Filming in Chad is not the easiest thing to do. The procedure to acquire a filming permit started three months ago by identifying journalists who would be interested to join our project and help to bargain the permit. It appeared not so easy. The first journalist lingered and finally did not want to join our project. The second journalist missed the appointments and the third simply delayed the process. Finally the director of CRASH (Centre for Research in Anthropology and Human Sciences), our collaborative partner, decided to organize the permit in his own way. The disappointment was big when finally we received the message from the officials that they consider ‘the moment not favorable’ to make a film on ICT and nomadism (‘le temps n’est pas favorable’). Would the moment have been favorable three months ago? The decision was taken by the ultimate chief in command: the chief of the ANS (secret service), Deby, the president himself. The head of the ministry of Communication could not turn this around; no way to negotiate. Conclusion: no filming permit for the documentary of the Fulani/Peul in Chad.
Behind this decision appears a world of fear, and being feared. The past year many sudden and unexpected arrests also affected our colleagues and friends here. As Khalil Alio, General-Secretary of Crash and Professor of Linguistics, rephrased a saying: ‘La peur a changé de camp (…) de la population au gouvernement’ (14 March 2014), meaning that the government is executing excessive control, because they fear more resistance. Was it not Deby himself who announced last year in one of the national newspapers that the Arabic spring had arrived in N’Djamena as well?
Behind this decision is also the tough reality of the region: the numerous refugees from CAR (Central African Republic), who live in refugee camps around N’djamena and in the South; but also the numerous armed men who enter Chad along with the refugees; the threats from Boko Haram; and from the Jihadists who have warned Chad for repercussions after Chad joined the UN mission in Mali and in CAR. The Mbororo (Fulani) nomads are squeezed in this violence and it is their story we had hoped to register. We had no other option than to concentrate on plan B.
The Arabic spring did not (yet) arrive in Chad, but the effects of the presence of the (often very poor) internet connections, mobile telephony and mobile internet do show in everyday life experiences and socio-political dynamics. What is this new dynamic and how does it make a difference for people who want to steer social change? We follow the Jokers of these worlds, where rapid technological changes open possibilities in an otherwise closed and impossible world. Our Jokers are young people who try to change Chad, but all in their own special way; by engaging in politics, in photography, in music, in human right advocacy, etc. Their stories show how difficult the struggle for freedom in their countries is.
André Shamba is a journalist and writer from Congo (DRC) and worked for Okapi, the UN critical radio in Kinshasa. We met him here in N’djamena (Mirjam met him first in October 2013) and immediately engaged in intense discussions about Chad, where André was confronted with social and political dynamics that he had not known in Congo. His attempt to build a living in Chad had not yet led to anything constructive so far.
André has been dwelling in N’djamena since October 2013, literally discovering why he will never succeed to make a constructive living here: The Clique. This is the group of filthy rich and medium rich or those related to them who protect each other (for as long as they need each other) and exclude those that do not belong. Nevertheless, this world of wealthy people attracts and it is assumed that without being part of this world there is no possibility to make one step forward, to progress in Chad. André as a Congolais will certainly not become part of it.
In order to succeed, the Jokers must somehow have a link to this rich world that they deeply criticize and detest. They link to the other world, the world of poverty, for most of them one of imagination and observation. That is what the jokers refer to, what they want to change. Yet they probably don’t realise that it is the denial of the world of poverty by the clique that gives the Jokers a reason to exist and act.
Is this part of being a Joker, like being a griot? One step in the world of power, the other in the world of poverty; the latter is the basis of their success even though their activities may be dangerous for those in power. They are tolerated because those in power do need Jokers. Deby’s apparently new policy to allow ‘the arts’ in his country seems to be part of this game. Popular culture in the era of new connectivity is increasingly visible in the public space, where political leaders like Deby can no longer deny its existence.