November 2, 2008
In August the former president of Zambia (Mwanawasa) died suddenly. From what we understand he was a well admired president. The vice-president, Rupiah Banda, took over temporarily, but the country suddenly realized that it didn’t have very strict policy for what happens when a president dies. Or perhaps that’s just what the opposition argued, but at any rate they argued well enough, so an election was called. Voting took place just a couple of days before our flight to Lusaka, and the results were just being announced when we arrived – Banda won a tight election over his rival Sata. When we reached our hostel in Lusaka people were gathered around the TV watching the inauguration proceedings, which were taking place about 10 km away.
Unlike many other African countries, Zambia has enjoyed more than 40 years of peaceful democratic elections, and this one seemed to be no different. But politics here is still not as ethical as you would want. One of the first actions Banda took was to raise the salaries of top government officials by 15%. Incidientally, later in our trip we heard that the parliament in Kenya was looking to change regulations to free them from having to pay tax on their salaries (while the rest of the country continues to pay tax, of course). The Kenyan judges followed suit saying that they too would not pay income tax. Bullshit everywhere.
And of course back in the good old US of A we had our own elections.
Pnina and I were in Livinsgstone during the actual elections. Late on November 4 I stayed up watching election coverage on CNN with a few other people in the bar of our hostel (Pnina couldn’t be bothered – she just wants to see the final results). By 1:30 AM I also turned in, right about the time that Wolf Blitzer was telling the world the initial results from the polls in Kentucky and Indiana.
We woke up around 6 AM, just in time to see Obama doing his victory speech in Chicago. It was awesome. I kind of wish I got to see the last few hours as McCain’s hopes dwindled away. Does that sound cruel? I don’t care, it must have been exciting to watch.
It appears that Pnina and I are nearly as happy about Obama’s victory as all of Africa. We see people rooting for him everywhere. As an example, one of the internet cafes had his picture on the desktop of every computer.
We read an interesting article about Obama’s grandmother in Kenya. She’s not a blood relative – she’s the 3rd wife of his paternal grandfather. But Barack still calls her granny. She still lives in the same 2 room home in a little village. They installed a TV for her so she could follow the elections, and to power this TV they brought in solar panels (her village still doesn’t have electricity). From what we hear the secret service is taking steps to protect not just Obama’s immediate family in the US, but also his grandmother in Kenya and other family members. The thinking is that an attack on any one of them could send the US economy shooting downward (even further, if that’s possible). We read that Obama visited Kenya 3 tims already – once as a graduate student, once as a professor, and once as a senator. They fully expect him to come a fourth time as president.
In case you were wondering, I didn’t manage to vote in these elections. I found a voters abroad website that aims to help military personnel and expats participate in the elections from abroad. I registered on this website and chose the option to have my ballot emailed to me (yeah, I was surprised that this was an option, but it was). However, I never received the email with the ballot. My parents tell me that my ballot arrived at their address but what good is that? Anyhow, I’m glad that the candidates I supported won (Obama and Gregoire).
We’ve been hearing from our friends about the Obama victory celebrations in other places – Marques talked about London, Ann and Justin talked about Seattle. We kind of wish we were home to participate in the joy – it must have been amazing.