Soldiers that pass in the night

Soldiers in the Presidential Guard mutinied here in Ouagadougou last night. In the centre of town I think the gunfire was heard early on, but at my hotel out in the distant suburbs it wasn’t until one in the morning when the noise woke me. I got up and went to the window, and there driving slowly along the street beside the hotel was a 4x4 army pick-up with soldiers in the back firing their guns repeatedly into the air.

Two weeks earlier there had been trouble in the capital, so I guessed the grievances had resurfaced and things had sparked off in the night. But the soldiers drove off and the sound of their gunfire faded away. I opened the window and leaned out to see if there was anything else going on, but there was nothing other than a fairly strong smell of what I guess must have been gunpowder. So I went back to bed.

Then in the morning, waiting and waiting for the office car to turn up at the hotel, I asked someone at reception what was going on. “No problem, Madame, don’t worry, all is calm” was the only response I could get. Impossible to get across that I wasn’t in the slightest bit worried (except at being late to a meeting), I just wanted to know what was going on. Eventually I got hold of a colleague to find that the office was closed (and the meeting was off) as it was deemed too dangerous for people to travel. She had heard lots of gunfire and spent most of the night on the floor of her hotel room in case soldiers fired at the hotel windows!

I turned my phone on and there was a missed call from the security officer. When I got through to him he told me about gunfire throughout the night, the president having fled the capital and soldiers looting shops and stealing cars in the centre of town. We were to stay in the hotel until further notice.

It all sounded very exciting, but in fact has been very dreary. Our hotel is far out of town, and there is no action here at all. Wouldn’t you expect to hear more gunfire, people rushing about and lots and lots of sirens as emergency vehicles speed past? Well there’s nothing. Just silence, broken by the odd local trundling past the hotel on their bicycle – like being out in the streets in the UK on Christmas Day, only it’s in the mid-40s centigrade here.

So I shall go to bed tonight with my camera left out just in case … probably unable to sleep through fear of missing something, when in fact nothing whatsoever will happen. & meanwhile wondering what on earth to do about the report we were supposed to finish today (after three weeks’ work) in collaboration with the country team, knowing that my team all fly home tomorrow.

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