Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

I remember first reading about technicals in an account of war-torn Africa. The author assumed the reader would know that “technical” referred a light pickup truck with a gun mounted in the bed. I figured it out, but I long wondered where the term came from:

The term “technical” used to describe such a vehicle appears to have originated in Somalia. The name is thought to have derived from use by the Red Cross there who were often forced to bribe local militias or be the victim of robbery and attacks. The money used for the bribe was then written off as “technical expenses”.

Technicals have been popular in Africa for decades. Back in 1984, Time called the war in Chad The Great Toyota War:

Small groups of Toyota desert vehicles, with 106-mm recoilless rifles mounted at the rear, wheel and charge like cavalry in the vastness of the Sahara. Outriders hang from the sides, firing their AK-47s with deadly grace. Very young and therefore very brave, the men of these small fighting units, or escadrons, whip their Toyotas’ flanks until the vehicles seem to snort and froth at the bit like fine-blood Arab stallions. The young soldiers move silently, without war cries except for the high-pitched scream of their engines.

These men are part of the first and second regiments of the Chad army, which is fighting a daily game of no-prisoners with the rebels who infiltrate from Libya to the north and Sudan to the east. The enemy also uses escadrons of Toyota vehicles, usually along with a 22-ton Mercedes truck for support. Some of these get through government lines, mine the roads and frighten the local population. When they do engage the army, they usually get the worst of it. In the battlefields of what has come to be called the Great Toyota War, the desert is littered with dead vehicles.

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