Libyan Market in Chad: A market of returnees

Date Publish: 
Chad / Africa and Middle East

It is two o´clock on a warm Sunday afternoon in the city of Mao, the capital of Kanem in the West of Chad. The town, with about 123,000 inhabitants, has a calm atmosphere, as it usually does. People go back and forth, some transporting their goods on their camels through the lively streets of the so recently called Market of Libya.

The Market of Libya was spontaneously created in May 2011 by 300 Chadian returnees who fled the conflict in Libya. These returnees were part of the approximately 90,000 migrants who returned from Libya to Chad until March 2012.

Hadidja Mahamat hopes to sell at least one of her incense-filled jars today. She returned last year from the city of Tripoli (Libya) where she lived with her whole family for nearly 30 years. While living there, she made her livelihood by selling incense in the local market; her children went to school and her income was enough to save some money. Now her life has radically changed, her income is not the same and the money she gets from daily sales is barely enough for food.

“In Tripoli I used to sell incense at 5,000 CFA (10 USD), but here in this market I barely get 1,000 CFA (2 USD),” says Hadidja.

Returnees set up this market to survive but it has raised tension with the merchants of the town’s traditional market located some streets further down.

“When we came back from Libya, we were welcomed warmly by our neighbors and the whole community, but once we wanted to open our own market, tension increased with the merchants of the town’s traditional market to such an extent that they asked us to leave the city. The Mayor protected us and we were authorized to go ahead with our small market in this part of the city,” Saleh Ali, another merchant, says.

Saleh sells rugs in the Market of Libya. He also returned from Tripoli with his family with the help of IOM. He says that the value of money is not as high in Mao as it is in Tripoli. He adds that although Mao is his hometown, he doesn’t feel at home here, as he has lived in Libya for 35 years. 

Saleh tries to bear the situation day by day but says that the money he earns is not enough to live his new life with his family in Chad. “My children didn´t know Mao; they were born in Libya and now I must have them adapted to everything. I can´t send them to school because what I earn in the market is not enough,” Saleh says.

Ibrahim Abdoullaye is another merchant born in Nigeria who lived in Libya until the crisis was triggered. He and his friend El-Hadgji Balah worked in Tripoli for 20 years but decided to settle in Mao once they returned since they did not want to go back to their home country.

While living in Tripoli, they both did construction work. However, they decided to open their own butchery in the Market of Libya where they earn just enough money for paying rent and surviving. Ibrahim says that he wants to stay in this little town of Chad anyway and not return to his country where the economic conditions could be worse.

Next to these Nigerians´ butchery is the Mahamats’ restaurant where Zeneba, 14, works with her father. She prepares the meals while her father looks for sellers. Zeneba does not know Mao, her father’s hometown. She has changed her school uniform and stopped being a student to become a cook and somehow find the way to make ends meet with her family.

Most Chadians working in the Market of Libya tell the same story. The problems of socioeconomic and cultural reintegration are evident mainly for those who never lived in Chad but whose Chadian parents had to return. 

All of them have had to start a new life leaving behind their past, their belongings and even their savings in Libyan banks. They left running and do not want to go back. Many of them show the need for additional support related to micro credit, housing and support for their children’s education.

Hadidja Mahamat returned from Libya in 2011. She sells incense in the Market of Libya to survive in Chad. © IOM 2012
Saleh Ali  sells rugs in the Market of Libya. He used to sell rugs also while he was living in Tripoli. © IOM 2012
The Nigerian Ibrahim Abdoullaye  and  El-Hadgji Balah set up their own  butchery to survive in their new community after leaving Libya. © IOM 2012
Zeneba Mahamat helps her father to manage the restaurant in the Market of Libya. © IOM 2012