ISSUE/EDITION Nr 427 - 01/02/2002


Grownups on the streets


First came the street children,
now there’s a growing number of adults roaming the streets

For nigh on ten years, N’Djamena’s streets have been getting ever-busier. The authorities are getting increasingly concerned with the number of adults now found roaming the streets. They belong to different groups.

First, there’s former young fighters coming from southern Chad. They’ve returned to civilian life following the political agreements signed with the central government.  These young people were left to fend for themselves by their former leaders, who’ve managed to obtain comfortable positions in the military for themselves. The young former fighters have to live from hand to mouth in the capital. They’ve no means of feeding and clothing themselves, or of finding a place in which to live. They’re often illiterate or semi-literate, so N’Djamena’s streets become their home.

Then, there’s the young people who because of the never-ending droughts, the fall in cotton prices, and the lure of bright lights, have left the countryside and come into the towns seeking a better life. Thousands of young people from the south are making their way to N’Djamena. Unable to find accommodation in the city centre due to the increase in rent prices, these young people are turned away by any relatives they may have in the city, so they try to find housing on the outskirts of the city, frequently disturbing the local population. In groups of five or ten, they cram into small rooms meant for two people. Because there isn’t enough space or bedding, they take turns in bedding down during the day and during the night. People who dare to look in at them are roundly abused.

Thirdly, there’s the young seasonal workers who come to N’Djamena after the harvest. Because they don’t intend to stay long, they take on small jobs such as selling bread or making bricks. This allows them to buy essential items for living in the countryside: axes, torches, bags of salt, spare parts for ploughs and carts, dresses for their wives back home, and especially, «city»-type clothes to wear later on, as a sign they’ve come from the city.

Then there’s young political party activists belonging to the Opposition, who’ve fled from their villages to escape repression from local dignitaries and police chiefs, especially after the 20 May 2001 presidential election. What happened was this: young political activists from the Opposition had put forward their preferred candidate in the presidential election. During the voting period and afterwards, they were hunted down by local governing party activists. Fearing for their lives, they took refuge in the capital, whilst others fled to neighbouring countries such as the Central African Republic, Cameroon and Nigeria. All in all, a difficult initiation to democracy; the fact that an opposition party can become the government is still a notion foreign to many Chadians.

Insecurity and poverty

One thing these young countrymen have in common is persistent poverty. They are easily recognised by the kind of dirty and misshapen clothes they wear. You can also tell where they come from, by the way in which they talk and go around in groups of five or ten, or even more. Their preferred place is Shagona District, south of the capital, where most of them come from. They can be seen at weekends, strolling around the street which runs from the former Agricultural Development Agency (hence its name: «FDAR Street») to Dembé Market.

The “Busy Street”

Along this street many shops sell the local beer made from millet («Bili-Bili»). The new city dwellers are more than welcome in such establishments where they can drink to their hearts’ content in the midst of an indescribable hubbub. Because of the constant noise, FDAR Street is now called «Busy Street» by people from other areas of the city.

Passers-by can also sustain themselves on «Koura-Koura», a highly-seasoned soup made with mutton or beef which is sold cheaply in the «pubs». Some people prefer broiled crickets and small birds, while others enjoy fast-fried potatoes and «bakouri», a kind of home-made pancake. Others enjoy «garga» soup, made with small fish in season and sold at an affordable price. This serves to vary the diet of poor households in the capital.

People coming in from the country like to stand out from N’Djamena’s permanent inhabitants, so they communicate between themselves in a language they learnt at the time of their tribal initiation. In women’s company, they «play» with the yo ndoh language, a language learnt during initiation into the ethnic Sara tribe and spoken among themselves in the bush or during a difficult time for men. Even when they speak in Sara or dialectical Arabic, they use rather coarse expressions; and this when sexual allusions are taboo in Chadian society. They are even prepared to rob children of their millet cakes — something totally unacceptable to any Chadian adult.


«Busy Street» isn’t the kind of place you would want to linger in. Quarrels and messy fights are rife; it’s a real headache for motorists and motorcyclists, as nobody will let them pass in spite of repeated hooting. These young people, most of them unemployed, are quick to use their knives they’ve brought with them from their villages — traditional daggers covered with poison.

Police, both local and national are scared stiff to appear in these places. Police sources indicate that many foreign dealers in counterfeit money coming from Liberia, Niger and Cameroon take advantage of the confusion created by the new city dwellers, to trick the powers-that-be. All-in-all, this could cause a real problem to public security.

Structures established to combat Sexually Transmitted Diseases and HIV/AIDS need to take into account the new situation. AIDS is found both in rural and urban areas. The movement of young people between the villages and towns helps to spread the disease. The recent government programme for reducing poverty in Chad needs to take into account the situation of these unfortunate young people. Today N’Djamena is «invaded» by these so-called unemployed people; tomorrow, it could be the turn of other urban centres.


PeaceLink 2002 - Reproduction authorised, with usual acknowledgement