Did the central African country Chad really pledge 12 million euros to get its name on the jerseys of the French soccer club FC Metz? The official answer is no, but this is what's behind the story.
"Chad – oasis of the Sahel" are the words that embellish the jerseys of the French soccer team FC Metz. And this was the message that the communication team behind the design wanted to convey in order to boost the country's attraction to tourists.
Chad's government however categorically denies having spent millions on the marketing gig. "Chad never, I repeat, never closed a deal in which it would sponsor the club with 12 million euros ($13.4 million)," the sports minister, Betel Miarom, said. Those are clear words. So what's really behind the story that Chad wanted to polish its image for international travelers?
The idea for the campaign apparently came from Christian Lagnide, a former soccer player from Chad's southern neighbor, Benin. In the 1980s, Lagnide played for FC Metz. Today he is a successful businessman and with his TV channel LC2 International he earns a good amount of money by broadcasting African soccer matches. Due to his close ties to both Chad and the soccer club FC Metz, marrying the two was an obvious choice to achieve his aim of improving Chad's poor image in Europe.
"The details were all discussed with LC2 International. The project is about more than sports. It's about communication, tourism and the economy," said Chad's sports minister Miarom. FC Metz's president, Bernard Serin, confirmed the statement. All of the sponsoring came from private firms, he said. He however did not confirm the amount of money involved. The two Chadian ministers who came for the presentation of the new jerseys were simply there to support the campaign, he added.
Contrary to the slogan, Chad, however, remains far from being an oasis of the Sahel Zone. For the past 26 years it has been ruled by President Idriss Deby. Reports about human rights abuses and widespread corruption are more of a rule than an exception. The general life expectancy is 51 years and the country is currently stuck in a deep financial crisis. "A civil servant barely manages to survive on his salary. He earns a monthly income of 100 euros, from which you can at most rent a flat that costs around 45,60 euros. What remains is hardly enough to buy food," explained Youous Mahadjir, vice president of a Chadian trade union.
The United Nations did declare two locations in north-eastern Chad world cultural and natural heritage sites - the 18 interconnected lakes of the Ounianga and the canyon and rock-paintings of the Ennedi Massif. But very few people dare to venture to those places. French and German travel advisories warn tourists against visiting the country as they may become targets of attacks by the terrorist group Boko Haram.
What remains unclear is why the companies invested money in this campaign and why Chad is backing them. After all, even the flashiest campaign needs an ounce of reality to make it believable.
Frejus Quenum contributed to this report.