Thursday, October 30, 2008

king cobra in the state hoowwwwwssseee?

The polls have closed. The country waiting for the results of the presidential by-election and if in fact, King Cobra will head to State house and take up where the Special Cabbage left off.

It was an interesting day. I spent a couple of hours wandering around Lusaka with a colleague Hans and chatting with locals who had just voted. I absorbed the significance of today and a couple of things struck me.

First, for some reason, it was surprising to me that the entire country shuts down for this. Shops are closed, the roads are empty ( we could hardly even fill a mini bus that usually takes 30 secs to fill), and if you have a formal job, you don’t go. I remember the last time I voted in Vancouver, needing to rush from work back to my riding before the polls closed, and voting day wasn’t much different than any other day.

That democracy requires supporting systems. ‘Duh, obviously’, you would say, however, today I internalised it. In a country of 12 M people, there are just under 4M registered voters. Because of the unexpected nature of this election, the government did not have the capacity to update voter records since the last time the election was held in 2006. This meant that no new voters could be registered, and you had to vote in the same riding that you did in 2006. it means that those who came of age over the last 2 years, don’t have a voice in this. Or, in a country where the life expectancy is just shy of 40 years old, how many of the 4M will actually be around to vote? Or what happens when people move? The current news on TV is reporting low voter turnout.

There is the passion for voting here. I was inspired by the commitment of people to go and vote and the sense of pride from doing so. When I walked down the road from my house, people along the road yelled’ eh! Have you voted!”. When friends saw each other on the street, they would look at each other’s thumbs, or flash their thumbs to display the ink used to market someone who already casted their ballot. It was almost a source of pride and made me wonder, could we adopt this as a social marketing tool that would get more people out and vote? ( I have to confess however, that because of my travel schedule in Sept – Toronto, Vancouver, zambia, I didn’t vote in this last election!)

Zambia is really still a young democracy. This is its 5th multi-party election since independence 44 years ago. The father of Zambia’s independence, Kenneth Kaunda cast his vote this morning, which is a pretty remarkable activity, seeing as KK himself led Zambia to independence in ’64 and the following 27 years using a one-party rule until ’91.

Democracy across the generations. Given that multi-party elections, are still recently, I saw some of the remnants of old days. Jacob, a middle aged man accompanying us on our walk shrunk away from the polling station as Hans and I walked up to take a look at a sample ballot. He had warned us that it would be particularly sensitive around the polling station as there would be security officials and who knows what they could do. In contrast with Jacob’s hesitation, we met Aggri, a young accounting student who owns a boutique along Cairo road and has travelled to China a few times for business. Aggri was completely open with what he thought, sharing viewpoints, and making opinions, all the while standing an arms’ length away from the polling station. He did not flinch when a policeman wandered by and when I asked him about that, he just said’ well, I know my rights, what can they do?’. To me, this signified an interesting divide, the history of a lack of democracy in Jacob’s older mind, and the freedom that Aggri—the youth of Zambia believes he deserves. I wonder what this means for Zambia’s future?

I’m always curious about how significant events here are covered in the international media. More often than not, front page coverage is usually reseved for violent tensions like the situation in the Congo right now and end up reinforcing negative stereotypes of countries in Africa. I saw a country that was peaceful and hopeful during a point of potential transition of power and this is rarely found in the international media.

To my surprise, I just checked on FT and there, on the front page under World, was an interesting assessment of the elections.

I’m also usually disappointed by the lack of coverage in Canadian media so I was also pleasantly surprised at the discovery of CBC’s attention being paid on the election. That subsided quickly after noticing that immediately, the headline jumped to negative association to vote rigging, rather than the peaceful months that have lead up to this, and the continued peace that currently exists as the ballots are being counted. Canada, I expect more.

The reports that Sata is leading might be true. Almost everyone that I have come across here in Lusaka IS a Sata supporter. ‘Change’ is what most say they want. However, with 50% of the population living in the rural areas, who knows what the outcome will actually be?

More to come tomorrow!

it's erection day!

I’m still alive here. Yup, sweating it out in the heat of the dry season.

What’s the occasion that breaks the blog silence? Erections! Errrr I mean eLections

Small aside: Zambians, rike any other culture where Engrish is a second ranguage for many, seem to mix up their ‘ L’ with their ‘R’s. Sometimes, it can be confusing, as in, ‘do you have a lazor brade?’, or ‘ oh, the lain has come early’. Mostly, however, it is extremely amusing, especially today, as Oct 30th is Election day!

Gutter humour aside ( I know, GROW UP!), it’s true, I’ve been in the thick of election fever. From Canada’s recent secret ballot bonanza ( where the most signficiant outcome was that it was the lowest turnout since confederation), to today in Zambia to the US on the 4th, 2008 seems to be the year of elections.

The election here in Zambia was unexpected. Near the end of August, Zambia’s President Levy Mwanawasa died of a stroke that he suffered during the AU summit in July.

This time his death was real.

Mwanawasa, though not perfect, or inspiring, certainly provided leadership, when considering the situation in Somalia, in Zimbabwe, in the Congo, in Sudan, that was in a class of its own.

What's election season like here? Well, mostly serious and i can't help but think how incredible it is that this country, is still rather young in this process with multiparty elections being held just 17 years ago in 1991. Everything is closed today so that people can go and vote. Hop in any cab, or mini bus, and the best conversation starter is So, who are you voting for? People here are all to happy to share with you their viewpoints. ( unlike my mom, who, whenever it comes to elections, always says ' i can't tell you, it's a SECRET'. true enough mom, true enough). People CARE enough to vote.

I was walking down the street on Tuesday and nearly got ran over by a truck overflowing with people honking horns and waving support for Rupiah Banda - a career diplomat who was Mwanawasa’s VP and the current acting president. But it appears that many in Zambia have caught on to Obama’s message of CHANGE and are noting that it is time to vote in another party, after MMD has ruled since 1991 when Chiluba took over from Kaunda. Michael Sata, the leader of the main opposition party Patriotic Front, is his main candidate. In 2006, Sata made a run for office, made Chinese investment an issue and although won support in the urbanized areas along the line of rail, failed to get enough support in the rural areas. This time around though, people seem excited about him, if not for his policies, because at least its different.

The other option for CHANGE is HH, or Hakainde Hichelema, the 46 year old business man who for many, seem to offer best bet against corruption as he is already a highly successful business man, but for most, is ‘still a young chap, lacking experience’.

Among the three however, I can’t really seem to discern the biggest difference between them all. They’re all going to fight corruption, they’re all giving out free seeds and fertlisers, they’re all trying to help Zambia develop.

Whichever one does end up in office, I can only hope that they do provie the leadership that the 12 million people here deserve.

But more to come later. i'm out the door to see that election day in Zambia is all about.