For New Years 2014 I decided to write about the past year spent working on the construction of a new Hilton Hotel in N’Djamena, the capital city of the Republic of Chad, Africa. Chad is located in North-Central Africa in what is known as the Sahel, a semi-arid region at the bottom (south) of the Sahara Desert. Chad is one of those places that the State Department warns Americans not to go. It is officially listed as a Failed State. But wonder of wonders, Chad is experiencing a construction and business boom and has been a fascinating experience. Africa is discovering capitalism and they like it. They discovered oil in Chad in the early 2000’s and with completion of a pipeline to the Atlantic through neighboring Cameroon the money has begun to flow into this poor backwater. The country’s President, General Idriss Déby Itno, has taken a hard stand against the Islamist extremists and Chad has become a small island of stability in a chaotic and dangerous area of Africa. Chad is surrounded by Niger and Nigeria to the West, Libya to the North, Sudan to the East and Cameroon and the Central African Republic to the South. The Chari River runs through Chad and the capital city of N’Djamena and is the lifeline for the people in the country. Our project, the Hilton Sabangali Resort, sits on the banks of the Chari River in N’Djamena. The primary language is French (Chad used to be French Equatorial Africa) although Arabic is also prevalent.
I have always believed that the success or failure of most any venture comes down to people. Some people think it is technology and others money but in my mind it is always about people sharing a common vision, common goals and a common desire to achieve something bigger than themselves. After a year working on this project in Chad I believe that more firmly than ever. Our project has people from all over the world. Pakistan, India, Lebanon, Syria, the Philippines, the United States, Albania, Cameroon, Chad, Egypt, and elsewhere. And yet I find that people are people no matter where they come from, wanting to make a better life for themselves, provide for their families, and take pride in what they do. And I have made good friends here. Language and cultural issues are always a problem, but by and large we overcome.
Working in Chad has been eye-opening in many ways. I have worked on projects that I considered remote before this, but nothing prepared me for Chad. Limited air flights, no rail service, and most everything you need must be shipped by container to a seaport and trucked in overland on a month-long journey to the interior of Africa. Good pre-construction planning, integrated and coordinated design and an early start on purchasing and logistics are needed for a successful project anywhere, but here they are essential and critical elements. Failing to do it properly means to fail. Housing, basic sanitation, medical care, and transportation services for workers, expats, subcontractors and suppliers must be carefully thought out, planned and executed in advance. Being in the construction business here means being in the housing business, the health care business, the telecommunications business, the equipment and machinery repair business, the metal and steel fabrication business, the staffing and human resources business, and the procurement, shipping and importing business.
The project is far from done and has a long way still to go. I will write further on how things go, lessons that I have learned, and anything else interesting that happens along the way.