Monday, September 28, 2009

Justice Chadian Style

I admit it, it was thorough idiocy. It had the hallmarks of ‘things that happen to un-streetwise tourists in any public place anywhere in the world’. Warning bells should have been going off all around me. Look, you stupid woman! While this apparently nice Chadian man is chatting to you as you sit at the wheel of the car, feigning interest in your frankly amateur attempts at photography, his mate is round the other side of the car with his hand through your wide open window, nicking your bag.

Too late I realised and leapt up, ran to the other side and took a flapping, girly swipe at the villain. Surprised is such a meagre word to describe his face when he saw me lunge at him, windmill-like. He dropped the purse, but not before taking out all my cash, and then rather hesitantly, as if he couldn’t quite believe he was actually getting away with this, he started running, slowly at first, and then a hair-brained sprint. “Help me!” I shouted at my fellow photography enthusiast, realising with a nauseous jolt that this was a textbook set up and he too was only still there because he couldn’t quite believe he’d got away with it. With keys in the ignition, I thought better of chasing these half-hearted opportunists and appealed instead to the better nature of the security guards standing outside a house a few metres away.

“What?” says one of them feebly, rubbing his eyes.

“They stole my money! Please help me!!”

“Well I didn’t see anything”

“But they’re just there! Go after them!”

“I’m breaking the fast” he says and closes the door.

By this time a huge crowd of people had gathered to stare at the crazy white woman crying and shouting in the street. A policeman in uniform sidles up. “What seems to be the matter, madam?”

“They stole all my money – can you help? They just ran off down there!”

“How much did they steal?”

“What does it matter how much they stole – they’re getting away! Go after them!”

“Well I can’t because I didn’t see them”

“I want to speak to your supervisor”

Ten minutes later and I have established that the policeman is not going to chase the felons, because despite his uniform he is not on duty. Nor is his supervisor, who is on duty, because he is breaking the fast.

Two hours later at the police station, I finish filling in the forms and answering interminable questions about how much money they stole, where they went and why didn’t anyone help me. Finally, action! The police commander says we are going to arrest the guard at the house for failure to assist when a crime was being committed. As long as I drive the two armed policemen back to the scene.

When we arrive the guard denies all knowledge of seeing the theft because he was breaking the fast, he starts interrogating me in front of the policeman. After ten minutes they’re chatting and laughing, saying what a bad neighbourhood it is. When I drop the two policemen, empty-handed except for their AK47s, back at the station later, I notice a group of about 20 men sitting outside on mats, chatting with police officers, sharing tea and breaking the fast. They are not hand-cuffed or restrained in any way. “Do you know who they are?” my Chadian friend asks me. “That’s the Director of Finance and his colleagues, they’ve been arrested on suspicion of stealing 3 million dollars”

Below : The two hundred pound photo

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Welcome Home

Like most places, August is silly season in Chad. Nothing happens - it rains a lot and the roads get clogged, so the rebels can’t get up to their tricks. Journalists scramble about for stories. Many of the French people living here take most of the month off to return home and see family.

But this year someone’s been busy. I arrived back in the dark to the surreal sight of new white road markings – including a pedestrian crossing, and arrows to indicate the correct position for a car turning left (if only, if only!). One year ago this road was a sloppy mud pit, only 4 x 4s were able to negotiate its metre-deep trenches. What’s more I could see the road markings because someone has installed street lighting.

In town, a roundabout which has been closed since I arrived is now resplendent with a giant iron figure of a man riding a horse, thrusting his arm into the sky. All the roads around the roundabout have been paved – a remarkable feat when I cast my mind back to my arrival when there were only about ten paved roads in the whole city.

Each morning, road sweepers wearing fluorescent jackets line up on the new tarmac roads, brooms in hand, ready to tackle the infernal Saharan dust, (a largely pointless task). Mini sweeper vans patrol at night (though they merely throw the dust up in a swirling cloud), and merry orange rubbish trucks are a common sight. High above them new street signs assist drivers approaching major junctions, though quite who was responsible for writing Najamena I’m not sure.

Deby’s critics say nothing has been done with the more than $4billion dollars Chad has earned since it started exporting oil to the US five years ago. Doubtless, most Chadians are not impressed with the fleet of second-hand fighter jets and attack helicopters now jamming the runway in Abeche, though this was clearly money well spent as the rebels were firmly defeated in May. But to argue that nothing is being done is to ignore the radical transformation taking place in N’Djamena.

If only someone could explain why all the trees were cut down beside the cathedral then I’d be really impressed.