It used to be one of the most sought-after postings for French diplomats in West Africa -- renowned for its easy climate, its boutiques in the Avenue Charles de Gaulle, horseback riding along tree-lined boulevards, and evenings spent lingering at riverside hotels.
Today, however, Chad's capital, N'Djamena -- formerly Fort Lamy -- is in ruins.
The city never recovered from months of street fighting last year between the forces loyal to President Goukhouni Woddei and those of former Defense Minister Hissein Habre. The fighting was halted only by entry of Libyan tanks on the side of Woddei.
Today, almost a year after the Libyan tanks rumbled in, the once-elegant boutiques along Avenue Charles de Gaulle are a succession of ruins, blistered and pockmarked by small-arms and mortar fire. Cabinet meetings have to be held in the Ministry of Commerce -- one of the few public buildings to escape destruction.
Physical and mental scars of the battle remain, testaments to one of Africa's longest and most bitter civil wars. Warfare broke out in 1965 -- five years after Chad became independent, when the liberation movement Frolinat (Chad National Liberation Front) was formed in Tripoli.
In the late 1970s, however, Frolinat broke into a bewildering number of factions that cut across Chad's tribal divisions and across the country's the divide separating the underprivileged Arab-speaking north from the educated, Christian south.
The hatred between these factions stuns Chad's neighbors. During last year's civil war, Cameroon set up a field hospital for the wounded, who were ferried across the Chari River from N'Djamena. They hastily erected a second hospital when desperately wounded men -- from the same northern Toubous tribe -- were found trying to cut each other's throats in adjacent beds.
Most observers here assume that the ramshackle state of the nation's capital and of Chad's economy weighed heavily in President Woddei's decision to ask the Libyans to withdraw early in November.
In general, the Libyan soldiers behaved respectfully in N'Djamena, and rarely left their barracks to the north of the airport.
But extravagant promises of Libyan aid failed to materialize. And the city's five electricity generators failed. So many water taps and tanks were destroyed in the fighting that water pressure fell -- and most buildings over one story ran out of water. Except for two foreign medical teams - one Spanish, the other French -- hospitals and clinics closed.
(Even before 1978, Chad had only 36 doctors and N'Djamena's main hospital had 289 beds. Today, five Chadian doctors are believed to be working in Chad.)
Slowly, but surely, Chad slid into bankruptcy during the Libyan occupation. Revenues shrank to 50 million francs ($20,000) from 900 million francs in 1977. Production of cotton, Chad's key source of foreign-exchange, fell by half to 80, 000 tons. Western aid dried up completely because of the Libyan presence, and a US embargo was applied strictly - so strictly that the US government protested when UNICEF distributed 30 tons of protein-rich corn and milk donated to UNICEF by the US.
Meanwhile President Woddei was being bullied into a national merger with Libya that no one but Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi wanted: Local administrators were whisked away Tripoli or replaced by ''revolutionary commune'' government without Woddei's knowledge. Colonel Qaddafi's ''green book'' appeared in schools and the Libyan troops intervened twice on behalf of pro-Libyan factions in Chad's government.
When the Libyans withdrew last month, there was heartfelt relief. Still, President Woddei's government is far from secure.
Wooed by President Francois Mitterrand of France and feted at the recent Franco-African summit in Paris, Woddei believed he would receive massive aid. But his hopes are beginning to appear as illusory as the Libyan aid.
According to diplomatic sources, a meeting of aid donors in Paris Nov. 12 failed to produce concrete pledges. Woddei had asked the group for $230 million to cover a three-year emergency program. The meeting was attended by France, the United States, West Germany, and Italy as well as the World Bank, European Development Fund, and UN Development Program.
Part of the lukewarm response may stem from the way Woddei's shopping list was presented. One participant said it contained ''everything from typewriters to development projects.'' Woddei also requested funds to rebuild ministries and to equip Chad's ''integrated army,'' even though Chad has not fully assembled such an army. Such requests are not normally covered by development assistance.
Knowledgeable observers believe France will respond generously and may restore aid to its 1978 level ($35 million). But the US is apparently sitting on aid, waiting to be convinced that the Libyans have indeed withdrawn and that Chad can spend wisely. US officials have approved emergency food aid for Chad.
Many of the international agencies share US concerns. The UN Development Program, which is coordinating UN aid in N'Djamena, is starting cautiously with smaller-size technical assistance. It is providing funds to repair the telephone and water systems. UNICEF is distributing drugs for 200,000 people.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim has appealed for internationa help for Chad. The Geneva-based UN Disaster Relief Organization (UNDRO) followed Waldheim with an appeal for 40,000 tons of food aid by next August to help 350, 000 people said to have been affected by drought in the interior of Chad.