Saturday, 20 September 2008

Election Day in Gitarama

September 15th

Election Day. Our orders are to keep a low profile. On no account are we to do anything which could taken as showing we’ve got involved in national politics. If things get ugly we go into emergency mode and await evacuation to Kigali. If the election results are disputed and there’s mob violence we’ll be flown out of Rwanda at the earliest opportunity.

What an anticlimax. The day is a damp squib. First of all, Tom and I have been expecting that shops and businesses will be closed, no transport running – a total lockdown like on the day of the Presidential visit. In the event most shops and the market stay open; it’s just public buildings and the banks which are closed. Atraco buses aren’t running at all, but most of the other operators like SOTRA are at least running a skeleton service. (They need to – people have got to travel to their home districts in order to vote). The buses are packed.

In the distance we can see long queues at Gitarama primary school. All schools are closed, whether or not they’re being used as polling stations. Everything is quiet and orderly; it’s just like early on a Sunday morning.

We’ve been expecting frantic last minute processions; lots of noise with parades of motos blowing their horns; bus loads of unemployed men shouting and singing (I’ve been told they’ve been paid up to RwF20000 a day to go up and down the town and look enthusiastic for one party or the other. Don’t know whether it’s true but I’m certain these people are being paid to advertise a political party. Would that be allowed in England?).

We’ve been expecting a suffocating police and army presence to ensure security; we’ve been expecting to have to produce our green residence cards every ten paces or even to be told to stay off the streets until the voting period is over (and we’ve deliberately got enough food ready to be able to do that).

The huge poster with a cow which I’ve put on the blog has been taken down early on the morning of the election.

It turns out that most people were waiting to cast their votes by six in the morning; by about nine o’clock - which is when Tom and I surfaced and ventured out – most of the voting was already over. Their votes cast, the population just got on with business as usual. We weren’t hassled; we never had to prove our identities, and the rioters at our gates never materialised. Dare I say it – we even felt a bit disappointed – it would have woken Gitarama up to have a bit of election day drama!

So in the end it turned into a bit of a non-day. We couldn’t really go anywhere or do anything; we rested at home, read our books, did some more batch cooking, watched DVDs. I got a load of blogs and other material ready to send home; I need another good session on the internet to catch up with everything.

And in any case the election result is a foregone conclusion. They’re just going through their paces to keep money flowing into Rwanda from abroad.

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