"We will be closed on Tuesday 20th Septmber for the elections and on Wednseday 21st September. The rest of the days in the week will depend on unrest."
As we gear up for elections, some observers have noted that Zambia is fortunate precisely because we don't know what the outcome of the election will be. In other African countries, everyone knows and election day is just a formality. Either people are intimidated into voting for the ruling party or the elections will be rigged regardless of what citizens, NGOs and donors say. Happily for Zambia, that apparently is not the case here.
There are those who firmly believe the ruling party will remain just that; and there are also those who are confident that Zambians are ready for change and will say so at the polls.
Others maintain that Zambia is in a good place because our young democracy has grown enough in the last few years to make rigging a lot more difficult than it was a decade ago. Technology of voting tools, training and awareness of election staff, monitors etc and the knowledge of the general public about the rules and procedures has advanced dramatically since the second and third republics.
Whatever the case, my visit to the beauty salon reminded me of the cold hard facts. We may be slightly better off than some other countries (whatever that means), but the reality is that in the Africa that we live in, civil and political unrest remains a reality. What does everyone do in the days leading up to an election? We fall back on the basic survival strategies that are tried and true:
1. You fuel up your car and make sure you have a full tank because you don't know what will happen to the fuel supply system, prices etc
2. You make sure your freezer and pantry are stocked with basic food supplies
3. You also ensure that there is enough bottled water to drink and that the drums and containers are also filled up in case the water supply is affected
4. You buy enough candles, kerosene/paraffin and charcoal, just in case the load shedding becomes 3 days instead of 3 hours
5. You make sure you have enough airtime in your phone in case it is not safe to go outside to top-up.
6. You even pull out your old radio that you haven't used in ages. This is just so that you can tune in to BBC at the appropriate time. Depending on how the results go, you can't be too sure if the local news outlets can be trusted
7. Lastly, but not least, you put your important papers and documents in order, in the event that you and your family must flee.
The way I see it, we cannot ever have free and fair elections until as Zambians we no longer feel the need (openly or privately), to resort to the above default strategies whenever election time rolls up. I strongly feel this will only happen when the citizens of this country have enough confidence in our governance institutions to know that justice will be administered no matter who you are or what you have done.