On election day yesterday there was an electric excitement in the air, with chants of “we want change! we want change!” The sometimes 2-3 km lines at the polling stations gave everyone hope that the people’s voice would be heard.
My guards and gardener live in the Bauleni compound, one of 37 urban “unplanned/informal settlements” in Lusaka. According to a World Bank report, 10% of housing in Lusaka is classified as “formal housing,” meaning an apartment/condo/house with basic amenities (flush toilet, kitchen with sink and stove, commercial floor, etc.) that you or I could live in. “The remaining 90 percent consists of squatter units, accommodating about 70 percent of the city’s population on less than 20 percent of its residential land. These informal settlements consist mainly of structures made of substandard materials.” The “homes” in Bauleni span the range of (semi) decent block houses to cardboard lean-tos. Many international aid agencies have focused their efforts on creating infrastructure and safety in these compounds. I’ve occasionally driven through Bauleni to drop off the guards/gardener at their home and always felt safe. When I’ve dropped the guys off at night (they assure me it’s very safe) I always see pairs of policemen with guns patrolling the streets. Danny, our gardener, says everyone wants order in Bauleni and they support the police getting rough with thieves and thugs. Oh, and they don’t say, “stop or I’ll shoot.” They just shoot.
Anyways, given the density of Bauleni, not everyone who wanted to had a chance to vote yesterday. The polls were supposed to close at 6 pm but Danny said they stayed open until 8.30 pm. He said this morning there were new lines at the polling stations for people who didn’t get to vote yesterday so the polls re-opened and people are apparently still voting.
How do they make sure one doesn’t vote twice, you might ask? After one has voted an indelible black ink is painted on your right thumbnail. As well, you are asked to leave a right thumbprint. All right thumbs are examined before people are allowed to vote. Bernard the guard (left) and Danny the gardener (right) showed me their thumbnails. They then proceeded to show me how easily the indelible ink washed completely off.
Danny said that during the last election voting went on for almost a week so perhaps the electoral commission’s promise of getting the results out tomorrow is too optimistic. Indeed, I just found this article announcing that the results will be delayed. If you read this article you’ll see the impressive lengths the government is going to to make sure everyone who wants to has a chance to vote.
Today, there’s a tenseness that permeates the air (see this). I think most people believe that Sata (the challenger) won the election but they doubt that Banda (the incumbent) will concede if he does lose. I said to Danny, well there will be big protests then, yes? Danny said at the last election the police opened fire at the first protest and shot and killed people on site, and that there is a very heavy police presence, so he thinks people will be afraid to protest. The national police chief has banned street vendors from selling anything that can be used as a weapon (shovel, scythe, ax) and alcohol.
Throughout the campaign Sata’s rhetoric has been confrontational (“no retreat, no surrender“). Banda’s has been calm with an undertone of threat (“the police will maintain order”).
So, we wait.
Postscript: Just as I’m getting ready to publish this we’ve just received our first emergency alert from the U.S. embassy: “The U.S. Embassy has confirmed reports of post-election violence in Solwezi, North Western Province. Zambia Police reinforcements have arrived and are responding with tear gas.”