Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Following on from my trip to the south of Chad to meet newly-arrived refugees from Central African Republic earlier this year, I've finally edited their stories into a film. Attempts have been made (by the BBC) to get a comment from the CAR government about the alleged massacre, but so far this has proved fruitless.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Service with a Smile

Warning: Do not try to challenge a Zaghawa (the President’s clan) heading up any kind of public agency in Chad.

I have lived (just) to tell the tale of my mistake in thinking that I could get away with erroneously addressing a letter to the ‘Minister’ instead of ‘Director’.

Hemmed in by a set of unpropitious circumstances - due to the ministry’s lack of communication my paperwork was already out of date; I don’t have a printer and the only reliable (Chinese) internet cafĂ© in N’Djamena has been shut for weeks; never mind the constant power cuts, road closures and the fact that by the time I’ve re-printed the letter everyone will have gone home because it’s past 15.00 – I am insistent. The director won’t even look at me in the face. I am gruffly dismissed. ‘Please…’ I beseech, ‘Madam, I AM BUSY!’

Fine, I know. I know that anger gets you nowhere. I should by now have learnt how to deal with the institutionalised pedantry peddled by those who benefit from the most egregious nepotism, who lord it over others as long as their man is the big man.

But before I’ve calculated the hopelessness of my plea, my irritation leaks out like battery acid. ‘Please…’ I beg, unwisely one last time. The director shouts ‘no!’ and leaps up grabbing me by the arm to direct me to the door. I snap and throw his arm from mine. With lightning reactions he raises his hand close to my face in order to strike me for my insolence. He stops just in time, realising his mistake, but not before I’ve exploded. I spit the words out like a hunched cat, ‘how dare you raise your hand to me!’

The fight is diffused by an unfortunate Nigerian caught in the crossfire, who is the only one in the room to realise how ridiculous the whole situation has become. A shameful display by everyone involved, but I still cannot believe how frustrating this place can be. It’s time for a break.

(*PS I’m now in UK until early September :)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

N'Djamena's wood market - six months ago this was full of charcoal furnaces

Chad wins the 2009 Nobel Prize for the Environment

After years in the Brownie Guides, I still get a romantic thrill from cooking on a wood fire, and find the honest hard work of foraging for dry sticks invigorating. While Chadians certainly don’t suffer from the disappointment of only being able to find sodden black crumbs of moss-coated mould after another wash-out British summer, every day it’s becoming harder for wood-collectors to scrape together enough twigs to supply N’Djamena, a city of around a million people.

It didn’t used to be like this. A year ago there was a roaring trade in charcoal, and a mephitic haze of charcoal fumes hanging over the dusty streets. But late in 2008 charcoal was banned almost overnight. These days anyone daring to smuggle a sack in will likely see their vehicle impounded or incinerated, and a fine of one hundred and fifty dollars.

As an archetypal African country battling on the frontline of climate change, Chad produces an infinitesimal amount of CO2, yet bears the impact of the west’s profligacy. Temperatures are soaring, and farmers cling on in desolate Sahelian marginal lands, searching the skies for signs of rain. As the Sahara creeps southwards, President Deby has become the new trees’ champion (‘to cut a living tree is to commit a crime’) by banning charcoal production and sale outright.

The effects have been dramatic. Almost everyone is now using wood, which apparently is practically carbon neutral, and a programme of tree-planting has begun.

A wonderful example of leadership - inspired behavioural change - you may conclude. And in fact if we are serious about tackling climate change, perhaps more governments should be willing to legislate, and applaud Deby for forcing people to abandon environmentally-damaging habits?

But the catch has been the shortage of trees. Already collectors say they have to travel several hundred kilometres out of the city to find wood that has fallen from a tree and become parched in the infernal sun. Prices are becoming crippling for most ordinary Chadians who are footing the bill for problems not entirely of their own making.