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.


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