by Gerry Sikazwe

A first time is always interesting. I remember the first time I jumped into water to swim; it was no river or lake or swimming pool but a small circular water reservoir in the center of my friend’s family farm. Having deduced from the ‘swimming experience’ conversation we just had  that I had no experience, my friend was filled with excitement anyone who has ever gotten a chance to teach something to someone generally has—he dared me to join him inside the reservoir and swim. The entirety of that story is one we can have a coffee sit-down over after the August 12th 2021 Zambia General Elections, in which I will be voting for the first time.

The jitters and the excitement that come with a first time are always a jolt of thrilling energy. As a first time voter, like in any first time situation, I am anxious and excited but so am I concerned and calculative. I am aware of the consequences of the action and above all the implications of the decision I will make in the polling booth: the decision will hold for the next five years and have an even longer grip on the state of the country. As I participate in this election, I understand that the fate of my loved ones, my ideas and dreams, and the country depend on my vote. This reality, the seriousness of my participation as a voter, is fresh and constant in my mind. I join fellow Zambians in going to the polls on 12th August, 2021, understanding the rare privilege this is and the weight of the demands of this responsibility.

Even though it is my first time casting a vote, I have been close to the political happenings in my country. I understand structures that make up the government of the republic of Zambia, and I also understand how they interact with each other in making a haven out of this Central African country. Other than understanding the inner workings of the government, I am also aware of the many unique duties and responsibilities our constitution places on every citizen, most especially the youth a group I comprise—we are the major stakeholders of the country sitting at more than 60% of the country’s population.

In previous times, I have joined other young people and organizations in offering checks and balances to how power and resources are to be managed and distributed among Zambians, I have also participated in drawing attention to the need for better and inclusive policy formulation and their enthusiastic implementation for the well-being of all youths, children, women, and men of the Republic of Zambia. With this said, I feel participating in this year’s tripartite elections is a crowning element in my civic duties to my country and my people, and a finest privilege at that.

Unfortunately, most young people and some older people based in rural and peri-urban areas do not understand how governments work, how it is constituted, or even the extents of civic duties and privileges given them. Few people in this demography have read or been read to the constitution notwithstanding the fact that they contribute the most turn out in past elections. Most of their civic education is received once every 5 years at campaign rallies from mouths of men and women seeking their votes—seeking office. These campaigning candidates believe in using everything possible to secure the vote, so you can imagine how skewed the information most such voters walk to the polls with. Most are being convinced with promises that these election candidates constitutionally know they are incapable of fulfilling. This has been what wins most elections [in Africa, after all]. This is something I would like to see change, I would like to see many voters understanding full well what they are getting themselves into and getting out whenever they exercise their right to vote.

File Photo of Election Commission of Zambia (ECZ) Headquarters

Even with a clichéd reality such as the one above, there are some positives fortunately. There is going to be increased numbers of young people participating as candidates at parliamentarian and local government levels in this year’s elections. There has been an ongoing conversation in the Zambian political space for a while now requiring more youth and women inclusion in active politics, and now to see this increase in the numbers of youth candidates is indeed a brightening thing. Having young people contest and hold political office, it has long been held, would expedite sustainable change with a serious dedication to youth development. Another impressive aspect is the increasing numbers of young people rallying behind these youth candidates who I hope and also look forward to seeing fill up most of these contested positions. With such a support from fellow youths, it is only a matter of time before real change is achieved anchored on fresh ideas, new dreams, and an energetic pursuit of national ambitions .With the many first time voters on the rooster, I also foresee a good youth electorate turn out on the day of the polls.

As has been common with previous elections, campaign songs and distribution of political party regalia has dominated the few days leading to the polls. I have not attended any rally, however from pictures being shared on Social Media by different contesting political parties; people are turning up in large numbers to see their preferred candidates. The messages at most rallies, however, are not so much expressive of manifestos but are mere slogans of pointing accusing fingers, name-calling, and low-blow propagandistic sentiments. I have not attended any of these rallies because I quite understand what most contesting political parties are promising to do having studied their manifestos. Other than that time is not allowing and the looming presence of Covid19 is not helping matters.

Among many first timer voters, I sense a feeling of purpose. From what seemed to be an inclusive call to register to vote, there is another inclusive call requesting registered voters to turn up and vote. This is evident from different hash-tags on Social Media, slogans inside private gatherings, conversations around public mingling corners, and the general urge to change something in the government most people feel right now. It is as if everyone wants everyone to participate in the 2021 elections. The burden or privilege of bringing the so much required change rests heavily on the shoulders of young people, it is largely felt, and many other Zambians. However, there is still a margin of young people and other Zambians who feel there is nothing they can change with their votes and so should not vote or who are being limited by religious beliefs from participating in the elections, most of these unfortunately did not register to vote as well.

All in all, I am excited that this year I will participate in the ushering in of the country’s new leadership for the next 5 years. Bearing in mind, the responsibility and its consequences I feel privileged for the awaiting task. I hope for free and fair elections, also for quicker and peaceful transition of power when power shifts. Above all I look forward to many young candidates contesting at parliamentary and local government levels securing more seats in parliament and at city council. The joy of being a first timer is that first times happen once, I am glad to be contributing to the history that will describe Zambia and the future that will define her people: A history in which young people stood up and cast their votes and a future in which their concerns are heard. A first time marks a beginning and an ending to an era—I am more than privileged to be part.

Gerry Sikazwe is the communication lead at Word Smash Poetry Movement, a seasoned literary voice on issues pertaining youth development. He lives and writes from Lusaka, Zambia. He writes here on his personal capacity contributing to Vanessa’s CIPE Fellowship 2021

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