Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Main Driving Hazards in N'Djamena

Tapis rouge (‘Red Carpet’)
The sudden and frustrating closing of all main arterial roads because President Deby wants to use one of them. Most frequently encountered when he’s travelling to the airport, but can be for almost any reason. His convoy usually involves several pick-up trucks filled with AK and machine gun-toting soldiers, police out-riders, and numerous black limousines. Its passing is often accompanied by aggressive behaviour from members of the Presidential Guard, hammering car bonnets with rifle butts and shouting ‘Are you mad?’ at anyone who happens to park in the wrong place. Tapis rouge can last for up to two hours, while the hapless population can only stand by and watch. Finding alternative routes on non-tarmac roads is a thankless task.

Crap roads
The sudden and frustrating appearance of massive holes, ditches and piles of sand and debris in the middle of roads. Often the debris consists of the putrid contents of drains which have been dug out and then left on the side of the road. Even roads which are only a few months old are covered in a thick layer of sand which is easy to skid on.

The sudden and frustrating closing of roads for maintenance and/or tarmac resurfacing. This follows an apparently random pattern, meaning that a trip which has been made two days earlier without issue suddenly becomes impossible. Road-works signs are not illuminated, and are generally sited approx two centimetres from any holes. Sometimes traffic is allowed to continue in single file, resulting in chaotic off-road driving by impatient motorists and bikers which generates huge clouds of dust. Often the intended diversion is not signposted, resulting in the inattentive driver suddenly finding themselves in the middle of a village wondering where everyone else has gone. (The editorial direction wishes to stress that it is not opposed to tarmac-ing roads in principle – this is a very good thing - merely the chaotic and disruptive way in which it is done)

Drink Drivers and Relatives of the President…
…find it perfectly acceptable to drive at 100kmph in town, often driving right up one’s arse with headlights flashing and tooting the horn to push one off the road. Presidential relatives often feel morally un-obliged to consider other road users, in particular the masses of cyclists, who wobble past lightless on rusting frames, balancing on the edges of ditches. The worst case I heard involved an army general and his son who were killed when their car was flipped over outside the Presidential palace, after being hit by a drink driver who jumped a red light at high speed. Many accidents involving UN cars and foreign drivers will result in the immediate corralling of the vehicle by onlookers, histrionic demonstrations of how badly injured the person who actually caused the accident is, including pulling-off of shoes and socks and hobbling along in the street, pointing to perfectly untouched limbs that are apparently now damaged beyond recognition. Invariably resolved when rich foreigner agrees to part with large sums of cash.

Police road blocks (demanding fines for lack of fire extinguisher in car for example); goats; torrential rainstorms and bad drainage causing small lakes to appear in a matter of minutes; random items of merchandise, (mangos and spare parts for cars for example), dropped in the road in market areas; potholes (so quotidienne); wedding parties involving ululating women travelling three to a motorbike driving down the wrong side of the road; midnight weapons searches by drunken soldiers; general disdain for the highway code, usually with regards to turning left; petrol stations not having any petrol; weekly flat tyres caused by the poor state of the roads; power cuts mean no street lighting at night. This list is not exhaustive.


  1. You're making Monrovia look really, really good. And that's no easy task.

  2. Likewise southeast Asia. I thought seeing a family of 4 on a motorcycle with a nursing mother was beyond the pale.

    Speaking of the UN, any experience/opinions on their role in Chad? I just read a book by a former president of MSF who was less than enthusiastic about their presence. Also, my nurse niece spent a month in Tanzania and had an unpleasant experience with them.

  3. I'm afraid I could probably write a book about the UN's operations in Chad, not all of it positive. It seems like a classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right is doing. I will try to write something on the blog about this, without upsetting too many people!