Zambia: Netizens Ahead of Mainstream Media in Poll Reporting

Zambians went to the polls on September 20, 2011, to elect the president, members of parliament and local government representatives, but as voting got underway at 6:00 AM, Twitter, Facebook and election monitoring website, Bantu Watch were abuzz exposing the chaos that characterised the start of the process.

On social media websites citizens revealed delays of opening of polling stations, late-coming presiding officers, change of polling stations and even a shortage of ballot papers. These websites also reported violence where it broke out, particularly in the capital Lusaka where suspicious voters were on the look out for possible rigging.

Presidential candidate Rupiah Banda's last campaign rally in Lusaka. Image by Owen Miyanza, copyright Demotix (17/09/2011).

Presidential candidate Rupiah Banda's last campaign rally in Lusaka. Image by Owen Miyanza, copyright Demotix (17/09/2011).

On the late opening of polling stations, one netizen had this to say:

@Mama_Kankasa: Preparedness is very critical, they urged people to vote day…yet open up polling stations late?

Another said:

@luchi7: Unconfirmed reports that voting in some areas of Lusaka hasn't started polling station in chelstone reports presiding officer is late

Mama Kankasa said she is also worried about the situation in rural areas if even areas within the capital, where the Electoral Commission of Zambia is located, are facing serious logistical problems.

@Mama_Kankasa: If Matero/Lilanda which is just next door to ECZ offices can experience such what more people in the rural?

Some netizens posted pictures of queues at polling stations and yet others posted video and audio clips of events of where they were.

An audio report from @Luchi7 in Lilanda (in Lusaka) conveys the sounds of a skirmish at one polling station where voters were dispersed by police and teargas.

One of our reporters got caught up in the skirmishes in lilanda sent this report (mp3)

At one point during the day, the national broadcaster, Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation, was just playing music instead of giving election updates which frustrated one netizen:

@VusumuziS: Oh #ZNBC, we all love our culture but we also need election updates. WE can watch cultural programs everyday, but elections once in 5 years

At one point it seemed that election monitoring website, was offline, and people speculated that it was hacked to stop it from reporting poll irregularities (this is unconfirmed):

@alexmichelo: @mwanabibi yes am in zambia and i cant access the site #Bantuwatch

Meanwhile, others call for people to resist spreading rumours. On Facebook, in the public group “I voted on 20/09/11″, Maliq Malekano in Lusaka said:

(L)et us all exercise restraint during this period of voting. Let us avoid jumping to conclusions every time we hear a rumour. Avoid posting sweeping statements that are unsubstantiated. Let us all be messengers of peace even when our preferred candidate is trailing in votes. Every word that you post on fb can either build or destroy Zambia. I choose to build Zambia by posting responsibly on face book.

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