Monday, November 18, 2013

Kiliss: Chadian Street Food

Kiliss: A Chadian Specialty
Today while we were running errands around town my co-worker spent 4,000 CFA (roughly $8 USD) and bought us a couple handfuls of what he called a traditional Chadian food: Kiliss.  What we got handed to us wrapped up in a folded up rough brown paper (like a paper grocery bag back in the US) was a red coated meat and a couple slices of onion.  My coworker said it was some kind of meat that was dried in the sun and covered in ground red peppers.  The strolling vendor broke our meat off rigid long sheets of meat that he carried in a bucket on his head.  My coworker said it was good to eat Kiliss this time of year as the peppers and onions helped protect against the cold/flu that has been going around.  The expat community has been hit pretty hard lately with 15-20% unable to come to work.

The meat didn't have much flavor or if it did I couldn't taste it over the raw onion or the red peppers.  It was kinda chewy, like a beef jerky, and I couldn't stop eating it.  I kept coming back to it over and over again and by the end of the day I had eaten most of it (I also shared with my coworkers but most Americans were too afraid to try it).  I enjoy most Chadian foods, especially la boule (millet ball with a sauce) and usually eat my bowl of Chadian soup for breakfast each morning- today was beef in a tomato sauce with lots of peppers, veggies, and bit of extra piment.  We'll have to see how I feel in the morning to see if all the Kiliss I ate was a shock to my system!

Not found in Chad but a fond memory from my last trip to Germany

Monday, November 4, 2013

Germany Bound!

After 7 months straight in Chad I got to go on a trip to Germany for a conference!  Getting to Germany wasn't easy at all as my reservations for the direct flight from N'Djamena to Paris were deleted and I had to take the CamAir flight down to Douala to get a flight to Paris. Due to computer problems we had open seating all the way to Paris on completely full flights, so it was a free for all in getting onto the planes.

Unfortunately our CamAir arrived in Douala the same time as the Air France and Brussels flight and only one baggage carousel was working.  Naturally CamAir was the last to be circulated after an hour of watching other peoples baggage fall off the carousel in a packed hot humid room.  By the time by bag arrived I was completely sweat soaked and dehydrated.

Thankfully once I got past the vendors selling Eto'o jerseys there was an open breezeway where I could cool off.  As I was waiting for my flight to board I met a couple American doctors who had just wrapped up six-weeks volunteering in northern Cameroon.  They had fun stories of hanging out in the villages and the amazing diseases and problems they had only heard about in medical school or seen on the TV show "House."

Once aboard the flight to Paris and every seat was filled it was announced that there would be some minor delays, that ended up lasting two hours.  This delay in departure resulted in arriving in Paris two hours late and missing my connecting flight.  Once I got through another 45 min line to talk to the Air France representative about a new flight they informed me that they had no record of my next flight in the system, even though I had a copy of my tickets.

An hour later they finally straightened out my ticket and told me "we got you onto the next flight, but they have already started boarding.  If you can hurry, you can make it.  Don't worry about your checked bag, we will make sure it gets to Germany with you.  Your gate is just up the stairs and down the hallway." Down the hallway ended up being a 15 min scramble through the airport, up and down numerous stairs, and through two customs points.  I was almost the last one on the plane, but my bag didn't make it.

Upon arrival in Germany Air France called my name over the loudspeaker in baggage claim saying i needed to report to the representative.  The representative informed me that my bag didn't make the flight and they would forward it to me.  Again.  The last time I took Air France out of Germany my bag was lost between Paris and Germany and it took three days for them to deliver it to me.

The cool next part of my trip was taking the ICE train from the airport to Stuttgart and zipping along through the Germany countryside at 200km per hour.  The train was packed by Germans with suitcases and at every stop more got on.  It seems that the Germans were all going to Munich to celebrate the holiday weekend.

I really enjoyed the train ride through the countryside with the cool mist, green fields, and light breezes.  I am always amazed at how clean and organized Germany is, especially after extended periods on the continent.  I am so looking forward to the german food...

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Back to Faya

Last night my friends flew into town again and offered me a quick trip to Faya since they had to deliver some equipment and had space for an extra passenger on their plane.  Of course I jumped at the chance to return to Faya and was on the ground for a couple hours this morning.

In the few weeks since my last visit the N'Djamena area appeared significantly less green from the air but Faya was still exactly the same- an oasis in the middle of orange sand dunes and baked mud plateaus.

While in Faya I was told of the gold rush in the nearby hills which had brought hundreds of people to the region and have rented all the locally available SUVs.  A lot of provisions were in short supply and needed to be brought in from N'Djamena by air. Near the center of town at a large spring 30-40 men were resupplying with water and washing clothes before heading back into the desert.  

 In the low dunes right outside of town we also saw herds of camels being loaded into trucks to be carried into Libya where they will be sold.  The trucks would back up to a sand dune and drop the tailgate so the camels could walk directly onto the truck avoiding the need for loading docks or ramps. Its interesting how camels are still traversing the centuries old caravan routes across the desert but now in the back of a truck.
 Some of the locals were also telling me stories of the nearby (250km away) lakes with hot springs or another 350km away with Nile crocodiles but nowhere near the Nile river.  They said if I had two weeks and would pay for the fuel they would take me to both lakes.  I wish I had the time and the money!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Anti-Poaching & the CGI

Its great that the Clinton Global Initiative wants to stop poaching in Africa.  I want it to stop too but it takes a lot of money, time, and effort especially as the poachers are often more motivated than the government troops sent to stop them.  For example, some of the poachers in Southern Chad/Central African Republic have been Sudanese military troops on leave who took their gun trucks with heavy machine guns and RPGs to hunt some elephants.  The also had radios and GPS units that allowed them to spread out and avoid the park police and local military units.  In some cases they killed the elephants with an RPG or chopped them up with their heavy guns.  

So will the Clinton plan train and equip troops and put them into battle with heavily armed poachers?  Will it provide air intelligence as in small-UAVs as despite being a dedicated and important asset in the fight against poaching, the Africa Parks Network of aircraft is a small force with limited assets and coverage? Perhaps they have deep pockets like the Clooney network and can provide satellite surveillance but once the poachers are detected can they action troops in a timely manner to catch the poachers in the act?  The areas where poachers operate are vast and the road networks are very poor.  In many places even on the roads you can only travel 30 miles per hour, cross country is much slower.  It will also be hard to distinguish from the air (or space) what is a poacher, rich farmer, local politician, NGO vehicle, or military truck.  Also in some areas the forest canopy is nearly impenetrable except by sophisticated sensors.

Many African military troops don’t get a lot of time on the range practicing their marksmanship.  Ammunition is expensive and a luxury that most regular army troops can’t afford.  Plus in many places ammunition is strictly controlled so the troops don’t run amok and try to seize power in a military coup d’etat.  Some militaries have GPS and high-tech radios but most units don’t have these expensive items, and again it is often in the best interest of the ruling powers to keep the military poorly equipped and untrained so they don’t become a threat to the state.  The units that get all the toys and funding are usually the ones most loyal to the head of state or assigned to protect the government.  

Some of the resources that will be needed will require new export licenses for the sharing of technology that is currently banned due to fears of abuses by the regimes.  For example certain weapons, aircraft, and night vision goggles are prohibited by Congress for export to many African nations.  If new toys are authorized for export or acquired from other sources it is not likely that the toys will end up in the hands of the anti-poaching forces but more likely in the hands of the elite presidential guard units.  Training up other units will upset the delicate political balance in the country where the power is centralized in order to protect the head of state.  If an outside power were to suddenly develop high tech capabilities, advanced marksmanship, and be able to maneuver they would become a legitimate threat to the state as they may be the most capable military unit in the country.

The actual troops that get committed to the fight will likely not be well trained, well armed, nor able to maneuver to engage the poachers.  In which case they will likely be slaughtered if they can find the poachers.  Many elite African military units don’t even have detailed maps of their country where they operate.  

Developing a military force in Africa is a very complex proposition especially in dealing with regional military forces that have basic capabilities.  Social, economic, and domestic as well as international political considerations need to be taken into account.  Everybody hates poaching and wants to do something about it and its easy to take a pledge or make a commitment and throw money at the problem.  There are plenty of people out there who are willing to take money and develop training programs.  However, many of these programs may only absorb cash and leave an ineffective program behind or immature forces that aren’t really prepared for the intended fight.  

The process of finding poachers in the act, relaying the message to troops on the ground, maneuvering them to engage and defeat the poachers is a highly complex challenge.  Given that these poachers operate in forested areas that cover thousands of square miles this mission to defeat poaching can be more difficult than tracking extremist fighters across the deserts of northern Africa.  The US, France, and other western powers have dedicated hundreds of millions in dollars and immense task forces to this mission and have achieved limited success even with using their sophisticated resources and highly trained forces.  

The CGI says it is taking a three-pronged approach to fighting poaching: stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stopping the demand but I think stopping the killing may be the hardest thing to do.  The easier places to impact poaching is in the international transport/trafficking of the items as they leave the continent and when they arrive at their destination.  But then again, the global war on drugs isn't going so well either.  

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Faya trip

I had a great 24-hour trip to Faya this past week and I wish I could have stayed longer.  Some friends that were going up there to check out the clinic invited me along as they had room on their private plane and I was lucky enough to be able to escape the office.
The first thing I noticed when we took off from N'Djamena was how green the region was.  The river was full and the neighborhoods were flooded, but it was so green- a huge change from when I arrived here in March.  Its hard to believe this is part of the Sahel desert.  Once we got out of the city we flew above a rain storm and the clouds extended until about 15 mins before we landed and the harsh Sahara desert landscape was revealed.  

The orange sand dunes looked soft but between the dunes was the crusty brown and white hard-pan ridges.  Faya, however was an oasis in the the desert.
My friends had arranged for some rental cars that drove us out into the desert and then around to an oasis that makes life possible in Faya.  

The groundwater in the city is only a meter-deep in most places and in some places it bubbles to the surface.  

The locals built small canals to channel the water to their date farms and gardens and a wide variety of local produce was available.  

After our tour of the desert we settled into a nice vila for the night and enjoyed stable electricity and the quiet of the desert (no generator noise!).  Our hosts slaughtered a goat for us and we stayed up late eating from the large platter side by side with our Chadian friends.  The next morning we had the rest of the goat for breakfast and I think it tasted better on the second day!

After breakfast we packed up our bug nets and sleeping pads and headed out for the obligatory courtesy call with the provincial governor before starting to talk to the local officials.  The governor was a nice guy and he said he had came back during the night to meet with us and insisted we come back to see him after we visited the clinic.

 The clinic was nice building with lots of people, a couple ambulances, a pharmacy, and a local doctor. The doctor from the French base also was reported to come by from time to time to help out.  The said they needed more equipment and trained staff, but those shortages are not unique to oasis's in the desert.

Our last stop was to check-in with the governor again and he invited us to lunch before we left for the flight back to N'Djamena (ground meat in a red sauce, roasted chicken, and flat bread).  It was a great trip, but much too short.  I sincerely hope I can return to Faya again in the future for a longer trip!

Wifi antenna issues

The rainy season in N'Djamena takes it toll on everything.  I am one of the lucky ones in the city that have a solid house and a roof that doesn't leak.  I can't complain much because most of my neighbors have dirt floors and many of their compounds have been under a foot or more of water for the past month.  
I haven't been able to blog much because my wifi antenna was destroyed by the rain.  It was supposed to be all-weather and had a warranty (in the USA)  but it wasn't Africa-Proof.  The first time it died (in July) I assumed water dripped onto the powersupply that was indoors and shorted it out.  Fortunately I had a second powersupply that I was able to use and this time I had it covered and off the ground to prevent another short-out.  

It worked fine for a couple weeks but then quit working again in a torrential rain storm.  When I went to check it out the next morning I found the powersupply box again was full of water.  The only thing that made sense (since the box was elevated 3 feet off the ground and the CAT-V cable to the box made an upward sweep from the ground to the box is that somehow the cable was penetrated at the top and the cable had been acting like a straw.

To test my theory I disconnected the cable (after getting a shock because it was still plugged into the wall outlet) and water started pouring out.  I nicked the cable at the low point and more water streamed out.  

Since I had already used my backup powersupply (i thought i was planning ahead with one spare) it took me a while to find another one of the same voltage, but I vented the wire and the low point & so far its been working!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Food Travel Tips

When traveling abroad westerners have to be careful about what they eat as their delicate constitutions are used to a sterilized diet of well cooked/prepared foods.  There are abundant food safety regulations in America and in other western countries that are actually enforced so Americans are used to being able to trust their food.  That is not always the case overseas.

If someone gets sick its usually from the salad or vegetables.  Salads would usually be the safe commendable healthy choice in the US, but abroad they are often a cause of intestinal distress because they may not be cleaned well or may have been washed in dirty water.  I know a local neighborhood where a lot of salad and vegetables are produced near the banks of the river but they get their water for the plants from the same muddy water that the neighborhood kids use as a toilet.  

Health experts (and experienced expats) recommend soaking your vegetables in a strong bleach solution for at least 30 minutes.  Unless you are going to high end restaurants where they can take the time to soak the vegetables its not worth eating your veggies.

Be careful of fast food or convenience food items.  A good friend of mine tells the story of when she was flying from Addis to Dakar and during a layover she was hungry and wanted a quick snack.  So she grabbed a warm yogurt container from a cooler that had its lights off.  At the time she thought the lights were off in the cooler because the light bulb had burned out, not because the cooler was not powered.  She said the yogurt tasted ok but a little off, but since she was hungry she ate the whole thing.  The next part of her flight was terrible and she could not stray far from the toilet for days.

In reviewing her warm airport yogurt decision she realized she made a couple mistakes. You can’t always trust dairy products as the milk may not have been pasteurized and the yogurt she bought had a label that was mostly written in a language she could not understand.  Many of these convenience items may have been prepared well in advance and been sitting around in the heat or open for hours or days. She also said she should have been alarmed when she felt that the container was warm and the flavor was off.  However, temperature may not always be an indicator as the item may have spent the day in the heat and only recently been cooled.  Of course, the broken cooler was another indicator that she should have made a difference choice.

Its generally a good idea to avoid street food if you are not accustomed to the particular items.  For me, its an acceptable risk if you have an idea of what you are eating, its fresh, and the item is cooked completely through in front of you.  For example, I love deep fried meat pastries straight from the boiling oil.  Pieces of meat on a stick straight off the fire and cooked completely have a good chance of not making you sick.  Also look at how the food is handled as fresh hot cooked food dropped in the dirt or handled directly with filthy hands can get you sick too.

One day when a good friend and I were traveling through the grassy hills above Lake Malawi a bunch of kids ran up to our vehicle and tried to sell us some food that they had just caught and cooked.  What they were selling could be described as “mouse ka-bobs” as they had eight to ten mice stuck between slender twisted branches that they smoked over small fires by the side of the road.  The mice looked plump but they smelled like they hadn’t been completely cooked through so we decided to find something else to eat.

Anybody that has traveled in Africa, South America, or Asia can share similar stories.  Its kinda funny to hear the new guy complain that he shouldn’t have eaten the street-side camel on his first day in N’Djamena (was also his first day in Africa).  Some take longer to learn than others, like my friend that got E. Coli his first week in N’Djamena from partially cooked meat, massive gastric distress the following week from eating shrimp in a local restaurant (never eat seafood far from the sea), then a couple weeks later got giardia and amoebic dysentery from poorly packaged locally produced cheese and dried meats.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Male & Female Genital Mutilation

I am feeling conflicted about female genital mutilation (FGM) today after reading that male circumcision is considered the same and also has detrimental effects.  People die from botched operations for both male and female but male circumcision is being promoted in Africa and other places as a way to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS.  But also both genital modifications are critical to their cultures.  

For males and females its a way of identifying who belongs to what groups or in some cases demonstrates their religious beliefs.  In most cases the modification takes place before the person is able to consent or object so its not like they have a lot of choice in the matter.  In American culture many parents make the decision to circumcise their sons, but daughters are spared.  In some African cultures, among others around the world, the daughters are circumcised as well.  In South Africa circumcision rituals recently made headlines when 30 young men passing through a circumcision and coming of age ritual died due to botched procedures.

Its interesting to think about how many cry out against FGM but circumcise their sons or are circumcised themselves.  To be clear, I have never been for FGM and still don’t support it.  However, thinking about it in the same light as male circumcision I feel more compassionate and understanding.  Should we just let cultures do their own thing and not judge?  Should parents just leave their kids alone until they are old enough to make their own choice?  I feel that many would opt-out if they were given the chance.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


I have lived outside of the United States for more than a 1/3d of my life, in Europe, South America, Asia, and now Africa and never really thought much about a specific community before this week.  When I was in Brazil I tried to become a Brazilian.  In Senegal I had great Senegalese friends who invited me out to the village I still consider some to be good friends.  Europe was easy to make friends and there was tons to do.  However, here in Chad there isn't as much to do and there doesn't seem to be as close of relations between Westerners and locals.  The Chadians I work with a great, but are clear to keep professional and personal lives separate.  

So it seems I am forced to turn inwards to the international community of NGO workers and this is an odd bunch.  Perhaps I didn’t notice it as much in other places because there was more to do and a greater variety of people with which I could interact.  Or maybe the people that come to Chad are just a little off.  I am grateful for the friends I have made and the ones that provide a service and do stuff besides just complaining that there is nothing to do.  One friend hosts a yoga class at his house a couple times a week.  Another group of expats teach tennis on the clay courts at Cite Lamy.

I should find something that I can offer to the community to make this a better place.  I already spend most of my days working on humanitarian assistance projects (developing ideas, shaping them to meet the donors requirements, legal reviews, project management, public relations, training, etc...) and that helps the local community, but I wonder what I can do to help this other community of western NGO workers...  I’ll have to keep thinking.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Grant Money

Since I visited my friend’s schools outside of N'Djamena I have been looking for ways to help out.  The first school we visited only had short-walled buildings with a tin roof that blew off in a recent wind storm and was in great need of repair.  The second school had a couple nice buildings, including a smaller two-room building that was built by a contractor for $10,000 USD and a larger three-room building constructed for the same budget but built by the local community.  I found a couple grant options for building schools but also discovered that the process isn’t so easy.  For example, my grant sources could give me small pots of money (less than $15,000) quite easily but there were all kinds of stipulations.  For example, I couldn’t buy materials and have the community build a school, but I had to hire a contractor to provide the materials and labor.  The bigger problem was that the grant source required for all the construction to be done to US or International standards, which greatly increased the price of the project.  So now the school that would have cost $15,000 built with local labor to Chadian standards would now cost $250,000.  The benefit of the higher cost is that the building should last longer but problems included the length of construction process, more extensive application process, and the applications for my grant source are only accepted once a year and then if selected the funds would only become available 18 months later.  So the process of building a school now is a two to three year process and the cost is 16-times more expensive.

Constructing schools are still worthy projects and I will try to have a couple proposals ready for when my grant source starts accepting applications again.  Unfortunately I won’t be around to see the fruits of the grants and construction process, but in the end the Chadian kids and communities will ultimately benefit.  The smaller $15,000 grants are available for other small projects but always with the caveat that the projects have to be done to US/International standards.  We can dig a well for that dollar amount, but before funds will be released we need to have a hydrological study for the area and there is no funding for the hydrological study.  Maybe I can see if a local orphanage needs beds or supplies as I can spend the $15,000 funds on small projects like this.

The main requirements for these grant funds are that they don’t single out or benefit only one special group, be done to international standards, and fall into at least one of the following four categories. (1) Disaster risk reduction, mitigation, or preparedness, (2) health related projects and activities, (3) education support, and (4) basic infrastructure.  Any ideas?

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Tonic shortage

My last tonic
Over the past couple years as I have traveled in Africa I have developed a love of tonic water.  Most Americans don’t know what it is besides something to add to gin, but this amazing drink that allowed european travelers so survive in the malaria infested regions of Africa has become a staple in my house.  The quinine in the tonic allowed the european travelers to survive malaria, but I like it for the flavor.

I was happy to see when I moved here in March that the local brewery sold tonic in the bottle along with Coke, Fanta, and the usual variety of sodas.  However, over the past couple months its been getting harder and harder to find tonic.  About a month ago the local restaurants ran out of tonic in the local bottle and began serving it in a can for three to four times the regular price.  Normally a bottle of tonic would cost 500 CFA (approx $1 USD) but this last Thursday a can of tonic cost 2000 CFA ($4 USD).  However, the price of Coke and Fanta has remained unchanged.

In order to find an answer to the tonic scarcity I joined a tour of the local brewery in N’Djamena to see what was going on at the plant and ask questions of the brewmasters.  The tour was interesting and they showed us the storeroom for the raw materials, processing vats, and bottling plant.  At the time the brewmasters were brewing Gala beer made from rice and malt and bottling Castle in smaller bottles.  The brewery could produce 300,000 bottles of beer and 250,000 bottles of soda per day and operated around the clock.  The production and bottling operations were automated and moved along smoothly and the warehouse was full of beer and soda.    
Unloading room where rice and hops begin processing.  At this point we were told to turn off our cameras to protect their trade secrets.

At the end of the tour they brought out a variety of their locally brewed beverages for us to sample but no tonic.  When questioned about the tonic the Chadian brewmaster replied that Africans don’t like tonic so it doesn’t sell so they don’t make a lot of it.  He continued that they will make a batch of tonic every six-months or so and it will sit in the warehouse or their distributors for a long time so it wasn’t worth making tonic anymore.  The brewmaster suggested instead that I try the Fanta Fruit Punch, which was pretty good.  

So in the end, the tonic shortage will continue in N’Djamena until the brewery decides its time to brew tonic again (and the brewmaster did not know when that would be).  I will have to search the distributor black market to find tonic that might be hidden in a back corner or perhaps I can get some delivered from Cameroon or Nigeria.  When they do produce tonic again, I will have to stock several cases and ration them for the long dry season.  

Friday, June 28, 2013

Expanding Car Dealerships in Africa

Bringing a new car brand into a country isn’t easy and there are many different factors to consider.  The primary factors involved are mechanics, spare parts, and market competition.  Other factors to be considered are the suitability of the vehicles to the environment, import taxes and other fees that raise the end price of the vehicle, and political incentives such as the ability to assemble the vehicle in the country.

Mechanics need to be trained on the nuances of different brands of vehicles as a Toyota mechanic may not be able to work on a Jeep or a Porsche.  Each brand is engineered a little differently and may use parts or technologies that aren’t used in other brands.  When cars were simpler it was easier for a mechanic to figure out the vehicle systems but in the new era of microchips and computer diagnostics a mechanic may need specialized software to communicate with the vehicle.  For example, a company recently acquired some new Mercedes trucks that came with a computer that is connected to the trucks during weekly maintenance.  The computer talks to the car, runs diagnostic tests, tells the mechanics to order parts, and can walk the mechanics through simple repairs.  However, for more sophisticated problems they will have to call Mercedes and wait for a team to fly in and bring parts with them.  A further problem is that the computer only came with german software and the mechanics don’t have a Chadian Arabic to German dictionary.

Establishing a spare parts chain of supply is critical because all vehicles will eventually break down and parts will wear out and need to be replaced.  A supply chain is more than being able to DHL parts into the country but to have a stock on-hand of commonly replaced items, like oil filters, but also headlights, fuses, and fan belts.  Its very expensive to DHL large, heavy items like engine blocks or transmissions so the in country dealer will need to arrange for shipping and customs arrangements.  The in country representative will need to be able to order the parts and receive them quickly and reliably as the longer a car sits waiting to be repaired the more attractive the competition appears.

The level of competition among car brands varies from country to country in sub-saharan Africa as does the variety of models offered.  Which brands are available may be a political decision, as in Senegal where the SenIran was a common brand of taxi.  The SenIran was a joint venture between Senegal and Iran and the vehicles were locally assembled outside of Dakar.  The variety of brands available may also be a result of the personal preferences of the individuals that control the car markets.  Monopoly of dealerships is not unique to Africa as in the US there are towns where there may be Peterson Toyota dealer next to a Peterson Ford dealer owned by the same guy.  It may be easier to control a dealership monopoly in a small country as once one has arranged import and customs procedures it may be possible to keep others out of the market.  At a minimum it will be easier to bring in other brands under the same organization once the system has been established and connections made with important officials.

In Chad there isn’t a wide variety of car dealership to chose from.  There is the Toyota dealer that also sells Renaults but you may be out of luck trying to arrange maintenance services for an imported Ford Explorer or Porsche Cayenne Turbo (both are singular examples seen on the streets of N’Djamena).  Most of the small taxi fleet are old Fiat 504s and they are repaired in crowded dirt lots scattered around town where self-taught mechanics and taxi drivers congregate.  A few places have tin shacks where they do the more delicate work out of the wind and sand, operations like grinding down an engine block or replacing pistons.  I have noticed a couple Nissan Patrols on the streets of N'Djamena but I have not found a Nissan dealer in the city.  Most likely they were driven across the border from Cameroon or Nigeria.

Nissan has made a goal to double sales in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2016 but that will be a challenge, especially in places where many people can barely afford to buy a bicycle or motorcycle.  The Nissan plan is to sell more small cars like the Micra, Almera, and Sentra but those cars require smooth paved roads.  Often good paved roads are hard to find or only go a short distance between the port and the refinery or the mines and the railhead.  I’ve only ridden a couple times in Nissans, usually in a Nissan Patrol and they were not  comfortable experiences.  For example, we drove from Monrovia to Buchanan, Liberia in a new, rugged looking Nissan Patrol and the jarring experience made me appreciate the basic Toyota Landcruiser.  We made the five-hour trip (each direction) during the rainy season on dirt roads and the vehicle barely survived.  A Nissan Micra would not have survived the potholed roads of Monrovia, let alone the mud covered rubber tree bridges in the forest.  

The Nissan goal doesn’t focus on sales in South Africa, where many Nissan vehicles are assembled, but targets increased sales in Ghana, Nigeria, Angola and eastern Africa.  Perhaps Nissan will have success in these regions, they are banking on it.  Roads aren’t that bad in Ghana and in the big cities in eastern Africa (although all have potholes, washouts, and sections with dirt roads).  I don’t know if Nigerian cities like Lagos can handle additional traffic.  Hopefully the maintenance and parts networks will be established to support this expansion of car sales.  Otherwise, as in many places along the sides of the roads in Africa, these new cars will become stripped rusting hulks of scrap metal.  

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Toyota Landcruiser & NGOs

The World Peace Foundation published an article on 22 June 2013 that called for the Toyota Landcruiser to be regulated as a weapon of war because it has been used by many in conflicts in Africa.  However, the author of the argument neglected to notice the many good purposes for which people use the Landcruiser.  Driving around N’Djamena an observer would notice that everybody that wants to leave the city drives a Landcruiser or some Toyota 4WD variant.  That includes MSF, Catholic Charities, SOS Medecins, ASTBEF, the US Embassy, the French Embassy, the Chadian government, and the Chadian military.  These organizations use their vehicles to do a lot of good in the country and to blame the vehicle for its use in conflict is wrong.  

In some places “bad guys” conduct raids on camels or horseback, should these animals and their use be regulated as well?  If the Landcruiser was to be regulated as a weapon of war, will this expand to the regulation of all 4WD vehicles?  Jeep makes a decent off-road vehicle, as does Range Rover, are they next after the Toyotas?  In some places terrorists like to use non-descript cars like the old Peugeot 504 for VBIEDs, so should we regulate them as well?

Other vehicles just aren’t as reliable as the Toyota Landcruiser and no other 4WD brand has established such a robust base of mechanics and spare parts train to support their vehicles.  There is a sweet Porsche Cayenne Turbo parked by the Toyota dealer in N’Djamena, but there are no mechanics that know how to work on it and parts will take forever to get here and cost a fortune!

I agree that the Toyota Landcruiser has often been used in conflicts, but to blame the vehicle or to try to regulate it is not the solution to resolving these conflicts.  I would rather that more effort be put into understanding, conflict resolution, and resource sharing than increasing international regulation of a good truck.

Perhaps I feel so strongly about this because I like my Toyota Landcruiser.  It has driven me across many African countries and always brought me back safely.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Labyrinth of Kingdoms

A Labyrinth of Kingdoms by Steve Kemper
(The story of Heinrich Barth & his five-year expedition 1850-1855 through Central & West Africa before European Imperialism)

An amazing story of over 10,000 miles through Africa 160 years ago from Libya to Lake Chad and west to Timbuktu and back by Heinrich Barth.  Barth was a different kind of explorer than Livingston, Stanley, or Park because he was interested in learning about the people, their culture, and sought knowledge instead of conquest or expanding the European empire.  His books differed from theirs as he put the Africans first and not his own dramatized adventures.  The book is full of great descriptions of African societies and kingdoms before they were subjugated and many destroyed during the scramble for Africa.  Barth met with and shared scientific discussions with African scholars throughout the Sahel and not just in Timbuktu during his travels. Barth not only took made maps and made cultural notes but he also studied the languages, becoming conversant in many of them, and later publishing volumes on African languages. 

I wish I had learned about this book earlier as it destroys the many myths that Africa was a dark continent without any learning or civilization that needed to be tamed by Europeans. I hope I can find in print his original works published in the 1800s.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Chadian School Graduation

This morning I was invited by some expat friends to go with them to the graduation ceremonies for two of the schools they set up in the countryside outside of N’Djamena.  My friends have been living in Chad for decades working for various organizations and are not teachers, but started out by teaching the neighbors kids and slowly their group expanded.  Today I saw over 60 kids at one school and nearly 100 at the other.  The kids were smart and their French was much better than mine, despite speaking only arabic in their homes. 

Singing about the parts of their bodies
The school graduation ceremonies were attended by the proud parents and the top three kids from each group were individually recognized and received a gift bag with pencils, a notebook, and other school items.  We also tossed in a small bag of candies for each kid.  Before the top students were recognized each class gave a small presentation, usually in the form of signing and dancing, a short skit, or by reciting poetry.  The first group to present were the smallest kids, maybe four years old, but they could recite the alphabet perfectly and sang songs that showed off their robust French vocabulary (remember that many of their parents could not speak French).  Older kids talked about the metric system, the environment, human rights, and other things.  The parents were extremely proud of their kids and the moms were ululating as their kids were recognized for their achievements.
Proud parents & smart kids
My friends explained that the kids in their schools were more advanced than many in the city because they decided to focus on teaching quality and good treatment of the kids instead of buildings and other things that ate up the meager budget.  The first school consisted of a couple short wall buildings with a roof that allowed the breeze to pass through and provided a lot of light.  The second school had both the open walled facilities and complete buildings with doors, lights, and fans.  The operating budget of the second facility was much higher as they had to pay for electricity and maintain the more expensive buildings.  Additionally, the closed in rooms were much hotter as the air could not pass through the buildings (and most days are over 110*F outside with the breeze).
Handing out the prizes
Teachers were paid on average 50,000 CFA per month (approximately $100) and were paid year-round as in the summer they would attend teacher professionalization training.  The primary requirement to become a teacher was to be literate but over the years as the schools have grown the quality of the teachers also improved.  (Imagine how much good $100 per month could do here by paying a teacher’s salary).
Skit about an educated nomad herding his sheep
The cost of constructing a simple school building was about $1000 but the need for funding would continue after that for maintenance of the facilities and continuous repairs.  My friends said that once they were able to raise the funds they would like to build a wall around the schools, but so far this had been cost prohibitive as walls that are not done right or done cheaply have a tendency to fall down.

The schools were integrated and included kids from the nomadic northern tribes but also the local kids from the south of Chad.  It was evident that the kids mixed freely, studied, and played games together.  My friends said that working with the schools has been tough but their success was due to the involvement of the parents.  The parents made sure the kids made it to school on time, did their homework, and the parents did the extra work around their homes that normally for which they would depend on their kids.  

Thursday, May 23, 2013

UN Secretary General in Eastern DRC

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo this week reminds me of the death of the second UN Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjold.  Both traveled to the region to seek peace between UN, government, and breakaway groups in eastern Congo.

It was 52 years ago, on 18 September 1961, that the plane carrying UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold crashed while traveling in eastern Congo.  Hammarskjold had come to the region to facilitate peace talks between UN peacekeepers and Congolese fighting for the independence of the breakaway Katanga province.  Some reports suggested the Secretary’s plane was shot down by mercenaries paid by Katangan separatists.

Now Secretary Ban Ki-Moon is traveling to the Kivus to try arrange a peace deal with M23, an rebel group reinforced with deserters from the Congolese military.  The UN has agreed to send in more UN troops as an “Intervention Brigade” to try to force a peace in the region.  On this trip the Secretary General was welcomed with rocket attacks and intensified fighting between the military and M23. Hopefully he will make it out of the country alive.  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cholera Water

The biggest challenge I have had so far in Chad has been dealing with water.  Granted most of Chad is located in the Sahara and Sahel deserts, but I live in N'Djamena, a city on the banks of the Chari River. Right now the river is very low- this weekend I saw people wading across the river- but my problem is with how water is delivered to my house.

I am not hooked up to the city water infrastructure so my organization that provided and takes care of my residence put a 1400 liter water tank next to my house and is supposed to fill it up every other day.  I figure the pipes to my house from the tank must be broken since the tank needs to be refilled with at least a 1000 liters each time.

So far I have run completely out of water six times in the three months I have lived in N'Djamena.  I suppose running out of water every other week isn't too bad since many of my neighbors have to carry water from the local pump to their house in buckets and other containers.  Thankfully there is a shower at my office so I can clean up if there if needed.

The new twist to my water problem is that the water tank has turned green and black.  Clumps of algae float on the surface and hang from the ceiling of the container.  When I run the shower in the house the water comes out a light green color.  The guards refuse to drink the water saying they will catch cholera or some other parasite that will make them sick.  Hopefully we can clean the tank before somebody dies.

Here is a link to the facts about Cholera from the World Health Organization.  I think we'll be ok since nobody is using my water tank as a toilet (at least I hope not).  Maintenance should empty and bleach it in the morning.  Inch'Allah.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Chadian Nomads

This morning I was invited by some friends to go visit some nomads in the countryside and to ride their camels! I had previously ridden camels in Qatar (bareback) and Senegal (hard wooden saddle) and this was the best camel riding experience so far.  The simple wooden saddle that was padded with blankets was comfortable and gave a reasonable feeling of control, kinda like riding a horse with an American saddle.

Some people in the group brought bags of candy to give to the kids in the photos and we were invited to visit their huts.  Inside the huts there were raised beds made of blankets spread across a woven mat of sticks and the roof was supported by another interlaced series of branches covered with tarps and blankets.  It wasn't too hot inside, definitely better than living inside a concrete box that turns into an oven during the heat of the day.

The people were nice and it was cool to talk to the few kids that could speak French.  Highly recommended day trip if you can arrange it when you visit Chad.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Nigeria State of Emergency

Since I last wrote on 6 March 2013 about Boko Haram things have only gotten worse in Northern Nigeria.  I said it met all the qualifications to be counted as a civil war but some said no, it wasn’t that bad.  Today the President of Nigeria declared a state of emergency due to Boko Haram.

Yesterday, Boko Haram released a video where their leader claimed responsibility for attacks that left 240 dead and claimed they will continue abducting women and children.  Another report stated that Boko Haram has destroyed 50 of the 175 schools on Borno state.  Boko has also mounted increasingly sophisticated attacks, including one in Bama on 8 May 2013 where 200 fighters arrived in buses wearing army uniforms and freed 105 prisoners and burned the police station, army barracks, and other government buildings.

Boko Haram also hit a major payday in april 2013 when they received $3 million for releasing the French family taken hostage in Cameron.  All the extra cash will go a long way in financing future attacks and undoubtably contributed to Boko Harams declared affinity for kidnapping.  The more ransoms are paid the more Boko Haram can expand their operations.

Friday, April 26, 2013


Today I ran into a good friend of mine from Uganda.  We had met last summer when I was in Kampala and she was very helpful and friendly and I was very glad to see her again.  After catching up with her about her family and things in Uganda she mentioned that her boss had gone with her to a conference and after a couple days abandoned her to do all the work while he was out in cafes during the day and drinking scotch late into the night.  She was, as always, very good natured about it but then she went off on a illustrative tangent about the differences between African men and American men.

She started off by saying that American women dont know how good they have it with American men.  The American man will open a door for his woman, call her "baby" and other pet names, and even cook her dinner.  American men will even clean the house and take care of the kids so their women can do things.  She, my Uganda friend, on the other hand had to open the door for the African man, do all the work, cook her African man dinner, then kneel before him to serve him.

African women have a hard life.  Some have it worse than others depending on where they live, what culture they are in, marital status, employment (if they are allowed to work), and even if they have provided a male heir.  Sometimes they are treated the same as cattle and are bought, sold, and trafficked.  Often they are victims of violence, abuses, and rape.  In some places men are expected to beat their wives and if they aren't beaten sometimes the wives feel neglected.  In some cultures female genital mutilation (FGM) is still normal and expected.

In Uganda last summer a Ugandan friend of mine died in a motorcycle accident and left behind a widow and three daughters.  Since she did not produce a male heir she was not seen as a member of the family and had no rights to her husbands property.  Soon his relatives came to take away everything they could, including the fridge, tv, and deed to the house.  The relatives took the death gratuity payment and threw a party and took as much as they could and then abandoned her and the children.  Fortunately her western friends hid the deed and a couple other things or else she would have been left out on the street with her kids.

My meandering thoughts on this blog can't fix anything, and even to suggest that things aren't right can draw accusations of racism or culturalism.  I am glad, however, that I am in Africa and can help my friends when they ask for help.  I hope that what I am doing in Africa is helping others, improving their lives,  and is mutually beneficial.  My experiences in Africa have definitely changed my perspective.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

German Vacation

After six weeks in Chad its time for my first conference in Germany!  It was a good time to leave since the house where I live ran out of water a couple days earlier and I wasn't able to take a bath/shower for a couple days.  I was washing my clothes while getting ready for this trip when the house ran out of water.  Thankfully one of my friends let me jump in their pool so I could wash off before my flight.

For this conference I was booked on Air France, the first time I have ever flown them.  Usually when I flew around Africa I would fly on an African airline, like Kenyan, Ethiopian, or South African and they were fine.  Air France, the carrier usually outside my budget, was supposed to be the posh airline that treated everyone well.  They lived up to their billing except that they lost my luggage.  In over 40+ flights in Africa the local carriers never lost my bags, but my first time on Air France they managed to lose my bag.

36 hours later, still no bag.  I'm tired of washing my clothes in the hotel sink, time to go buy new stuff.  At least this happened in Europe where I can go buy new clothes, otherwise I would be wearing a bou-bou.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Arabic: Lingua Franca in Chad

After just short weeks in Chad its evident that my French isn't sufficient to communicate with the people here in Chad.  In meetings at hospitals, with government officials, military, NGOs, restaurants, taxi drivers I have found that maybe half of the people spoke French and maybe 5% of the people spoke English.  If they did speak English, few could get beyond the nice pleasantries and discuss things in detail.  Books and articles in Chad state that French is spoken by the elite, and I found that to be true in Senegal as well but in Dakar most people spoke Wolof and French.  In N'Djamena it seems that the more common lingua franca here is Arabic, followed by a local language, then French.  My Portuguese is absolutely worthless here.

Given that Arabic is the language that counts here, I would like to learn it.  However, I haven't found anything like an Arabic Institute where one could take classes.  The local dialect of Arabic is Chadian Arabic, which is closely related to Sudanese Arabic and similar to Nigerian Arabic but different the Egyptian Arabic which is used to dub most foreign films into Arabic.  Egyptian Arabic is also different than Saudi or Eastern Arabic. In my searches online for Arabic listening and learning tapes I have found claims that Moroccan Arabic is close to Chadian Arabic so I will try to order some Moroccan Arabic phrase books and listening tapes (like Pimsleur and Instant Immersion).

I'll try to get my associates to speak Arabic with me and teach me some phrases but it won't be the same as hiring a teacher.  Please let me know if you can put me in contact with a good Arabic teacher in N'Djamena!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Hiring Local Staff in Chad

If you are fortunate enough to be able to hire local staff while living overseas, chosing the right person and following the hiring process is critical.  My friends in Uganda seem to run into problems with staff every six-months that lead to returning to the searching and hiring process.  Here in Chad I am able to hire a gardner and may hire a housekeeper if I can find the right person.  Thankfully I was able to hire the gardner of a friend who was departing N'Djamena, however his housekeeper disappeared so I was not able to hire her as well.  

In Chad, a contract is required for all workers, even part-time, and the contract has to be registered with the state.  The employer is required to contribute 16% of the employees contribution to a state retirement fund and the employee also contributes 4% (for a total of 20% of the employees pay).  Employees are also entitiled to sick days, annual leave, emergency leave, special leave (for births, marriages, funerals) and annual bonuses.  The contract even stipulates the rates of overtime if my employee is asked to work more than the hours specified in the contract.

Salaries depend on what you ask your employee to do and the hours you ask them to work.  For example;a gardner working 20 hours per week may earn 60,000 CFA / $120 per month.  A gardner also responsible for pool maintainence (many expats have pools in N'Djamena) could earn 100,000 CFA / $200 per month.  A housekeeper working three-days a week may earn 75,000 CFA / $150 per month.  There are no general guidelines or recommended salaries but one should remember that the employee is most likely supporting many people with this salary.  A Senegalese housekeeper I knew in Dakar was supporting 18 people with her wages, including putting two nephews through college.  

Market day

For 3,500 CFA (aprox $7) at the market in N'Djamena today I purchased:
-4 Bananas
-2 Tomatoes
-2 Avocados
-10 eggs
-1 head of lettuce
-1 Green bell-pepper

All were locally grown, which is hard to do in a desert.  If I had bought these items as part of the fresh produce flown in weekly from Paris they would have cost three times as much!  Surprisingly the prices I negotiated are similar to what I was paying in a grocery store back in New Hampshire, especially if you consider these would be considered organic and cage-free items.  Sure, others could have negotiated better prices but this was pretty fair.  Now I have to soak all this in bleach-water since I still have a "delicate constitution" from only being back in Africa for just two weeks.

Women's Health & Family Issues NGO

This week I toured a local Chadian Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that focused on women's health and family issues.  This organization was supported by Planned Parenthood International but also received donations from the UN and other international organizations.  The NGO provided HIV/AIDS testing and counseling as well as testing for other diseases like syphilis and hepatitis in a small lab in the building.  The cost of a pregnancy test was 3,000 CFA or approximately $6.  The building was powered by two generators out front that enabled the lab to keep medicine and other critical items cold.

On the day I walked through there were nearly 100 women sitting on benches in the waiting area and more sitting outside under the the tall palm trees.  One of the services provided at this NGO is birth control and contraception assistance.  Condoms and Norplant were available.  The staff and clients were all nice and hospitable although I am sure many of the clients were wondering what I was doing in the building.

Funding is always an issue for an NGO like this and it is becoming a greater challenge to sustain operations as NGOs receive less funding from donors and governments.  Cost of services to the locals is critical as people earn very little here.  As funding for this NGO decreases the cost of testing and other fees for services will most likely increase.  The pregnancy test at 3,000 CFA was the most expensive test they offered, but prices could skyrocket or services become unavailable if they do not have the funds to pay the salary of the lab technician.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Chadian DMV

Today I went to the DMV to get my Chadian drivers license.  Last week a guy from the office took a couple passport photos and my American drivers license to the DMV and started the paperwork and today we went to take the official photo that will appear on my license.

The DMV is a cluster of buildings on the banks of the Chari river, swarming with people and motorcycles near the round-point with the two arms holding up the globe (I wish I could take pictures here but its against the law unless you have a special permit, and even then you are at risk).  As we pulled up to the building we noticed a cluster of six or seven men standing around a generator on the edge of the compound.  Inside the power was out.

We sat around for about an hour checking out the really cool equipment that was worthless since there was no electricity to make the machines run.  The DMV had video surveillance, magnetic locks, pass-card door entries, deskes filled with laptops, cameras, and other cool stuff but nothing worked.

Eventually we heard the generator roar back to life and the flourescent lights flickered back on and the wall-mounted air conditioning units started shooting cool air into the warm room.  After power was back it only took 15 minutes for the clerk to verify my information and take my picture and we were on our way.  Hopefully next week the drivers license will be ready...

Friday, March 15, 2013

I have been in N'Djamena for almost a week now and am getting settled in.  Life isnt too bad as I have a generator at my residence (runs constantly) and air conditioning, but no internet.  Daytime temperatures have only gotten up to 116*F so its not uncomfortable to hang out under a tree and chat.  It will be interesting to see how it is in the summer time. 

Next week I will get my Chadian drivers license and will try my hand at Chadian traffic.  There arent too many cars on the road but you need to watch out for the motorcycles and bicycles.  The people I have met so far are friendly, but not as talkative as I was used to in Senegal.  Hopefully I can get out and see more of the the area this weekend!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Boko Haram in 2013

A 22 February 2013 IRIN article "Timeline of Boko Haram and related violence in Nigeria" claims over 3000 deaths at the hands of Boko Haram in the past three years, which is an amazing body count.  The Correlates of War only requires 1000 deaths per year to count as a civil war, so on average there has been a civil war for the past three years in Nigeria waged by Boko Haram.  So far in 2013 I have counted 126 killed and 14 kidnapped by Boko Haram according to reports in the press.  

2013 total: 126 killed & 14 kidnapped
-4 March: 8 killed in attack on bank and police station in Gwoza, Nigeria 
-3 March: 20 killed in attack on military base in Monguno, Nigeria 
-24 Feb: 6 killed in attack in Ngalda, Nigeria 
-21 Feb: 3 killed in suicide bombing in Maiduguri, Nigeria 
-20 Feb: 3 killed in suicide bombing in Maiduguri, Nigeria 
-19 Feb: Kidnapping of 7 French tourists from Waza Park, Cameroon 
-16 Feb: Kidnapping of 7 foreign construction workers from Jama’are, Nigeria
-15 Feb: 1 Soldier killed in attempted suicide bombing in Maiduguri, Nigeria
-10 Feb: 3 North Korean doctors killed in Potiskum, Nigeria (suspected BH)
-8 Feb: 10 polio immunization workers killed in Kano, Nigeria
-27 Jan: 8 killed in attack on Gajiganna village, Nigeria (nera Maiduguri)
-23 Jan: 5 beheaded in Gwange area of Maiduguri
-22 Jan: 5 killed in Dakata district of Kano
-21 Jan: 18 killed in Damboa, Nigeria (Borno state)
-19 Jan: 2 Soldiers killed in Kogi state
-19 Jan: 5 killed in convoy ambush in Kano 
-17 Jan: 4 killed at military checkpoint in Kano
-4 Jan: 7 killed at military checkpoint in Kano
-2 Jan: 4 killed in attack on police station in Song (Adamawa state)
-1 Jan: 14 killed in shootout in Maiduguri

Today the Sultan of Sokoto called on the Nigerian government to grant amnesty to Boko Haram fighters and other combatants in Northern Nigeria.  However, on 22 February 2013, the Nigerian Presidency denied any offers of amnesty.  In addition, a Boko Haram leader denied peace talks with the government in a beheading video released on 5 March 2013.  There doesn't appear to be an end to the violence in the near future.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Chadian Appreciation

Chadian military forces have been out front fighting insurgents in Northern Mali and taking casualties but are they getting the appreciation they deserve?  Approximately 2000 Chadian troops deployed to Mali to fight insurgents as part of a primarily ECOWAS force but so far only the Chadians and French have been leading the fight.  Malian forces have been taking their time getting to the front and continue to complain they lack the necessary equipment to join the fight.

Casualties are starting to mount- on 22 Feb 2013 thirteen Chadian soldiers were killed while fighting insurgents in the Ifoghas Mountains.  France has been doing a lot of the fighting as well and has also suffered casualties, but is expected to withdraw in March leaving only AU troops to back up the Malians.  The Chadians have committed to stay and continue to fight in Mali, probably at great cost.  Chad isn't a rich country, lacks resources, and doesn't have the ability to sustain itself for long times far from its own borders.  What will Chad get out of the deal?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Got my visa!

I finally got my visa for 1 year in Chad!  My stuff has been shipped and I have my plane reservations!  A couple more weeks & I will be in a much warmer place eating some goat.  Too bad it will take about five months for my truck to get there.  But if i take another job on the continent I could potentially drive there...

Friday, January 11, 2013

France Intervenes in Mali

French military aircraft began attacking insurgent positions in Mali on 11 Jan 2013 and French President Francois Holland said the operation would last "as long as necessary."  "French Army forces supported Malian units this afternoon to fight against terrorist elements," added Mr. Hollande. "We are faced with blatant aggression that is threatening Mali's very existence. France cannot accept this."  Nigeria and Senegal are also involved although troop numbers and disposition are still unknown.

Military action by the French and other allies may be successful in reducing insurgent forces and driving them from power in northern Mali, but is the government of Mali ready to fill the power vacuum?  The political issues in Bamako still have not been resolved since Sanogo took power in a coup in March 2012 and the Malian military has been degraded.  When I traveled in Mali in 2011 it seemed that few police were evident and the biggest government presence were the military regional commands.

I wonder if the peace deal reached today between the Central African Republic and the Seleka rebel coalition was inspired in part by French involvement in Africa.  Perhaps the rebels were concerned that the French would change their minds about not getting involved in CAR

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Azawad fighters advancing towards Bamako

Ansar Dine fighters seized the central Mali town of Konna, located 435 miles from Bamako after engaging government troops on Wednesday, 9 January 2013.  An Ansar Dine spokesman stated that their forces were going to continue their jihadsouthwards.
Azawad fighters have been gathering strength since their conquest of northern Mali and declaring the establishment of the state ofAzawad in April 2012, and it appears they feel strong enough to continue the expansion of their territory.  The Malian government, on the other hand, has not yet gathered enough strength to start a campaign to liberate the north.  The United Nations, African Union, and ECOWAS have all discussed intervention in Mali but Sanogo has refused to allow foreign fighters to fight on their behalf.  Sanogo came to power in a March 2012 military coup while protesting the lack of government support for the counterinsurgent fight in northern Mali and has requested outside support but not foreign fighters.
Sanogo’s military coup debilitated the Malian army as soldiers fought their comrades and leaders loyal to the former president.  The swiss-cheese remnants of the army now encounter a more significant enemy in Azawad but with fewer weapons and equipment as army posts were abandoned in their flight southward.  Perhaps France and other allies have been resupplying the Malian army, but it will take significant effort to reorganize the army, train units to function in coordination, and direct the fight.  Unless Sanogo has been saving his pennies and appropriating portions of the budget the challenge of equipping his force and the cost of training will remain a significant obstacle to retaking the north.
France has long been a loyal friend to their former colony in Mali and has intervened repeatedly in francophone Africa over the past 50 years. However, French President Francois Hollande declined to intervene on behalf of the government of CAR and only assigned troops to protect French citizens and interests.  If this is a new French policy of non-interference in Africa then many francophone African countries should be worried.