When we lived as a family in Chad year-round, getting ice for our cooler was one of the things we did throughout the week. It allowed us to supplement our supply of cold water and drinks. We usually went to the nearby “Boulangerie” (bread store) to get it, and paid 1,000 CFA per bar.
But from Ramadan on, the passion for this solid coolness would grow massively. Every Muslim in this climate goes without water during the day, and drinking ice-cold water after sunset is a special treat.
You don’t have to be a business genius like Dave Ramsey to figure out that ice sells really well in the Sahara Desert. The Chadian government has mandated that the companies who manufacture it must sell it for 1,000 CFA ($2.00), even though the going price on the street has risen to 3,500 CFA ($7.00) per bar since Ramadan began. So each bar is providing a 250% profit!
All it takes to enter this profitable market is $6.00 (3,000 CFA), a bag, motorcycle, and a metal bar for breaking it up. I have seen a small crowd of over twenty people mob many spontaneous merchants of the cool stuff. The four bars tied to the back of their motorcycle don’t last long as the mob puts piece after piece into their dry coolers.
Fast money, high returns. No wonder people mob the ice companies each time their doors open! The police forces are unable to protect the companies from the wave of people who push their way inside, demanding ice. And woe to ice company whose machines break down under the Ramadan moon!
Normally, the Mayor’s Police seizes merchandise which merchants sell above the government mandated prices. But in this climate, they wouldn’t dare confiscate a merchant’s ice for selling it too high because of the riot they would cause.
Ice Bar Frenzy
Here is an exerpt from my diary during the month of Ramadan while we were still living in eastern Chad:
When I woke up this morning, the ice in our cooler had melted. I decided to check if someone was selling any. My reasoning was that people would be home, resting after preparing food and eating it an hour before sunrise.
I turned out to be right about the ice being distributed, but wrong about the crowd. It was huge! Hundreds of people were shoving their way to the front of the ice tubs. Everyone was shouting out the names of the poor men whose work it was to distribute the ice. Men and women alike held money in their hands, and with a pleading look begged them to give them a bar or two.
But I came to discover that very few of these people were buying it for their families; the bigger merchants sent them to get as much of it as they possibly could. I helped a small woman carry her bag of two bars, which she could never have carried herself. Instead of walking home, she joined several other women waiting for someone to get these “refrigeration bars”.
The government refuses to resolve this dangerous insanity. It must allow companies to set their own prices. If the price at the “Boulangerie” rose to 2,500 CFA a bar, the mob would quickly disappear… And perhaps the price could slowly fall again.
How would you deal with an “ice riot”? Please let us know in the comments below.