Friday, November 20, 2009

Better than Masai Mara

Amongst the tales of war, famine and corruption in Chad it’s hard to believe there’s a story of natural beauty reminiscent of the glorious parks of southern and eastern Africa. Somehow throughout the last forty years of conflict, Chad’s own Masai Mara, Zakouma, has managed to cling on, with only the black rhino going extinct.

After months of claustrophobia in the N’Djamena weekend scene, which involves endless NGO parties, and dinners at a handful of restaurants where the menu is known by heart by everyone, it was a true culture shock to get out into the countryside. I can actually say I had a wonderful time, without having to resort to drunken diving in swimming pools.

At 3am, after a delicious supper and a decent bottle of wine, thirty glinting eyes hovering on the surface of a moonlit pool were serenaded by bad guitar and an Aussie and singing ‘never smile at a crocodile’. Just before we’d followed a leopard for half an hour, chasing his distinctively striped tail as it darted through the undergrowth, our naturalist companion standing on the roof of the vehicle doing a spookily convincing version of a baby buffalo caught in a trap.

But there is more to say than just recounting my adventures. Zakouma boasts Central Africa’s largest population of elephants, which in the 1970s numbered around 150,000. Today that figure is about 600, with more than 3,000 having been lost to poaching in the last three years.

Instead of a thriving habitat, untouched and unquestionably alive, for a time Zakouma became known for death. Rotting carcasses, their faces slashed off, dotted the emerald grasslands; visitors talked only of the smell. At one point more an average of three elephants a day were being killed to fuel a trade in ivory which was buoyed by a one-off legal sale in 2005.

Today anti-poaching efforts are working and no elephants have been lost in the last six months. Horse-backed guards communicate directly with a team in the air who make almost daily aerial surveys of the park. I did see the elephants from the air, along with a shockingly beautiful sunset, and they were still very much alive.

***NOTE*** sadly since I wrote this, three more elephants have been killed

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Miss Fort Lamy 1966

She may be a sexagenarian, but Fatime Boumie still knows how to look her best. Her short bob-style hair is gleaming and immaculate, the high cheek bones and striking eyes that made her so unforgettable at 16 still call out from under the gentle sinking of age. On the wall of her small apartment, above the striped sofa, a single black and white photo is testament to her success in 1966 when she was picked as the most beautiful woman in the Chadian capital.

But 40 years later, her success was soured by the appearance of a rival. Helene Adda, who is apparently Fatime’s friend, claimed at the launch of the modern version of the competition in 2007 that in fact she was the winner from 1966. The two women went on to have a very public row about who won, and by extension perhaps, who is the more beautiful.

“I know that a coup was launched, and I’ve done everything I can to make it clear what happened, because I was Miss Fort Lamy 1966!” says Fatime, and she has indeed done everything - taking the matter to court last year. In the end she was proclaimed the real Miss Fort Lamy 1966, reclaiming her crown and seeing to it that Helene was demoted to the less glamorous Miss Sport 1966.

But still she does not feel completely vindicated – she’s now complaining that the £3000 awarded to her as compensation from the Chadian state has yet to be paid.

“The only value of the five thousand dollars for me is the respect of men. Because I’m a woman, and for us women the most important thing is our honour” she concludes, adding that she intends to stand for parliament next year.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

New Report on Violations of Darfur Arms Embargo

This makes interesting reading, very detailed evidence of how arms and ammunition flow across the border between Chad and Sudan, and how Sudan has supplied Chadian rebels with arms.