They are known as motos-taxis in Cameroon, okadas in Nigeria, zemidjan in Togo, boda-bodas in Uganda. Motorcycle taxis have become hugely popular across the continent, offering a number of solutions for rampant unemployment and an urban migration of unprecedented proportions. But in Chad lately, people are wondering just how long the clandos can command a presence.
Even educated young men in Chad's capital city are becoming motorcycle taxi drivers. Take Mahamat, who, despite having studied law, couldn't find a job and is now living off taxi work. He bought his motorcycle "with some help from the family". But, like other more academically inclined Chadians, he hopes this will just be a temporary solution.
"Although it helps cater to my needs, I cannot do this job for the rest of my life. I have a law degree that I intend to put to good use sooner or later," says the young man, who still dreams of entering the national school of law in order to become a judge.
But other clando drivers don't necessarily look at their work as a stopgap.
Abakar arrived in N'Djamena six years ago. He had moved in with his uncle, but soon felt he was an encumbrance. "I was eating and sleeping at his place without contributing anything to the home," he recalls. "I was clearly a burden, and I wanted to fend for myself."
The young man describes how his uncle invested in what became Abakar's main source of income. "I repaid him 5,000 CFA francs daily from my revenues and used the rest for myself. Six months later, he told me the motorcycle was mine. Thanks to the revenues from the clando, I am now renting a small room where I live with my girlfriend," he says.
Hard to regulate
As many young Chadians discover clandos as a viable way to make a living, their numbers have grown so high that the government is struggling to regulate what is largely an informal sector. Not long ago, Chad authorities endeavoured to get a handle on the situation by conducting a census of those involved in the activity. This initiative and other legislative moves, such as enforcing a helmet policy, have not been well received by the motorcycle taxi union.
"Union officials are 'allergic' to the census because they collect 200 CFA francs from each motorcycle taxi driver every day," claims N'Djamena district mayor Saleh Moussa. "The union therefore doesn't want the number of drivers to be known, as it would give away the revenues they make off the daily contributions."
But according to Djontanan Titnan, head of the national transport union SNTH: "The mayor thinks we are well paid by the union, but he is wrong."
Power in numbers - for now
Numerous and organized, motorcycle taxi drivers undeniably constitute a powerful lobby. During electoral campaigns, political leaders often pay them and give them T-shirts to wear while they parade along the streets in loud motorized processions.
Yet the future of this sector is really unclear, as urbanization projects in many African cities will push motorcycle taxi drivers outside big cities. "Soon we will have a new transport system in the cities. Minibuses, taxis and motorcycle taxis will be allowed to operate, but only outside N'Djamena," says Djibangar Madjirebaye, who is responsible for the legislation and regulation of Chad's transport industry.
The announcement has taxi drivers concerned about just how profitable clandos will be in the neighbourhoods to which their work will be restricted. Meanwhile, they have promised to respond in time as appropriate.