Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Chad's migrant workers pay price for Libya conflict

From David McKenzie, CNN
April 18, 2012 -- Updated 1114 GMT (1914 HKT)
  • Chad's economy has been badly hit by last year's conflict in neighboring Libya
  • Thousands of Chadians lived in Libya and sent remittances back to their families
  • Some 90,000 people returned to Chad after the revolution against Gadhafi's regime
  • Many of their families no longer have a regular source of income

N'Djamena, Chad (CNN) -- After spending years of working in neighboring Libya, the last place Daoud Mohammed wants to be right now is back to his home in Chad, the landlocked country in central Africa.

With no work and few opportunities, he is worried about his and his family's future in Chad's capital N'Djamena.

"To survive I had to be away -- though my family was here in Chad -- because there is nothing for me to do here," says Mohammed. He is one of the tens of thousands of Chadians who fled last year's fighting in Libya and are now back in their homeland.

"I don't have any skills, I don't have any qualifications and the rainy seasons here don't come often enough, so we can't cultivate," adds Mohammed, who used to work on construction sites in Libya.

Like Mohammed, around 300,000 Chadians made their living in Libya, often filling a gap at the lower end of the labor market, working in oil fields and construction sites.

Chad's economic headache

Read more: The Africans looking to make it in China

Many of them would send money back home to their families, providing a lifeline for a country where the majority live on less than $2 a day.

The remittances helped kick-start Chad's otherwise largely stagnant economy but this was brought to a halt last year after the revolution against Moammar Gadhafi's autocratic rule also forced thousands of Chadians out of the country.

The world focused on the uprising and the war in Libya, but from the onset other Africans were targeted.

Mohammed says a group of armed revolutionaries stormed his compound in Benghazi, accusing some 300 Chadian workers of supporting Gafdhafi.

"I don't know why they attacked me. I am just a laborer and I don't care about politics or governments, I just don't know why they did this to me," says Mohammed.

We have in some way become victims of the war in Libya, even if a few Chadians are in mourning of Gadhafi's death.
Ali Abderahman Hagar, economist

Fellow Chadian Tidjani Ali Mohamed, who worked as a skilled plasterer in Libya, says he spent months in a Tripoli prison where Africans from many other countries were also held.

"They forced me to confess that I worked with Gadhafi. But since I did not work with Gadhafi I just kept saying that I didn't so they just kept on beating me," he says. "It was constant suffering -- they treated me so badly, they beat me all the time and I didn't know if I would die today or tomorrow."

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) negotiated with the Transitional Council in Libya to get the Chadians and other Africans out in a highly sensitive evacuation operation. In the end, they brought some 90,000 people back to Chad.

See more: Is narcotic khat funding terrorism?

Though foreigners did play some part in fighting as mercenaries for Gadhafi during the bloody Libyan war, the IOM and local leaders in Chad say the vast majority of Chadians, like Mohammed, were working to send remittances home.

"Libya was always a rich country, they have lots of oil, and therefore there are work opportunities," says local leader Sultan Al Sadiq Al Bashir. "Whoever goes there, even without education, will find something to do. Being a laborer, or working in agriculture, or in construction, there are always opportunities over there."

Chadian economist and former finance minister Ali Abderahman Hagar says the return of the migrant workers has had a deep impact on the country's economy.

Now we have to beg for food and the local community gives us some food and that's how we survive.
Daoud Mohammed

"We welcomed 100,000 people who contributed to Libya's development but returned empty-handed," says Hagar, who now runs the Graduate School of Finance in Chad. "It is difficult to feed one person here in Chad, so to feed 100,000 more without having planned for them is dramatic," he adds.

"We haven't received enough support from international states, we have in some way become victims of the war in Libya, even if a few Chadians are in mourning of Gadhafi's death."

Like Libya, Chad has significant oil reserves. The resource was supposed to be the savior of the country's economy but people say they've yet to reap any rewards from it.

"For 10 years we have seen no benefit from the oil, nothing at all," says Al Bashir. "People are still poor, people need a lot of things, and the oil is not doing anything for the people."

Opinion: Can Kenya avoid Africa's resource curse?

Chad, which has been ruled by Idriss Deby since 1990, has been ranked by Transparency International as one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

Its industrial output is also minimal, while its agricultural sector has been hit by successive droughts. Despite some recent reforms, state safety nets are almost non-existent, leaving returning migrants to fend for themselves.

Thrown out of Libya and with few opportunities at home in Chad, many of them now believe they've become a burden on the people they once supported.

"Now we have to beg for food and the local community gives us some food and that's how we survive -- we have nothing else," says Mohammed.

Part of complete coverage on
Marketplace Africa
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1100 GMT (1900 HKT)
Fish from the tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho are served in top Tokyo sushi spots.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 1323 GMT (2123 HKT)
The world-famous waterfall is inspiring a local tourism boom as an increasing number of people is visiting Zimbabwe.
November 11, 2014 -- Updated 1007 GMT (1807 HKT)
Seychelles needed more than pristine beaches and choral reefs to boost its once troubled tourism industry.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
A general view of the Hout Bay harbour covered in mist is seen on May 8, 2010 from the Chapman's peak road on the outskirts of Cape Town. Chapman's peak road is the coastal link between Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope. When following the African coastline from the equator the Cape of Good Hope marks the psychologically important point where one begins to travel more eastward than southward, thus the first rounding of the cape in 1488 by Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias was a major milestone in the attempts by the Portuguese to establish direct trade relations with the Far East. He called the cape Cabo Tormentoso. As one of the great capes of the South Atlantic Ocean, the Cape of Good Hope has been of special significance to sailors for many years and is widely referred to by them simply as 'the Cape'. It is a major milestone on the clipper route followed by clipper ships to the Far East and Australia, and still followed by several offshore yacht races. AFP PHOTO/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
Abandoned workshops and empty warehouses are getting a new lease of life in Cape Town.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1037 GMT (1837 HKT)
Inside a glove factory on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, busy laborers turn patches of leather into these fashionable garments.
October 9, 2014 -- Updated 1050 GMT (1850 HKT)
The Somali capital now has its first-ever ATM bank machine -- and it dispenses U.S. dollars.
October 9, 2014 -- Updated 0911 GMT (1711 HKT)
Waves lap at the ships as they pull into the Port of Ngqura, but no swell is stopping the local economy booming.
October 3, 2014 -- Updated 1524 GMT (2324 HKT)
In Uganda, a group of landmine victims are using banana fiber to create rope, profit and community.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1337 GMT (2137 HKT)
What does it mean to be Nigerian? That's the question on the lips of many in Nigeria as new national identity cards are being rolled out.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1105 GMT (1905 HKT)
 General view of an oil offshore platform owned by Total Fina Elf in the surroundings waters of the Angolan coast 15 October 2003. The 11 members of the OPEC oil cartel have agreed to slash output by a million barrels a day, the OPEC president said 11 October 2006, in a move aimed at shoring up sliding world crude prices.
Six of the top 10 global oil and gas discoveries last year were made in Africa -- but can these finds transform the continent?
February 20, 2014 -- Updated 1121 GMT (1921 HKT)
A South African app allows buyers to pay for goods using their phone, without having to worry about carrying cash or credit cards.
December 13, 2013 -- Updated 0027 GMT (0827 HKT)
African astronomers want world-class observatories to inspire young scientists and build a tech economy.
February 19, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
A Zambian computer tablet -- known as the ZEduPad -- is trying to open up the country's information highway.
January 9, 2014 -- Updated 1057 GMT (1857 HKT)
South Africa may be the dominant force in Africa's wine economy, but other countries are making inroads in the industry.
October 10, 2013 -- Updated 0927 GMT (1727 HKT)
Eko Atlantic city design concept
A lack of infrastructure has hindered Africa's development, but a series of megaprojects could change that.
Each week Marketplace Africa covers the continent's macro trends and interviews a major player from the region's business community.