Updated: Aug 19, 2021
Dear Africana Woman,
Every hour or so I keep bursting into tears of joy. I can feel years of trauma and terror shedding from my body. The tension, anxiety and angst of the last four days took its toll on my body as we waited for results to be released. As the tears roll down my face I hope you can appreciate the relief. Spoiler Alert! I did not vote for the Patriotic Front (PF), who reigned with terror over the last 10 years. Whilst I am not a member of any political party, it was clear that this election was about firing PF at all costs.
For the untrained eye, you would question what Zambians mean when we say that we have been living with a boot pressed on our neck. After all people could move freely in and out of the country. There was no police or army patrolling the roads in a way that made everyone uncomfortable. It looked like Zambians were their easy go lucky selves who would take any opportunity for a chill with a braii and a mosi. So how can we now collectively all cry out in relief?
Have you watched those movies where a woman is being abused by her husband and at a social gathering she is screaming for help with her eyes? She cannot say it with her mouth but every other part of her body is trying to give a signal for help. That is exactly what the Zambian people have been through. As a peaceful nation, it is not in us to instigate violence or push things over the edge. Diplomatic to the end, we try to do things by the book.
What broke the camel’s back for me was Bill 10 and the day I was out buying musonko (Road Tax) for my car at Woodlands Post Office, when suddenly a motorcade of UPND supporters passed by on their way to the High Court in support of their leader, who was to appear at police Headquarters. They were closely followed by multiple tankers that made it a point to swing round the roundabout numerous times even though the people they were following were long gone. The sounds of gunshots rang in the air and we all looked at each other wandering whether to flee or not. I remember distinctly thinking, "I hope they are shooting blanks." Later that day I learned that the police had shot into the crowds and killed two innocent men, State Prosecutor Mr. Nsama Nsama and Mr. Joseph Kaunda. That could easily have been me. Senseless killings…. There was no doubt in my mind that I would turn up to vote.
To my Zambian readers, what made you decide to go vote? Let me know in the comments.
The list of grievances with PF are so many to pick from. Such as letting cadres loose on the people, promoting tribalism, censorship of media, restricting freedom of speech, corruption to the highest level, economic decline, a clamp on freedom of movement, killing of citizens, the abuse of religion to control the nation, pushing a third term to be included in the constitution, and countless acts of injustice by the PF members against those not part of the party. I mean even being afraid to wear certain colours in fear of being beaten. What irked me the most was the title ‘PF Government.’ A government is for all people, you cannot go on an international stage and say the PF government. You are the Zambian Government period.
Running up to the elections, opposition parties did not have the opportunity to campaign properly in the name of a known virus' prevention measures. Yet PF were out on the streets in crowds, moving from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. No one talked about politics. Even the question, “Who are you voting for?” was dangerous. In the last elections, people’s jobs and livelihoods were threatened just because of the party they supported. The only thing that was said out loud was 'vote wisely.' As if it were a code. Otherwise, everyone kept quiet, holding in pain and frustration. The only thing we had to give was a smile, which has now been coined as showing Ivory. Little did PF know that bit by bit anger was building up to a point where the majority were seeing red, pun intended.
Thursday 12th August, 2021 was the day slated for voting. Polling stations were to open at 06:00am to 06:00pm. Do read 9 Hours 4 Change to understand what the voting process was like and more importantly how long it took. My polling station of 899 registered voters was very small in comparison to others that had tens of thousands registered there. This required dividing the names alphabetically into groups, and having multiple lines. There was no way they would have finished by 06:00pm. Listen people waited. The Electoral Commission of Zambia reported that the last polling stations closed at 05:00am on Friday 13th August, 2021. Now this is where the story got interesting.
Photo credit: Tsvangirai Mukwazhi, AP
In my previous post I ended where I left the polling station after 2pm having stood in line since 5am. As you can imagine I was exhausted. My phone battery was spent and had turned off. Before I rolled into bed I put it on the charger. Then slept for a good 2 hours as I had to be up for an interview later that afternoon. When I woke I turned on my phone and the first thing that popped up was a sms from my mother (who is not in Zambia). It read:
There is a Whatsapp blackout. You can’t see our messages. Time to switch to VPN
My immediate thought was my family must have been panicking because my phone had been turned off. Surely the rumour that had been circulating the week before about the government shutting down internet, following suite of countries like Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia, could not be true. After all, the PF Government had even issued a statement that the rumour was false news. I checked my phone. My mobile internet provider was not working at all. However, my wifi was still permitting social media messages. As the day progressed Facebook and Twitter joined the blackout party. I do suspect though that the capital city had it worse than we who were in fringe towns. Do note that some people then downloaded Virtual Private Networks (VPN) in order to maintain access to information.
In that moment I decided that I would have to become a reporter to the outside world. My circle of influence goes far beyond the borders of Zambia. I know that many people are watching my platforms. Fellow Zambians abroad could not get hold of their families and were concerned for their safety. I had to reassure them that they were simply victims of the social media blackout. There was nothing life threatening happening on the ground for most citizens.
On Friday 13th August, 2021, the natural expectation would be that results would start flowing in. Listen I turned on the national broadcaster ZNBC and they had a Jesus movie on both their stations followed by music videos. No journalistic investigations or reports of what was happening in the public. These reporters sat in their studios and at the ECZ centre for the entire election period. Fortunately, privately owned TV stations were more proactive, however, limited by their capacity to access all parts of the nation.
As it were the votes were being counted at each polling station. Therefore, it was the onus of each interested party to have a representative at all the polling stations as observers, who would record the votes counted, send those results to their representatives who were stationed at ECZ centre and then be able to conduct Parallel Voter Tabulations (PVT). Before ECZ announces any results they would meet with all stakeholders to verify the results.
Photo credit: Tsvangirai Mukwazhi, AP
At 3pm on the Friday finally the TV stations switched to Mulungushi Conference Center where ECZ had set up shop for the election period. They had a panel of commissioners who sat at a high table, in addition to the CEO Mr. Patrick Nshindano and the Corporate Affairs Manager Patricia Luhanga. They started by explaining that they had given themselves a deadline of 72 hours from the time the last polling station had closed to announce all the presidential results. This meant they had to make a final announcement by 5:00am Monday 16th August, 2021. We were excited to finally start hearing results however, they came to announce that they would start announcing results at 4pm. A few questions were asked which they answered with a tone of irritation. Thereafter the panel exited the stage and only came back an hour after the promised time, setting a precedent of our expectations of their conduct. As they began to announce results the observers in the gallery protested until they were given an audience. The representative of UPND Mr. Gary Nkombo with the backing of other parties pointed out that the results about to be announced had not been verified with them first. To which the ECZ panel did not respond to directly and chose to walk out of the press briefing.
ECZ tried to announce unverified votes from the very beginning. Quite frankly for all we know they could have lied to us. Could we trust that our votes were protected and the election would not be rigged? Fear gripped the nation as they realised that all the hours that they stood in line could have been in vain yet again. In a more nuanced analysis of the fragility of the situation one must take note of the following: How much of a fight would the incumbent president put up to hold onto power? To what extent was he willing to win the elections? Who would the armed forces answer to when the final results were announced? Would the cadres go rogue and decide to take things into their own hands? If the votes were seemingly rigged how would the nation at large react to the news?
Admittedly, for a very long time I have been highly irritated by the number of parties that stand for elections. In my mind the votes that went to the less popular parties would split the votes and make it difficult for the main contender to oust the ruling party. This year was no exception in numbers, where we saw 16 presidential candidates. Some would argue that paying the nomination fee of ZMW90 000 was a waste of time as this was truly a two horse race. Yet that day it became clear to me why it is so important to have all of those parties on the ticket. They are there to provide the accountability in numbers. Imagine if Gary Nkombo had stood alone. Whilst he is a force to be reckoned with, he may not have been able to get as much acknowledgement had it not been for the 14 other parties supporting his disruption of the announcement.
On a more strategic level, take for example the only female presidential candidate, Ms. Chishala Kateka, who is fairly new to the political scene, this election was her coming out party. That ZMW 90, 000 covered part of her marketing budget. So whilst she may not have had the capacity to go visit all 10 provinces and drum up the necessary support, through the elections her name went to every district in Zambia giving her nationwide visibility and credibility. She is playing the long game. Even as I stood in the voting line, there was a list stuck up for all to see of all the candidates. Every person that looked at it mentioned her name because she stood out as the only female candidate. All in all, I am grateful that the parties stood in solidarity and held ECZ accountable for maintaining the integrity of the elections.
After storming off the stage with no indication of when they would come back, the ECZ panel only showed their faces again between 01:00am and 02:00am on Saturday 14th August, 2021. At which point they announced results for 15 out of 156 constituencies. Then promised to be back at 11am. As you can imagine that did not happen.
By this point those doing PVT knew the results were in favour of Hakainde Hichilema of UPND by a very wide margin. Hence, presidential candidates of other parties had press briefings where they conceded defeat, whilst encouraging the incumbent president to follow suite with grace. The message the UPND Leadership kept sending out through various influencers was for everyone to wait until ECZ had officially announced all the results rendering them legitimate. They strongly discouraged premature celebrations with the reminder of 'what is a few more hours wait for what we already know.' Real Talk, if the UPND in it’s limited capacity were able to tabulate all the votes by Saturday, then Edgar Chagwa Lungu (ECL) with the arm of the government surely had the same report around the same time, if not before.
Social Media was still restricted until Saturday, by which point it was so slow trying to send through the millions of messages that had been delayed for two days. On Saturday rumours from unverified sources started circulating about how ECL had conceded defeat and was having diplomatic conversations of how to transition leadership and quite frankly plead impunity for himself. Again these are rumours. One story told of how ECL had recorded a concession speech but was too emotional that it could not be aired. I am personally hoping that someone leaks the footage of said mythical speech.
As observers we can only but imagine the confusion in the PF camp. Where they thought they had strongholds had completely flipped to UPND. They were literally seeing life as they knew it flash before their eyes as a distant memory. Mind you this is still in the wake of barely any results being announced. My friend called me in a panic to say that some prominent PF figures had won their seats. Was our hope premature? I said to her, that UPND did not sweep all the seats, therefore, it was inevitable that some PF candidates came out victorious. We could only but wait for the final announcements. Which we did. They proceeded as follows:
Saturday 14th August, 2021
ECZ promised to announce at 11:00am. They came on TV at 11:00am to announce that the nation had to wait for 12:00pm where they would announce another 16 constituencies.
ECZ misses the 12:00pm appointment and comes on TV at 02:00pm. They announced the 16 constituencies and then notify they nation that they would announce the next set at 06:00pm. In the meantime, HH is being welcomed at the home of our fourth president Rupiah Banda with open arms as the winner.
ECZ come out at 06:00pm to inform the nation to wait for announcements at 7pm.
ECZ misses the 7pm appointment and only come out to address the nation at 8.40pm and announced results for 31 constituencies. Then claimed that they would continue at 11am on Sunday 15th August, 2021.
I don’t know about you but these proceedings could easily have given someone ulcers. Why subject a whole nation to thrill tactics. Mind you the panel was just calling out numbers. ZNBC did not have a counter of the number of votes so that we can visually keep track of the numbers being announced and who was in the lead. In addition, to the agitation that ECZ was causing a whole 18 million people, they had the audacity to be rude on the stage and complain about fatigue. I won’t even get into the appalling reading skills of the Vice Chair who was only entrusted to read one or two constituencies, and still managed to butcher the results. In contrast, the Vice Chair's colleagues were reading about 6 each. Potetoes Potatoes, Tometoes Tomatoes, I will not belabour this point. However, let’s not forget how ECZ shaved results for one constituency, that were meant for HH and granted them to one of the less popular parties.
In other news, that same Saturday, the incumbent president decided to have a press briefing to declare that that the elections were not free and fair for his party. Then proceeded to issue a statement of protest on state letterhead about a PF concern. Once again demonstrating how the PF had blurred the lines between party and state. The rules state that any party that has a problem with an officially announced ECZ result, must submit a petition to the court. The irony of this claim is that PF had done the utmost to tamper with the elections.
The day came to an end with the nation having heard 62 out of 156 constituency’s results. We felt highly agitated and irritated.
Sunday, 15th August, 2021
ECZ misses the 11am appointment with no indication of when they would start
ECZ panel takes the stage at 12.30pm. They explain they would endeavour to announce results for 62 constituencies in 3 batches with 30 minute breaks in between.
ECZ panel takes a break at 1.41pm and return at 2.12pm
ECZ panel takes a break at 3.08pm and returns at 5.33pm
ECZ announces 66 constituency results and declares Patricia Luhanga would inform the nation when they would be back with the final results
Patricia never came through to announce anything. At all points of the announcements HH maintained a clear lead that just kept growing. Whilst they announced the results above, the ECZ panel refused to announce consolidated numbers before they took their breaks. This responsibility was left on the shoulders of each citizen to do independently. Which many did, including myself. What I noticed was that even if HH would not win a constituency the margins by which he lost were narrow, which is why ECL had no hope of catching up. By 10pm on Sunday evening I was tired and decided to retire.
During this whole period there was a lovely sense of community as many would take to social media to make comments on the procedures, post memes to inject humour and more importantly notify each other of when ECZ would start their sporadic announcements. So I asked my online community to wake me up when ECZ finally started announcing the last set of results. My son also volunteered to stand guard on the nights watch.
Monday, 16th August, 2021
ECZ panel takes the stage at 1am (my peoples and son woke me up) At this point there are 28 constituencies left. HH needed 50%+1 to be president elect. Of the 7million registered voters, I estimated the average voter turnout was about 70%. Which meant he needed about 2.45million votes to be over the threshold. By the time they got midway he had crossed the line.
ECZ does not announce the results for one constituency, namely Mandevu. Instead they take a 10 minutes break and declare when they return they will make an official announcement. They depart at 2.20am and return at 2.37am.
ECZ explain that there has been a problem with verifying results from Mandevu. However, those results would not significantly affect the final results. Therefore, according to their guidelines they were in a position to announce the winner.
At 2:40am Hakainde Hichilema was declared the winner of the Zambian 2021 Presidential elections, becoming the 7th president elect of Zambia. This would also mark the third time Zambia has ushered in a new ruling party via elections.
I know that I have taken a long time to get here. However, these words cannot fully embody what the last 6 days have been like for onlookers. They cannot fully express what the last 10 years have been like watching our country sink to new lows to even lower ones. Yes, many went to the streets to celebrate and at the same time many were crying due to their loss.
Real Talk. I have no idea what HE. Hakainde Hichilema stands for. I have never read or heard his manifesto nor agenda. When I walked into that voting booth, I simply placed my vote on the person most likely to get ECL out of State House. Anything and anyone are better than ECL and PF.
Despite having gained independence in 1964, Zambia’s democracy is only 30 years old. However, I am so freaking proud of her people. I have to say thank you to every single person that registered to vote and followed through by showing up on August 12th. I have so much admiration for the youth who were the swing vote. They have a dream for a better Zambia and saw past tribal lines. Thank you to Gary Nkombo for being the stoic guard vigilantly protecting our votes to the very end. Thank you to all the parties that participated in this election who showed a united front by forcing ECZ to be transparent and accountable. Thank you to private owned media houses for being on the streets and capturing what was really on the ground. Thank you to the supporters looking in from outside the country. Your solidarity with the nation maintained our sanity. Finally, whilst there are many more to thank, I must make mention of the activists who have been shouting out injustices at the top of their lungs at a great cost to themselves. They have been consistent for the last 10 years. Today is the day that you fought for. The day when Democracy stood its ground and the people used their power in their vote as a catalyst for change. Today history has been made.
Photo credit: Tsvangirai Mukwazhi, AP
I do not believe one man can save us. I do believe that we as a people have proved that together, working as one, we are capable of greatness. That’s the one thing I want you to remember from this election, if nothing else.
I am very available to forward election memes and results, if you need a good laugh. Holla at your gurl on Instagram @Chulu_byDesign. Thank you so much for reading part one and part two of my account of the Zambian Presidential Elections 2021. Africana Woman is a blog, podcast and a visionary community. So take a look around. Finally, always remember to love yourself flaws n all and attract the life that you truly desire.
Sending Love & Light
PS. Check out some beautiful photography that captured the celebrations on the streets by Namukolo Siyumbwa HERE.