Chad's hopes of an oil bonanza are taking shape in the red soil of the savannah which has been cleared by bulldozers at this site 400 kilometers (240 miles) south of the capital Ndjamena.
"We have suffered too much from repeated rebellions. Now our children will at long last enjoy stability and prosperity," said a doddering old man from Kome who has scratched a living from the earth over the years.
Chad's dream of riches began 30 years ago after the discovery of an oil field in the south of one Africa's poorest countries divided between a nomadic Islamite north and a black Christianized south.
The country was for long torn apart by the rivalries of warlords from the mountainous Tibesti desert, some backed by neighboring Libya, others by former colonial power France.
Last Wednesday, the people of the nearby town of Doba turned out to watch Chadian President Idriss Deby and his Cameroonian counterpart Paul Biya lay the first stone for the massive building site.
For the oil dream to become reality, a 1,050 kilometer (600-mile) pipeline will have to be be built between Kome and the Atlantic oil terminal at Kribi, in Cameroon, to the dismay of ecologists. Their dire predictions of disaster have been ignored by the scheme's promoters.
The pipeline will not be completed before 2003, according to the Esso-Chevron-Petronas consortium, charged with extracting Chad's oil.
Chadian and US workers have set up house in prefabricated air-conditioned containers that have simply been set down on the red laterite soil in the savannah countryside which Chad shares with its southern neighbors Cameroon and the Central African Republic.
Local farmers try to sell the workers their produce - cassava, millet or groundnuts - supervised by the site's security personnel.
The dirt airstrip that saw the arrival of the official delegations will soon be replaced by a 3,200-metre (yard) runway capable of handling big transport planes.
No fewer than 315 wells will be drilled to bring up the oil from the Doba field, which is estimated to contain enough oil for 25 years of extraction with production peaks of 225,000 barrels a day.
According to the World Bank, Chad can expect revenues of two billion dollars a year, a boon for a country dependent on stock-raising and cotton cultivation, impoverished by the encroaching desert.
The project is expected to create between 3,000 and 4,000 jobs, while roads will have to be resurfaced and bridges built.—AFP.
©--Agence France Presse.
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)