Kenyan journalist Stranded in Burkina Faso, without a passport


Bukina fasoBurkina Faso military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Mamadou Bamba appears on national television Thursday morning to confirm the coup d’état, dissolution of the transitional government and assumption of power by the “National Council for Democracy”.

He proclaims a curfew and closure of the country’s borders, and the first thing that comes to mind is that I don’t have my passport.

I left the vital document with the immigration police at the airport when I landed in Ouagadougou on Monday.

That’s one of the things they do in Burkina Faso when one applies for a visa on arrival.

It usually takes a few days to get back the document, and in the interim, what one has for identification is a simple piece of paper with your passport number and an official stamp.


From the lobby of the Palm Beach Hotel, a large number of journalists from across Africa — who are here to attend the International Festival for Freedom of Expression and Media — are stranded.

A few of us ask a local organiser to take us to the town square, where crowds protesting the previous day’s military coup are gathering.

He is willing to take us, but there is one problem: We don’t have our passports.

The soldiers patrolling the streets and shooting in the air to disperse crowds tend to be very suspicious of aliens without identification documents.

So we stick in the hotel and try to catch up on unfolding events by watching television and calling up friends.

Burkina is not Kenya. Instead of the local TV stations giving live updates of traumatic moments, they restrict themselves to occasional rebroadcasts of the military statement.

In between, they air an international menu, from France24 TV that keeps us up to date with the refugee crisis in Hungary, the US Republican presidential debate, the earthquake in Chile and the collapse of the government in Australia.

Nothing from the streets of Ouagadougou.

Outside the hotel, located on the main Kwame Nkrumah Avenue in the heart of the central business district, the streets are eerily quiet.

The ubiquitous hawkers who peddle everything from scratch cards to fabrics and the latest high-end smartphones, Chinese knockoffs of the iPhone 6 and the Samsung 6 Edge, are largely absent.

The pervasive hum from the thousands of motorbikes that provide the daily commute for most residents is today silent.


The boredom is broken when soldiers patrolling the streets in pickups occasionally drive past the hotel firing in the air to prevent crowds from building up.

The few gathered outside the entrance invariably scamper back inside.

On Wednesday morning, we were at the opening of the freedom of expression festival, which this time round was largely a celebration of the role played by the media in driving the popular revolt that toppled President Blaise Compaore last October.

The keynote address was delivered by Mr Cheriff Moumina Sy, a crusading journalist who has been the motive force behind the conference over the past 15 years and who also played a leading role in mobilising the ‘Burkina Spring’ last year.

He was recognised with his election as president of the Transitional National Council, the interim legislature serving out its final few weeks till the elections slated for next month.

This is the hat he has been wearing, and from where he organised for some of the delegates to pay a call on the Prime Minister that evening.


The appointment was not to be for that afternoon.

This is after news came that soldiers from the small but powerful presidential guard had stormed a cabinet meeting in the presidential palace and detained interim President Michel Kafando and Prime Minister Isaac Zida.

Mr Cheriff was supposed to host a dinner for conference delegates at his home that Wednesday.

Instead, he retreated to a secret location where he was apparently trying to mobilise resistance to the military coup.

He released a strongly worded statement calling on the people to come out in numbers to counter the putsch.

He also hinted that the main body of the military was not party to the power grab and was trying to get the coup leaders to stand down.

Overnight, crowds of demonstrators gathered around the presidential palace where the ousted leaders were being detained, but they were swiftly dispersed by soldiers.

In the meantime, Mr Cheriff tried to keep up a business as usual mien.

He sent word that the dinner at his home would proceed as planned, and buses were sent round to pick up the conference participants from their various hotels.


At the house, his wife played the gracious host in his absence, but over dinner and drinks it clearly was not a normal occasion. Conversation was stilted and tense.

There were occasional rounds of gunfire from a distance that had the guests looking uneasily at each other.

Initially there were indications that Mr Cheriff would put in an appearance, with a chair reserved for him.

He never turned up, but his aides assured everybody that he was safe and secure at a secret location.

Speaking to this reporter on Wednesday night, one of Mr Cheriff’s key allies, Abdoulaye Diallo, exuded confidence that the coup would crumble.

By Thursday morning, it appeared that the resistance was not working out as projected.

Mr Cheriff was not picking up his phone, but responded to text messages, affirming that he was safe.


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