In Chad the Guera has turned into both an imaginary and a real world. It has been the central region in Chad’s many wars that ravaged the country over the past 50 years. Its main symbol is the beautifully sculptured mountains where Margai (a deity) lived, until the Islamization of the region almost eliminated this cult. Nevertheless, the Guera and its symbols form identity dynamics, a Guera identity that has gone underground, overrun by powerful forces, but it is there and ‘we have to dig to find it’. Which is what artist Salma is doing: trying to understand and re-find a lost identity. She, raised as a Muslim in N’Djamena and Nigeria, has no lived history in the Guera, but she certainly has a history with the Guera. The Guera inspires her artistic work as a painter, photographer and writer and has resulted into her discovery as an artist in N’Djamena. Her photo exhibition at the Institut Français du Tchad after the first travels to her village made the centre fund her, so she can develop her work.
Putting women central
Already from her early youth Salma was interested in art and expression. She considers the village stories articulated by her mother when she was very young, the foundation of her interests. She combines two themes in her work: the quest for identity and moments of injustice, putting women central. Her last project is about refugee women who fled the Central African Republic where they experienced cruel violence and are now confined to the refugee camps. What were the most important and precious things they grabbed before they had to run away? She relates this theme to her own experience as a refugee on 2 February 2008, which the people refer to as ‘le deux février’, when N’Djamena was invaded by rebels and fierce fighting was disturbing the city. She also had to reflect on what to take, preparing two bags for her flight to discover after arrival in Kousseri that she had taken the wrong bag.
The ‘déguerpisse-ment’ (eviction) is one of the moments of fierce injustice in the recent past of N’Djamena. It is part of the complete reconstruction of N’Djamena as ‘la vitrine de l’Afrique’ (Africa’s showcase), a huge programme of renovation and modernization. The project entails a reorganization of what is considered the chaotic urbanization of the city. N’Djamena’s urban planning was quasi absent after independence. As a consequence, quarters have no plan, roads are absent and people often have no property papers. There was no sign for any control to come soon. But that changed radically a few months after ‘le deux février’, when the rebels were overthrown, ‘calm’ returned to the city and refugees returned. Suddenly crosses were painted on houses, meaning that there were three days left before the bulldozers would come to destroy, to make place for modernization. ‘La renaissance’, a song by the SLAM artist Croquemort I wrote about before, opens with this recent and painful moment in N’Djamena’s history; it is written for the have-nots. But for the ruling ethnic group, it has been a blessing; indeed petrol stations, big hotels, new and well equipped but expensive hospitals, gardens, new roads, a fly-over, etc. are popping up and give a new face to N’Djamena. But where are the street children, and the maids who lived in the dilapidated houses that have been destroyed under the hammer of modernity? Injustice. Nevertheless, modernity is also good, it makes the town fresh; the citizens of N’Djamena are critical and proud at the same time.
The house of Salma’s family was destroyed twice. Salma followed the developments with her camera. Her pictures have influenced the public debate and reached the international press via Amnesty and Radio France Internationale. She contributed to discussions that have led to more justice: at least some re-compensation is given to the people who were disowned, but only to those who exist officially and have the right property papers. The invisible people, rural migrants, street children and maids, have moved to the villages and outskirts of N’Djamena. The stories were multiple. In the end, it turned out a modernization project for the better of the wealthy people, as is history’s usual way.
‘La Renaissance m’a dit’, by Croquemort
La renaissance m’a dit:
“Je vais urbaniser ton arrondissement”.
Elle est revenue sans crier gare le mois suivant
Avec des bulldozers, monstres matalliques détruisant,
Mangeant nos piaules brique par brique rageusement,
Bric-à-brac, gravats, des gens sanglotant.
Et sans vergogne le mois suivant,
Elle y a construit des stations pour y vendre du carburant.
La renaissance m’a dit:
“La sécurité, rien que la sécurité!”
Elle a recruté des flics illettrés
The renaissance tells me:
“I will urbanise your quarter”.
She came back without noise the next month
With bulldozers, metallic monsters destructive,
Eating our houses stone per stone violently,
Bric-a-brac, people crying.
Without consideration, the next month,
She was building fuel stations to sell fuel.
The renaissance tells me:
“Security, nothing but security!”
She has recruited illiterate policemen
Salma hopes to open eyes to animate discussions, but for whom? Will it reach the poorer section of the inhabitants of N’Djamena or only the more sophisticated and ‘cultural’ world of the international scene? Back to the Guera, where better internet connections via smart phones is increasing the radius of the youth. How will the work of Salma get a place in their futures?