Of late rather smart heavy faux ‘camel skin’ coats from China have been in great demand. A must for the older man wanting to keep warm but look at the same well dressed. I have been wearing a jumper and T-shirt under my jalabeer a hidden addition which makes people think I am hardy and don’t need a coat. The market functions all day and on into the night.
There is a newer separate market where goods from Libya are sold from the back of pick up trucks. The number varies each day and they arrive with a variety of fresh goods, tomatoes, apples, bananas, oranges, potatoes, onions. Some days there are 5 or 6 others there are none, it just depends on the state of the frontier and the relative values of the Libyan dinar and the CFA (Central African Franc) They also sell the same tins and sacks as the main market, but this time in bulk. My adventures in bulk buying have not always been successful, I bought 25kg of flour, but the bread which Andrea made with it tasted of petrol, not a good buy.
Fresh eggs are a good part of our diet, but sometimes there are none to be found. If you find them on the smaller market they are sometimes hardboiled already (useful tip if language is difficult, check by spinning an egg on a tin, raw eggs don’t spin well, boiled ones spin like a stone. Also remember that the last few eggs on a market stall are less likely to be fresh, so it is best to buy them in bulk as they arrive on the pick ups.)
A few weeks ago, I came across a pick-up with a large carton of eggs all on trays of thirty. There was no queue and I asked to buy a tray but was surprised when the man said that they were expensive, 2500 CFA, so I should go to the next stall where they were cheaper at 2000 CFA. He had to say it twice as the first time it didn’t make sense to me. So I walked to the next stall, and waited in the queue, it was a bit of a wait. A Teda friend came up and so I asked him what it was all about, were these eggs not going to be fresh, where was the catch. He simply wants to be kind as his eggs cost more was the unexpected reply.
I was still waiting after about 5 minutes and, typical westerner, beginning to think I would rather pay more for a quicker service. The man with the expensive eggs must have seen my frustration so he came over got me a tray of eggs took my money, gave it to the stall owner and then went back to his stall. No doubt he sold his higher priced eggs later on in the day when the other stall had sold out. An unusual way of doing business and really not what you would call a competitive market rather it is a nice one to visit.
So far the lessons from the market are quite simple and uncontroversial, smell flour for petrol, spin eggs to make sure they’re not already boiled and perhaps more usefully, take stall holders advice , they may actually be being nice to you. The next story, actually from a missionary cookbook, is a bit more provocative; it too is about buying a tray of eggs.
A US national working in Nigeria went to market, she was well versed in the local language and culture, and she observed the lady in front of her buy 3 eggs for 300 Naira. (sorry I don’t recall the exact figures but it is not important). She then asked for a tray of eggs and was asked for 4500 Naira. Quickly doing the maths she pointed out that her 30 eggs cost 150 Naira each whereas the other lady had only been charged 100 Naira per egg. So she asked whether the seller had made a mistake. No came the reply, anyone who can afford to buy a whole tray of eggs can afford to pay a bit more.
How do you feel about that? Was she really being ripped off? We in the west come from a culture where bulk buying saves money and are more used to the idea of buy one get one half price offers. That is how free market capitalism is supposed to work, encouraging consumption, usually to the advantage of the rich.
Let's look at an everyday example of how the market works in the UK.
Your electricity and gas is cheaper if you can afford to pay on contract a regular monthly sum through out the year. If you are less well off and pay what you use each quarter it is more expensive per unit used. Most expensive are the meters that require payment tokens to make the system work. I noticed that when we moved into our home in Wakefield in 2005 and being rich, quickly got that changed. So in essence the more money you have available to pay bills the cheaper they are. It seems right or at least normal doesn’t it? Although perhaps a bit unfair?
In Chad if you buy a small 8 kg bottle of gas it will cost say 4000 CFA, if you buy a 15 kg bottle it costs 10 000 CFA, which makes the bigger bottle more expensive for each kilo of gas. The logic is that the government want to encourage people to buy gas for small hob burners, decreasing the use of firewood and charcoal, and also helping the poorer people in society. The larger bottles are good for gas cookers, fridges and water heaters so you pay more for the gas, it is after all use with for luxury items.
The electricity bill is structured in the same unusual way, the first 20 kw each month are at a cheaper rate than the next 30 kw and then more expensive again after 50 KW. It’s a graduated system in the same way as income tax. The poor person who struggles to pay the bill for an electric light is helped and the rich pay more for their air conditioning. Seems a fair deal to me.
Finally the same is true of water bills, so effectively the main 3 utilities are subsidised.
I can imagine the outcry in the UK if any one of the political parties proposed such a change, it would be a scandalous meddling in the near sacred ‘free market’. I guess it would be, but that doesn’t stop it being a good idea. Perhaps we can learn an economic lesson from Chad, (yes really- the west can’t be right all the time can it?) Cheaper water, electricity, gas and public transport for the less well off.
The idea is utopian, but it is not new. I do seem to remember that in the temple at Jerusalem there was a graduated scheme for an offering to ask God for forgiveness, a young bull for the high priest, a male goat for a leader, a female goat for a common person, two doves or pigeons for a poor person, or one and a half kilos of the finest flour for a very poor person. Perhaps that form of ‘progressive pricing’ for essential is a lesson that we need to rediscover.
Sadly it is more likely that in the future that external forces perhaps the World Bank or IMF will insist that Chad implements market reforms, in return for a financial relief package to cushion the economy against the effects of the lower oil price. In other countries this has meant privatisation of state assets, removal of subsidies on foodstuffs and fuel and a free competitive market, for whose benefit?
-Something to think about.