Mirjam de Bruijn – Impressions from Chad traveling with Didier Lalaye, 2-16 September 2014

Back in the ‘Vitrine de l’Afrique

The Capital city N’djaména by night is empty, except for the road that leads to Kabbalaye. The street plan is confusing as the roads are increasingly tarred and new buildings arise, where old one’s have been demolished. The ‘vitrine’ of Africa is still in the making. There is no money to continue all the construction works in town. Chad has a debt of 125 milliard if I understood it correctly, with the Chinese, who now announced that they will leave Chad and stop their activities. Where has all the oil money gone? The Deby clan knows more about it that is for sure.


It is always difficult to start. First of all to find my way to my own number. Tigo worked but at the same time it appeared that I forgot my number, thus I had to bricolage with the airtime sales man. It worked, he finally found the code to detect my phone number and I could add 10000 FCFA to my account. I am connected again.

Djimet was super. He helped me out to find our way in the bureaucracy. So we no longer have ordres de mission de CRASH, but we have real permissions. We went to the ministries to find these and to be able to work our way through Chad control. I really hope it will work. Tomorrow they will deliver. Finally we had the permit for free circulation, but the research permit was more complicated. The ordre de mission of CRASH had to replace this. It worked well.

Encounter with the main player in this trip: confronting violence

I met again with Croquemort, Didier Lalaye, the first day after my arrival; He is so charming;  happy to see him. I am really impressed by the power of ‘young’ people in Africa.

One intriguing moment in our first discussions was the film from CAR made by a colleague anthropologist that shows a moment of terrible and ugly offence and violence in Bangui. While watching, we raised the question about our own violence and this hidden violence in ‘us’? Violence is a recurrent theme in discussions in Chad and elsewhere, but what do we mean by it?

Watching this video film was simply impossible… Didier was watching with increasing despair. Heads crushed, which violence is in these people; what kind of performance? It makes me wonder about the violence that has been applied here in Chad during the different wars and rebellions. Follows a discussion about what violence is in a person and Didier’s reflection on how it is embodied in him as well, despite his ‘safe’ upbringing. The war was never where he lived. Nevertheless this attitude of violence is part of him. He also sees it in the people around him, that is Chad! This reflection shows another Didier, that is not Croque, but it is at the same time. In the same flow we talk about Stromae and how Didier adores him, how simple he is and how clear his messages are.

Habré-trial is a reality, but:

 (…) Referring to the time of Habré, the dictator who gained the Chadian throne from 1980 to 1990, we were discussing ‘how the traces of his regime are still present in Chad and how many people have not been able to come to terms with this period when their beloved ones were killed. The killers are still around. They will not disappear. Only if after the trial of Habré they will also be persecuted. This is a necessity for the reconciliation process in Chad, if not a return to these killings is a possibility. People have buried their anger and trauma but only superficially.

(…) Chad will work as a nation, only because it is divided even to the individual level. It is finally only the individual who agrees to him/herself, and who is in contact with many circles of related people, but where conflict is always one of the grammars that people talk and connect to. It is therefore as well, very contradictory though, that Chad as a nation can work….

Back to the roots

Le depart à Pala, the home region of Didier and inspiration for Croquemort, did finally happen. It was quite a long journey, also  because the road between Kelo and Pala was not very good. We traveled from 12 to 10 pm, but it was good. During this trip we have been discussing for hours on end about: His projects, his confrontation with with trahison, his wishes to become someone are mixed with it, and he has told me about his dreams and his many wishes, but also en passant about his family. I think he will never talk about this in front of the camera. His younger brother, Bienvenu, waited for us in this Pala and guided us to the hotel/auberge. Evening life in Pala is nice, we had a drink and ate some meat and eggs. Amazing how late people are awake and feasting in this village.

La voyante

Going back to the roots that one has never lived; that is finally a sort of a summary of the trip we made. The roots were the real school buildings, the class mates, and many other interesting paths. It was also a retrouvaille of dreamed roots. Hence the visit to the voyante, who did finally not ‘predict’ nor see into the future, but gave instructions how to secure our future. Didier’s case was much more complicated than mine. We discussed to follow up on her advice seriously, but finally back in Ndjamena it became less important and urgent. Did she really take it serious? We will see if and how it falls when we do not follow up on her advice. The voyante was in Torrock, le village. The parents of Didier are from here, his mother is from the family of the former chef de canton, she is a princess in fact. His father is from elsewhere, but his village is only five kilometers from Torrock.


We meet Dezoum in the village. He is a philosopher, reads anthropological books, was in university, has his BA licence, but now back in the village, with a (young) wife and three children, all girls. We meet him in his mother’s compound which is also the family house of the mother of Didier. They are cousins. Interesting is Dezoum’s knowledge about politics, the different presidents in African countries, all the various intrigues etc. he has an opinion about them all as well. Follows the news on the old radio that he inherited from his father. ‘When I listen to the radio, I see my father’. He works his fields and works hard to get the best results, but he is longing for a better equipment; if he has to stay in agriculture then let it be modern. But that is not yet where he is. No modernity except that he works with labour, probably does not really work himself but guides the others. Profits from the village structures, where women still work your field (may be because he is a Prince as well?), for a bottle of argui or a canarie of bili bili.

The DED (Greman NGO) has introduced some forms of modern agriculture, like the workshop where the iron wheels for the charrues are being made, there they also make the necessary things for the houses. The workshop is opposite a hangar where the huge tractors are parked. These are from the government and one can hire them for 5000 FCFA to work half an hectare before starting to put in the seeds, of whatever. These tractors seemed rather clean, no idea if they are really used. They are a symbol of modernity celebrated by Didier, who certainly believes in technology Therefore he respects these Germans who have as well been able to leave at least these traces of the workshop and the iron artisanats that the villagers are not able to make themselves. Technology is the future?

Religiosity and music

Back to the roots also means commenting on the culture. Discussing the roots, the bad influence of religion. ‘I am an agnost’. That is Didier, he left all religion for the others and sees it as a destructive force that has taken away the essential elements of their identity. Where can the youth now find out who they are? What do they have? Probably some forms of churches will be able to give this back, but in general it seems not the case. Torrock has two evangelical churches, but they are not more than hangars, and can probably receive 20 people, yet then it is already crammed.

In the village there are now many youth who school in N’djamena or in Pala. They are here to help in the fields. And they are at the central market, where they have their music, all with their phones that contain songs of Croquemort who they do indeed admire. It is important for them to be close to him, and share their ideas. Didier immediately steps into the mood of organization: organizing a workshop here, for these youth about culture and making rap/slam. That would be a good thing to do. The youth ask for it, but why? Do they especially see the future as a musician as a way out of this world, where although of course beautiful and calm, there is not so much to do for them, not now and not in the future. Is it the message he gives with the content of the songs, or the message his ‘music world’ where urban life, traveling to Europe, and meeting white people, being part of a ‘scene’ is also what the message of the music has to be for these young people. Imagining the difference again between Didier and these kids is rather interesting.


In how far is this ideology, the stance Didier takes also informed by an urge to belong? He does not feel at ease in this country, but knows he can contribute. Leave the country like his fellow migrants is (not yet?) an option, but it can become an option. And will he not take it? On the other hand he does invest a lot of energy and time in the project for his village, it is not only the Bilharziose program but also checking the health centre now and then and bringing medicine, advice, etc. he observes a child, feels and checks later what the nurse-doctor made of it. A complete wrong interpretation, the child is sent home with an anti bilharziose medicine, but would simply need to be dehydrated. He does not intervene, but let it go, taking it in as information. ‘But’, I ask, ‘this child is in fact then poisoned, should you not…’ ‘No I do not intervene, I observe.’ He also listens and does not criticize immediately, only afterwards to me.

Back in N’djaména : Au revoir

Our last drinks before I leave back to Holland, at the small bar at Walia; the young musicians who were all eager to talk to Croquemort, but whose music has nothing to do with the music of Croque and who try to convince him that music and politics does not pay. Didier laughs, listens and has his own thoughts about these young men. He confines me about their entourage with the leading figures in this country: they do not care, it gives them money. Their music is really empty and I cannot see the charm of it. They all want to have Croque in their entourage. I bought one CD, let’s see how it is. These encounters reveal Didier who observes Croquemort and the entourage of the music scene in Ndjamena. It also reveals his external view, he is out, and in, but his is a different regard… He can be either crushed or become the star of Slam also in Europe. Slam fits best, I increasingly understand why. …

Prof. dr. Mirjam de Bruijn is the project leader of ‘Connecting in Times of Duress’. Read more about her research project ‘Youth, media, and protest: Histories of Engaging in Central African politics and social life’ here.

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