The first time I cast my vote in a political election I was more than excited. I was 21 years old, with the legal age of voting in Zimbabwe being age 18, and national elections being held every five years. It was a feeling of pride and belonging. I knew that my “X” made a difference, despite seemingly being a drop in the ocean. But who does not wish to exercise their constitutional right to vote, a right that was denied my forefathers just three decades ago. A right whose sacrifice was the lives of thousands of people, young and old, during the liberation war.
As I placed my “X” against the names of my chosen candidates I envisioned a new Zimbabwe, the dawn of a new era. Having been born six years after my country had attained political independence from Britain in 1980, I grew up knowing one president, a president who won each and every election. By 2008 there had never really been any major threat to the presidency or a political party with more than at least two million supporters. So I had no idea what it meant to have a different political administration other than the one I grew up exposed to.
I grew to be an avid student activist and leader when I attended university, as my eyes became opened up to maladministration by the government which not only affected us as students but also young people in general and ultimately the nation at large. I participated in civil unrest and led student protests in an effort to get our voice heard – of course we were arrested, beaten and jailed numerous times for that resolve, but we only became stronger and more determined.
The 2008 general election came at a point when a new political party had gained such enormous momentum and victory was certain for them. Not only did I cast my vote on the day but I was involved in the electoral process as a supervisor for 29 polling stations, ensuring that everything was going on peacefully and in a smooth manner. It was also my responsibility to collect results from each poling station and collate the figures, then send them to a central office where another team of people were collecting results from across the country. By 10pm as results of constituencies were filtering through the media, it was evident which way the election had swayed as some ruling party heavy weights and untouchables had fallen to new young blood.
Then a directive was made – no one was allowed to collect results from any more polling stations. It was late and we did not mind the announcement as we went to sleep hoping to wake up to the final election results. We woke up and there were no results. This went on for a whole month – the nation seemed to be in a standstill, what with military trucks roaming menacingly in the city center and residential areas. It was frightening to even ask your neighbor where our vote had disappeared to because the subject became a sacred matter, one that would invite arrests if you dared talk about it at all. It then dawned on us that the new dawn we had envisioned was going to remain an unfulfilled dream, a dream that would take time to materialize, if at all.
Later we were told that the election had not been decisive and therefore a run off was imminent. That is when the real terror started, opposition supporters were exposed to untold suffering and torture. Innocent lives were lost and many were sent to jail without facing any trial or being formally charged. The country became a war zone and as soon as I got wind that I was a target, I was immediately whisked away to exile in South Africa. It was a dark time for my family and I was not sure what to make of it all. While in exile I got to meet more countrymen fleeing our homeland from the political unrest, which was not based on tribe but on one’s preferred choice of leadership. My once proud self became dejected and disheartened by what my eyes witnessed. My simple “X” had brought sadness instead of happiness and a deep feeling of emotional pain.
Yesterday I woke up to the results of the Nigerian election and I could not help but feel a tinge of envy and longing. For Africa’s most populous country to actually hold peaceful elections against the obvious threat and background of the notorious Boko Haram, it seemed impossible. Furthermore, to see the incumbent conceding defeat even before the counting of votes had officially ended just shocked me to say the least. African leaders have not been known for conceding to defeat in such a manner. I may not have agreed with Goodluck Jonathan’s way of leadership and I personally felt he did not do enough to contain the terrorists in Nigeria, but I must say even though he lost the election he won many hearts, mine included.
Whether the new president, Buhari, is a competent leader or not, that remains to be ascertained as he takes office and takes charge of the government. That is a discussion for another day. Today all I can do is marvel at young people my age in Nigeria who, in their lifetime, can live to compare different political administrations and aspire to emulate the good, despise the bad and move their country forward. All I can do is tell people that my president is the oldest on earth, I was born when he was in power and he is still in power and to talk about succession in my country is akin to a treasonous offense.
I shudder to think whether democracy remains a pipe dream in my land, but in my heart of hearts there is a light of hope that refuses to diminish – one day we shall achieve it, and my “X” will not land me in exile, but in a new and better Zimbabwe. Here is wishing Nigeria all the best under their newly elected leadership.

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