by Andzej Bielecki
Together with four friends, I recently completed a four-week tour in Chad. One car came from Belgium via the Atlantic Route and then through West Africa. A second car was rented (with the compulsory driver) for 80,000 FCFA/day (‘XAF’; €120).
Our itinerary (see map, right) took us from Ndjamena anticlockwise down to Mongo, Zakouma NP, up to Abéché, Kalait, Ennedi, Fada, Demi, the Ounianga lakes, Gouro, Yebbi Bou in the Tibesti then Faya, Moussoro and back to Ndjamena.
Although the era of ‘mass tourism’ might be said to have arrived to northern Chad, the Authorisation de Circuler is still compulsory, as is the registration in Ndjamena (procedure still the same). However, we didn’t have a single police/gendarmerie check during the whole stay. Only the newly created Office du Tourisme Tchadien (known to everybody as ‘OTT’) checks the AdC in Fada and Ounianga. In Gouro and Yebbi Bou the Gendarmerie/Sous-préfet were vaguely interested in it too.
During the season the main sites around the Ounianga Lakes and in the Ennedi massif are visited on a daily basis by the tour groups of Point Afrique. Seven sites in this region now charge 5000 FCFA/person (€7.5; change from the former 50,000 FCFA per group policy) and even issue receipts. Some souvenir sellers have also have appeared. In Bachikele, near Guelta d’Archei, the chef du canton tried to charge us the old rate; we refused and left but were still, apparently, chased by young men with AK47s. We complained to OTT in Fada and the ‘délégué regional au tourisme’ admitted this was the fourth time this season this happened at Bachikele. But OTT does seem to have some kind of authority; they quickly found our guide in Fada and all of a sudden every Chadian that argues with tourists becomes very easy-going when OTT is mentioned (concrete example taken from a discussion with a guide we hired that wanted more than the agreed price…).
We took a guide from Fada to Gouro through Demi and the Ounianga lakes which is not absolutely essential but was still very useful (six days – 140,000 FCFA). The second guide (Gouro to Yebbi Bou, Meski, Rond Point de Gaulle and Faya) cost us 170,000 FCFA for five days. A guide south through the Erg du Djourab is not necessary unless there’s a sand storm; the tracks are very obvious and the balises clearly visible.
The three-day route from Ounianga Kebir to Kufra in southeast Libya sees only erratic traffic since 2011 and merchants were complaining. However, the Sebha to Faya piste through the Passe de Kourizo sees quite a few Mercedes trucks plying the route in about five days. We saw a few en route and about a dozen Libyan trucks in Faya. There is a Libyan consulate in Faya but only Tubus risk this drive (see also this).
As it probably comes from Libya, fuel is much cheaper in the north, but as before is sold only in 220-litre drums for between 75,000 and 90,000 FCFA. In the north it’s also much easier to find petrol as many cars are imported from Libya. In the Tibesti it might even be difficult to find diesel. In Ndjamena a litre costs about 550 FCFA (€0.84) in a fuel station.
Mobile coverage was widely available in the south. In northern Chad Salal, Faya, Gouro, Ounianga Kebir, Fada and Kalait had signals. The network broke down in Gouro three days before we came.
Road to Sudan
From Abéché it’s possible to drive to Sudan; the border seems open. However, the Sudan embassy in Ndjamena only issues visas to residents of Chad. There’s also a consulate in Abéché but we weren’t able to check with them. There seems to be tarmac from El Geneina to Khartoum, but the trucks go in a convoy escorted by the Sudanese army every week or fortnight. I imagine one could show up in El Geneina and join the convoy or pay the army for a private escort. Abéché to Adré takes 3-4 hours. The road from Ndjamena through Mongo to Abéché is tarred almost all the way (will be finished in a few months). There are about six toll stations, each is 500 FCFA/vehicle and a receipt is issued.
Travel in the Sahara has long been disrupted by the activities of AQIM and similar groups including Boko Haram based in nearby northeastern Nigeria. And as we all know, Chadian troops are currently engaged with French and Malian forces in Operation Serval in northern Mali and there was a coup in CAR a few days ago, and you wonder if this might lead to a resumption of the normal Chadian state of affairs. Hopefully not. Our conviction was that as long as we stayed clear of border areas we would minimise the risks.
President Deby has recently decided on the creation of many new Départements, Régions and Sous-préféctures. Almost all villages in the north are now virtually sous-préféctures where the sous-préfet (usually a local elder barely speaking French) appreciates visits from the foreigners. They are the link between the State and the local tribal authorities and get new Land Cruisers, offices and even a residence. I imagine this is another way for Deby to strengthen his grip on the north. He himself originates from just south of the Ennedi and his tribe, the Zaghawa, extends as far as Bachikele and Monou. I cannot imagine that some of the revenue from tourism doesn’t flow back to high circles in Ndjaména. I therefore think there is a major interest in safeguarding security and preventing foreign infiltrations in Chad by ensuring a revenue and the preserving the power base of the President. That’s the assumption under which we travelled but only the future will tell if we were right.