Chad’s Budding Roadblock Entrepreneurs

Corruption is big business in Chad, a country whose teetering economy is propped up by billions of dollars in foreign aid. When Chadians can’t make an honest buck, they’ll make a dishonest one. In Afghanistan and Somalia I paid out maybe a couple hundred bucks in bribes combined. Here in Chad, I’ve had to pay around $500 in only a month.
Roadblocks are one tried-and-true method of squeezing cash out of locals and foreigners alike. Wherever there’s a road in Chad, there will be roadblocks. Some are manned by Chadian soldiers, cops or other functionaries, and seem to be officially sanctioned. You pay a few bucks, they lift the gate and you go on your way.
The “rain gates” (pictured) are the best example of these. During Chad’s four-month wet season beginning in June, whenever it rains heavily, the gates go down to limit damage to eroding roads. Want to pass without an hours-long wait? Then be prepared to crack open that wallet.
The rain gates are installed and manned by the government, but the E.U. peacekeeping force in Chad still considers them extortion. One French army driver told me that EUFOR never pays, and just bullies it way through the gates.
Other roadblocks are unofficial. Local toughs figure they can “tax” anyone crossing their turf. After all, who’s going to stop them? The Chadian army? The army’s too busy demanding its own bribes to stop anyone else from doing the same.
The culture of corruption is so deeply ingrained here that, for Chadian kids, roadblocks are like lemonade stands are in the U.S.: a veritable right of passage for budding entrepreneurs.
I was driving through a U.N.-administered refugee camp in Gore, southern Chad the other day when the road ahead was suddenly blocked by a huge tree limb. Two unarmed 14-year-old kids stood at the side of the road, hungry glints in their eyes. My U.N. driver rolled down the window. It was all he could do to keep from laughing as he explained to these young thugs that this was a U.N. camp and we were in a U.N. vehicle. Did they really think he was going to pay to drive down his own road?
The kids saw his point. They lifted the branch. Best to let this one go.
But there would be others.
(Photo: me)