Snatched up by France during the Scramble for Africa, the area now known as Agawej was inhabited by a number of largely nomadic tribes in the north and mercantile states in the south. All told, over a dozen ethnic and tribal identities were encompassed by the area when the Third Republic conquered it in a series of colonial campaigns and established a centralized administration.

Other than the exploitation of natural resources and the construction of a naval base at N’wadibu, the French invested very little in infrastructure. When they belatedly granted the territory independence in 1960, there were only ten doctors in the territory and no paved airstrips.

The first president after independence, Dr. Emile Ksar, invested heavily in building up N’wadibu and selling concessions to foreign mining companies to extract iron ore, uranium, and bauxite. His overthrow in 1962 changed little other than the chair in the presidential palace; Agawej continued to be dominated by foreign investment and chronic poverty through the course of the 27 presidents it had between 1963 and 2001.

President Youssouf Bodélé, the current leader, has clung to power for nearly twenty years. This is not due to any personal popularity but rather a combination of French paratroopers and an external focus for his military, namely the struggle with Imeyrib over Zemmour.

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