and yet, it is also one of the poorest.
This dichotomy is difficult to process. Frozen berries, when you can find them, are available at one store and cost 10,000 CFA = $16. Peanut butter, protein powder, are nowhere to be found. Anything processed, or packaged that was not raised on a small farm is flown in from France. Chad lacks any sort of infrastructure in the form of roads, railways or air transport to get goods and services in and out of the country. As a result, it is extremely expensive to get anything modern or manufactured into the country. They rely mostly on their old colonial power for connections outside their borders – and that connection is strong.
But the real issue, the thing that is not talked about when we talk about extreme poverty – is corruption. Corruption is so rampant that head of the state-owned oil company Société des Hydrocarbures or SHT (Chad has the 3rd largest oil reserve in Africa) has publicly stated that half of his gas and fuel deliveries get diverted to shadow networks. On Thursday June 23, 2022, the Deputy Director General of the SHT was dismissed for a scandal of embezzling upwards of $120 billion CFA or conversion to dollars can get tricky with exchange rates but it comes to something close to a few billion dollars. To put this amount in context, the countries GDP as a whole was $10B in 2021. In what is being dubbed as “SHT GATE” the exposure of such a case is having ripple effects, not just taking down the network of corruption, but potential lasting effects for the transition.
We (the international community) often talk about how (corrupt) Chadians are able to continue their lifestyle while looking outside their compound gate at the poverty** that ensues. How can you not look around and say, “I need to do something about this”? Realistically though, we could say the same thing to ourselves. I do not do much different in my own country or in this one. You get stuck into your work. Your circle of friends. After a while, you start to harden to the poverty you see. Ignoring it. Sticking within your own bubble of comfort because the issue is so overwhelming that it is impossible to know where to start.
The average western person would have trouble processing the lifestyle realities of living in a place like Chad, a hot arid climate, with limited infrastructure and corrupt governments. Power outages occur every day. If you require electricity, you also require a back-up energy source, a generator or solar (which is a thing here despite lack of development otherwise…pretty awesome). International aide organizations, the UN and national embassies all have different policies on how they take care of their people in what they consider to be ‘hardship’ locations. If you are not allowed to take your family, the UN, for example, pays for a ticket back home every 8 weeks. The US on the other hand might get one ticket a year (if you are lucky). International aide organizations typically attract Europeans with requirements for long vacations. A reset is recommended every quarter if you and your organization can afford it.
Context. Expectations. Attitude. Perspective. They are everything when trying to understand the complexities that are a place like Chad. Yet the eternal question remains. There is a collective desire amongst the international world to help the people of Chad, but will they help themselves first?
**Just to give an example of just how difficult and rampant poverty is, amongst the throng of people on the streets include many disable people missing limbs – an unfortunate legacy of polio or other life mishaps. These people are quite often crawling to get from point A to point B. Crawling. Makeshift wheelchairs exist that are powered by wheeling with your hands (quite an ingenious no energy method) but there are more people that need them than exist. Truly, it is difficult to see.