Election Day, Zambia, 20th September 2011

8:10

I walk into work. The streets are quiet, much more than normal for a Tuesday. Walking past the upper class primary school around the block there’s a different scene than normal: parents drive up not to drop off their kids but to park, get out, and vote.

8:30

No one is at work. It’s a national holiday in Zambia. Everybody takes the day off work to vote and then spend the day gossiping about the coming results, or waiting out the day quietly at home.

13:40

Pack up my work things. Nobody came in to join me today; some worked from home. I set off around the block to see if Chit Chat, the local lunch spot, is open. It’s hot and I need a cool soft drink.

14:00 Chit Chat is closed. So is the Indian restaurant, Masala Mantra, next door. Kate Cooper calls me and we rendezvous as per our 14:00 plan to check out the voter scene today.

14:10

The drive into town isn’t bust, but it isn’t eerie either. It’s just a nice Sunday drive, albeit on a Tuesday afternoon. Downtown everything is closed up save for Halawi Chicken, a chicken and chips take-away. We park in front of the Protea Hotel on Cairo Road, leave our things in the car, and set off for Katondo street polling station.

14:15

Red and white plastic has been rolled across the roadway to signal to vehicles that today this is a no-go zone. From far away, the line looks like just one big mass of people. Uncertain if we should/could get closer, and attracting attention, we walk over to a pair of men chatting near the red and white line. We exchange hellos, and they say there’s no problem walking up to take a look.

14:20

We walk by the main knot of people outside the public library polling station. There isn’t one big mass of people, but three or four different lines, each one trying to snake away back into the shade of an awning or a jacaranda tree. It’s hot today, the start of the dry season, and the lines move slowly.

We take a spot across the street in the shade of a building. A group of men greet us with fist pounds and opposition chants—“Pa Bwato!” they shout meaning “Get on the boat!” the opposition’s long running slogan.

14:30

From this spot we slowly scope out the action and take a pair of graining camera photos. Calm, peaceful, a bit of chit-chat on the periphery. Unlike a Canadian polling station, a fair number of those that have already voted gather in knots across the street to watch how the rest of the day unfolds. A pair of the already-voted tell us that they’re waiting to make sure there’s no confusion, no tampering with the process by anyone. Anyone, it’s insinuated, from the incumbent party that these two are trying to vote out of power.

15:00

We decide we’ve had enough action at Katondo and loop around the back of the block to make our roundabout way back to the car. We stop for a soda at the Protea Hotel before we leave, then Kate drops me off back home.

So that’s it. Nothing extraordinary. People say that tomorrow and the next day are when tension will mount as the official counting comes in.

For anyone wanting it, my personal view is that I hope the opposition wins. The incumbent party has been in party 20 years and they’re complacent. Though the policy differences between the two parties or the ability to execute these policies may not be largely different, the peaceful democratic transition of power from one party to another is immensely valuable. It’s my hope that even if the opposition doesn’t deliver anything radically better, Zambians will be able to congratulate themselves and their democracy on the peaceful removal of an incumbent in favour of its opposition.

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About Graham Lettner

My wife and I recently moved from Zambia back home to Alberta. I'm lucky to have been asked to be a guest blogger for the Localize Project. I love writing stories, and when the subject is food -- something that connects us to the planet and to each other -- the stories are endless.
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