It’s one of the those mornings here in Lusaka, where you head out of the drive at the usual time, and within 5 minutes you notice that it all seems a little too quiet. It’s a sort of mid-week Sunday feel. I don’t ever remember mornings like this when I used to live England, but in Africa, it’s something that’s happened on several occasions. It’s that sense that ‘something’s not quite right’. Everybody knows something that I don’t, or that I’ve forgotten.
In today’s case, it’s an election day, so a public holiday for most people (except me). At other times, it’s been more sinister. On the 6 August 2012, gunmen attacked the Akouedo military base in Abidjan, which isn’t too far from our home. When I left for work at 6am, there was almost no-one on the street. Those that were on the street looked like they didn’t want to be there. It’s the quietness and absence of people that comes first. It tends to be only later that you register the sounds of gunfire. The first time this happened, when I went out for an evening walk in Brazzaville in 2007, it took me a long time to realise I was listening to bullets and bombardments (a brief few days of fighting between forces loyal to Kabila and Bemba).
On that morning in Abidjan, I sped to the office, and then quickly returned to head to the source of what was going on. Things tend to get interesting when you go in the opposite direction to what people are avoiding. The assailants had long-since fled, but it was still quite raw. I posted the shots I filmed that day on YouTube, and it’s been popular over the years, though sometimes mistaken for a different event (213K views).
Maybe in the days of Twitter and WhatsApp, it’s easier to find out what’s going on before we head out the door. But it’s still worth having your antenna up.