Friday, February 19, 2010

The coup d`état in Niger – Feb 18, 2010

I figured that it would be appropriate to write today about the events of yesterday. Many of you sent notes, or called or skyped us yesterday as you heard about events unfolding here in Niamey. So we will recount for you what happened as far as we experienced. It was definitely an interesting day, one of which we had never experienced before, and hope to never again!

In the morning at 8am, we started to get delivery of almost 50 tons of millet. If you have read the posts in the last few weeks you will know all about our Grain Aid Program and the millet we are giving to the poor. Well yesterday was the day we took delivery of all the millet for that program and stocked two of our three storage facilities. The first one got stocked easily in the first two loads, and then they truck started making runs to our largest storage place to drop off over 40 tons there. I was there for the first two truck loads, took some pictures and checked it all out. We were very excited to see all the hard work of planning and working for the project being turned into something tangible in all those sacks of millet!! Then I left the storage place (Kutana and Paul stayed there) and went to pick up the kids. This was just before noon. I picked up Arielle at noon, went by a little local restaurant to pick up rice and nems for the boys at the storage place to eat while they worked there all day, then went and grabbed Bennett at his school. I pick him up at 12:45. News reports say the attacks started at noon, but there was no artillery and attacks or gunfire heard at all at this point (12:45) and his school is only a km away from the Presidential Palace where it all went down. I was driving home with the kids and lunch when I got a worried call from Paul wondering where I was. He told me that at the storage place within the last 5 minutes that has started to hear heavy artillery and gunfire and explosions. This would have been at about 12:50. I went to the storage facility to pick up Paul and drop off their lunches (it is just past our house- about 3km from the President`s) Paul wasn't there as he had run 500m to our Director`s house to fill him in on what was going and activate our emergency measures for situations such as these. We started calling all our teammates and telling everyone to get home and go on lockdown. Some of our team-mates or their children were not at home and were at meeting or school, but everyone went into lockdown where they were.

At the grain storage place when I got there, the guys were listening to the radio and you could hear heavy artillery, mortar rounds, gunfire and loud bangs. It was eerie hearing it and knowing what was going on. Since we were only half way through the delivery of our grain we told them they could stop their work and continue another day. However, the crew talked it over and decided it really posed no risk for them or their route, so they would continue to deliver as long as their depot stayed open to give them the grain! We told them we could not stay, so we left the keys with our Project Assistant Kutana and the guard there and left. We went and picked up Rebecca Brown at her house and brought her to ours and went into lockdown at home. We filled up all our water containers, got info out to our families and hunkered down and played Settlers of Catan and stayed on the web and radio to try and find out news! We were quite surprised and please to see that local services such as phone, water, electricity and internet were not affected. Everyone had warned us they would be cut in the event of a coup. However, they stayed on all day! So we kept in touch with many of you and read the news reports while sparse news started to trickle in. For the next few hours we could hear heavy gunfire and booms, then it would be silent for 20 minutes or so (well at least no heavy arms we could hear) and then the noises would come again. We were in no danger at home. At 3:45 we heard the last big booms and then we heard nothing more that evening. At around 5:30 or so we heard military helicopters making continuous circles overhead. Paul got a good picture of some of them.

Throughout the evening we stayed indoors together and tried to get what news we could. It was very slow to be reported with lots of conflicting information. There were still two sides reporting- one that the President and his Cabinet had been taken captive by the Army, and one that the attempt had been unsuccessful and the President had escaped. Around 6pm the National Radio station started playing military music and signalling a change of command in the country. Official news agencies didn’t start reporting it confirmed until sometime in the night while we slept. Today we are still staying inside, having a “coup” day off as it were, and waiting to see what happens in town. Not sure how a city bounces back, maybe life just goes on? We are told there are lots of military out on the street and the new group in charge, called the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD). They are telling everyone to stay calm and align with them while they work to restore democracy in the country. The ex-President Tandja pulled a political coup in August when he illegally extended his term indefinitely, and now this full  military coup took that away from him and they are saying they are committed to working with International groups to restore democracy to the country.

A good full article can be found here:

BBC News- Coup in Niger

So that was all that we experienced. It was somewhat emotional and a bit un-nerving to hear the artillery and big guns going off and to be called into a state of emergency as a team. We were well prepared for this eventuality in Niger, but you never know exactly when it will happen. Thank you to so many of you who prayed and contacted us. Please join with us now in praying for a peaceful Niger, with leaders who are Godly and who will do what is best for the people and not be corrupt. The people of Niger are desperately poor and we are going into a famine that will last the next 7 months. They need all the help and prayers they can get.

One blessing is that the coup had very low casualties. We have heard anywhere from 3-10 people died, which I think is quite low for a military coup by force. Please pray for the families of those who died. Also, there is a man who often visits with our guards and sits outside our house. He works as a guard at the Presidential palace. He got off work at 12:30. He had just got home when he heard the attacks begin and he immediately knew what it was. We are thankful he was spared as he would have been right in the line of fire. He even came over last night to tell us he was safe.

 

 

As an aside, while this was happening all day, the grain kept being delivered. The group of guys in the pictures below worked until about 6pm, through all the noises and chaos and in spite of us telling them to go home, to deliver all 474 sacks of millet to our two storage facilities in town.

These guys were so strong. Each of these sacks weighs 220 pounds (100 kg) and they moved 474 of them! They would pop them onto their heads and carry them in by themselves. It was amazing to watch. And they did all of this in 40 degree Celsius weather! (that is about 104 Fahrenheit) One guy was even wearing a toque! Crazy!

This one guy in particular was a powerhouse. Look at him lift this!

Paul wanted to give it a try and they helped him manoeuvre one onto his head. Paul is a strong guy, and he couldn’t carry it. Today he needs a neck massage and feels like he has whiplash just from trying to balance it on  his head!

So all day long, they drove back and forth and picked up and dropped off millet, filling our storage rooms and getting the job done.  We are thankful for our local workers who also stayed at their own insistence to make sure it was done and lock up when it was all over. Even in times of a coup d’etat, they never skipped a beat and saved the day for our grain delivery!

And off they went for another load….

1 comment :

Stan said...

40 C already eh? Toasty! We will get snow next week and -5 for highs. We will be in prayer for your protection and for those you are depending on and for the leaders of Niger. My niece was in tough in rwanda but she was protected from harm despite being very close to the "action."