Why you should always vote, exasperated or not

She was a neighbour crossing the street and we like to have a conversation with each other here and there and I rolled down the window of the van.

“Hey. How ya doin?” I said. “Did you vote?”

“No,” she said, with a rather exasperated expression. “No. I can’t be bothered. I can’t be bothered with it. I can’t be bothered with any of them.”

I paused.

“You know,” I said. “When you live in Africa and you see what happens in elections in those sorts of places, you get out and vote.”

“I know,” she said.

But she didn’t know. Not really.

Then I took my daughter, Hannah, our adopted Ugandan girl, to our local voting station and put my X where I wanted to.

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Yes, I put that X where I wanted to.

And Hannah, after we left the voting station in the gym of a local church, asked me about it all. And we talked. And it was a fine moment.

Not because our choices in Thursday’s provincial election were particularly stellar and not because there’s no reason to feel exasperated at such poor options.

But it was a fine moment because this girl of mine is on this side of the ocean and will be able to vote free when she’s older.

But if we hadn’t adopted her, she would know the much more severe frustration, the great pain, in fact, of living in a place where you can’t vote and know for certainty that it will make a difference, because the ballot boxes are stuffed, or swapped, or someone with a gun is going to make sure you don’t get to your voting station to begin with, or, sure you’ll get to mark your X, but there’s only one name there to check.

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Older sister Liz, meanwhile, is getting her own strong views on politics.

Even though we’re in Africa most of the year, this astute little 11-year-old, I was pleased to see, got right into the issues with the guidance of her teacher at school here in Hamilton.

The other day, she laughed so hard she was about to bust when explaining to me a wry political cartoon the class had seen, one showing Kathleen Wynne plunging, plunging, plunging all our hard-earned tax dollars down the toilet.

Liz chortled all the way through it, mimicking Wynne’s cartoon comment: “And you know, it’s just as easy as it looks!”

Apparently the old plunger routine, though, doesn’t hurt when it comes to winning majority governments, at least not when the opposition is so dismal.

Much to Liz’s disappointment and dismay.

For more on on elections in hard places, from the vault, here’s something, as well as below.

Africa changing — in some places

The Hamilton Spectator

“Africa has a long way to go before it reaches real revolutionary maturity.” —Che Guevara

KAMPALA, UGANDA

We sit. We talk. He’s a Ugandan. We’re at a bar in front of wide televisions. They hover overhead, silent. No volume. No voice. Still, we hear it all, the screams from the Arab world.

It’s true. From the muted Arab world. They scream and scream from inside our televisions and our computers. From inside, they scream at us all now.

He and I watch. God, what do they want? Is this what “Moses” is asking? No, he knows. He knows too well. I call this Ugandan Moses because he doesn’t want his real name used. He’s afraid. That’s why he knows what the Arabs want. Because he’s angry. And afraid.

It’s the height of the Egyptian unrest, the Day of Departure protest. Cairo’s Tahrir Square is bursting. Faces and flags and despair jam these widescreens. Grab a stone, look up, get clubbed in the head by a horseman. That’s al Jazeera’s image of death. And life. Who wouldn’t scream?

CNN’s tickertape runs. It’s wild. It’s not just Egypt. Or Tunisia, where a young man set himself ablaze to start all this. It’s spreading.

“I lived in Yemen for four years,” I tell Moses.

Let us, yes us, now speak, say the Yemenis with their dry, burning voices. They wave their colours. We want change. Want hope. There’s a cyclone in Australia. To this, it’s nothing. Where, who, what regime is next?

“It will take time to come here,” Moses says. “But slowly, slowly. It will come.” In 10 years, he tells me. Later, he says, 15. “Maybe 25.”

It’s hard to know. What we can say with certainty is that change won’t come to this nation today. Or tomorrow. Or Feb. 18 when Ugandans vote their president-king back into office.

Yoweri Museveni once said no African leader should serve more than 10 years. He would end the “Until I die” motto, “Paka last.” That was then. This is now, or “now-now” as Ugandans call a particular moment in time. It’s 2011, 25 years since Museveni began his reign.

I open my computer and show Moses. An Economist report ranks Uganda 98th in global democracy. He talks.

He talks about rigged polls, how village votes are bought with a soda and a yellow government T-shirt, how hard it is to educate many Ugandans, how police hinder opposition gatherings. He talks about corruption, how money vanishes while city roads rot, schools fall apart, hospitals fill with sick Ugandans worse-off than animals, no medicine, no care. He talks about darkness.

I nod. I know it’s true. Everyone knows. Read the papers. Look out the windows. Go outside.

Moses tells me about his children, how his little girl can’t wear a new dress once without it falling apart. He laughs. “I buy shoes but can’t dance with them.”

The tickertape rolls. Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak says he’s fed up. After keeping his foot on Egypt’s head for 29 years, he’s fed up. (On Friday, he stepped down.)

Are Ugandans fed up? Not so much. Maybe too many recall the 1970s and Idi Amin, when you might get a bullet shot down your throat. That was something to take your voice.

“Uganda needs prayer,” Moses says.

Doesn’t it. Africans now get fewer coups. From 1960 to ’80 five dozen leaders across this continent were killed or toppled. But today’s elections are largely shams. And real revolution isn’t galloping so fast in this direction, to so-called “Black Africa,” sub-Saharan Africa, home to 25 authoritative regimes, eight flawed democracies and, like Uganda, 10 hybrids.

“I hope you’re not upset.” I can’t remember when or why I once said this to a Ugandan. Just the response: “How can I be upset? I’m Ugandan.”

Enough said. Mobile tweets don’t bring revolutions. Cultural attitudes do.

I will see Moses again at this bar in front of these widescreens where I write. I’ll remember that he has a Grade 5 education and that he’s a bright, self-trained photographer taking pictures of smiling Ugandans. Maybe that’s his healing balm.

And I’ll remember he was born the same year I was, the year Che Guevara travelled to this region to spark an uprising … with great failure.

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