libya, Chad, and Niger). This was done in a systematic way, like so many other African indigenous nations, in order to weaken them and prop up geopolitical nations that were strongly influenced by European powers, particularly the French and Italians.
The Khaddafi era brought another series of struggles as Moammar Khaddafi required all Libyan citizens to become Arabs, which many Tubu refused to do. In the Tubu territory in South Libya, Khaddafi systematically marginalized the Tubu by not developing the region. In fact, the vast resources of South Libya were developed and piped to North Libya and even Europe.
Europe, Italy in particular, may not have controlled Libya anymore but they made a lot of money there at the expense of the Tubu and others in the South. There are several large European companies who still maintain operations in South Libya and make hundreds of millions of dollars there, but do the same as Khaddafi and the current Libyan government by purposely “not” developing the region to maintain a semblance of control by turning their eyes away from the problem.
However, Khaddafi went beyond purposeful marginalization. He attempted to decimate the Tubu by placing land mines in their territory even venturing into Chad. In 2011, when the Khaddafi regime was destroyed, the Tubu were among the indigenous tribes who fought to end his regime.
Today, the Tubu are at a crossroads in Libya and Chad for many reasons, but I will only cover a few here. First, Libya is highly unstable. It has an officially recognized government by the international community but it has little wide spread legitimacy in Libya itself. While elections are planned for this year, until there is an inclusive path for governance the process will be fraught with problems.
Second, the Tibesti Mountains region is rich in natural resources, including oil, gas, gold, diamonds, and uranium. In Libya, the pattern of Khaddafi’s marginalization continues with the current government leadership which is predominately Arab. In Chad, the Chadian government has a history of trying to overtake, or destabilize, the Tubu. Recently, with the discovery of gold in Tubu territory, there are reports of the presence of Chadian soldiers in villages and even some deaths at their hand. In all likelihood, the Chadian government is leveraging the Tubu situation in Libya to weaken the tribe in Chad. Overall, the Tubu are being surrounded and attempts are being made to push them aside to make room for others to plunder their territory.
Our interest in the Tubu is to see that they are able to preserve their identity and inheritance that they have stewarded for over thirty centuries. Their development is critical to the stability of Libya and the Sahel region as the porous borders of Chad, Libya, and Niger pass through their region. They have the capacity to manage the Tibesti Mountains better than anyone else and have the ability to address the issues of terrorism and illegal trafficking if they do not have to fight for their own survival.