Meet the kings of bling

Many ordinary village chiefs in Chad have suddenly grown fabulously rich.

To us, the local villagers, there’s no prize for guessing why: it’s all down to the Dear Leader. The leader of Libya, that is—the one and only Colonel Moammar Gadaffi.

As chairman of the African Union, the Dear Leader now travels around the continent surrounded by bands of traditional African chiefs. Our village chief is one of these lucky hangers-on. And anyone who knows our chief’s background has no difficulty understanding why he and all the other chiefs have bestowed the funny ‘King of Kings” title on Gadaffi.

Until three years ago our chief had just the standard herd of wives—that is, five of them—a string of unclothed kids and a few mud huts to his name. He was so poor that his kids worked in fields owned by his subjects rather than vice versa. And rumour had it that he rented clothes from a local tribesman when he had to attend government events.

So he scarcely commanded the respect of his own subjects, let alone of Chadian President Idriss Derby’s government. But when the call came last year from Libya for African kings to attend a special function in Tripoli, others dithered and wavered but our chief seized the opportunity with both hands.

What the ‘King of Kings” title actually means didn’t concern him—there were spoils to be reaped from the oil-rich North African state. So off he went on an all-expenses-paid trip to Tripoli—his first time on a plane—and the media hype that ensued pictured him and other African chiefs in their new roles as Gadaffi’s praise singers. Happiness gleamed from his face on his return from Tripoli—and the lifestyle changes kicked in.

First, Libyan contractors constructed a 15- room, fully electrified royal house at his homestead—satellite dish prominently included. The royal walls featured pictures of the chief, the Dear Leader and the Chadian president—much to the chagrin of local government officials who are now forced to notice and respect our chief.

Then too, village court sessions became nothing but renditions of how glorious the land of Libya is and how generous the tent-dwelling Gadaffi is. And, funnily enough, how humble he is.

So much so that our chief’s now immaculate daily clothing is adorned with images of the Dear Leader. Gossip has it that my chief rakes in US$800 every two months courtesy of the Libyan government. In strifetorn Chad that is a fortune many would be prepared to kill for.

So local village matters have taken a back seat as our chief travels frequently to Tripoli, which is 2 100km away, and hardly has time for his subjects. He can’t drive, but the Libyan contractors have given him an air-conditioned Toyota diesel pick-up with ‘Gift of the Libyan People’s Jamahiriya Republic” inscribed on its door.

They are also busy planning a tarred road between my village and the nearest town. Of course, my chief’s subjects resent his promotion of self-profit over community issues, and local councillors are jealous. But the chief is enjoying his purple patch. For now.

Hadid Beduwi is a freelance journalist in Chad

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