Tuesday, September 29, 2009

After Professor Pitcher visited class a couple of weeks ago, I paraphrased, in my blog, a comment she made revolving around the idea that nothing surprises her about Mozambique’s political system after observing what happens within America’s. She was referencing corruption within systems, particularly by certain individuals and parties only trying to get as much power as possible, as opposed to focusing on what really matters to the people they are supposedly representing. This comment/idea certainly has a negative connotation to it. However, it’s also clear that Pitcher and many Americans, in general, have deep pride in their country’s ideal system, the one that many of their ancestors fought and died for. Reflecting on this ambiguity of emotions toward the American political system that is so obvious in the U.S.’s society today, I wonder if Mozambicans have more clear-cut feelings toward the new political system they are facing. Although both America and Mozambique consider themselves democracies, what are the differences between the two? The similarities? Before experiencing how Mozambican citizens truly feel and view their system, our class is looking at the underlying structures, the formal institutional architectures, of both American and Mozambican democracy. More specifically, we have been reading about constitutional and electoral systems, which have high impact on issues related to governance, political stability and policy making. As we read Carrie Manning, Arendt Lijphart, and the IDEA National Handbook on Constitutions and Elections, we learn different electoral systems oftentimes produce diverse political results.

Manning’s work, Semi-presidentialism and the preservation of ambiguity in post-war Mozambique, describes the country’s experience with semi-presidentialism. Readers can contrast this with America’s presidentialism. Semi-presidentialism includes a president and a prime minister (defined as an auxiliary to the president who has limited powers). Manning compares the relationship of Mozambique’s president and prime minister to that of the relationship of America’s president and vice president. IDEA’s chapter, Electoral Systems, Institutional Frameworks and Governance, describes similarities between the two systems. Both presidential and semi-presidential constitutions elect presidents directly. Additionally, within both systems, the elected president’s position does not depend on maintaining the confidence of the legislature; he cannot lose his office solely based on policy grounds. In both systems, the president is head of government and head of state as well.

Differences, however, do exist when comparing the electoral systems of the U.S. and Mozambique. IDEA states that America is unique in carrying out its national presidential election by FPTP at the federal state level (FPTP is analogous to a plurality voting system, a single-winner voting system, or winner-takes-all system; the candidate with the most votes wins the election regardless of whether or not he gains an absolute majority in the election). This system can lead to an election winner who polled fewer votes than the runner up, as was the case in America’s 2000 election. Mozambique, on the other hand, uses a Two-Round System. By doing so, it avoids election of a candidate who polled only a small proportion of the popular vote. If no one candidate wins more than 50 percent of votes in the first round of elections, a second poll is held. During this “run-off,” the two strongest candidates from the first election compete. The winner of the run-off is then elected. According to IDEA, presidential terms are limited to two consecutive five year terms in Mozambique. However, after another five years, a candidate can run for re-election.

Although it is not protected under law, elections in the U.S. generally constitute a two-party system. Historically, this has also been the case in Mozambique (Frelimo v. Renamo), but its 2009 election shows an emergence of a third party – the Democratic Movement of Mozambique. The effects and significance of this third party are not yet clear.

Manning categorizes Mozambique’s system as a “highly presidentialized semi-presidential regime.” Since the president in Mozambique elects the prime minister himself, the position has usually been filled by someone who has a similar background and profile of the president and who benefits from his highest confidence. In other nations, this category of semi-presidentialism generally performs badly. What is most appealing about Mozambique’s system, however, is the fact that it hasn’t. Manning describes Mozambique’s experience as a unique, “surprise success story.” Since using the system, citizens have not returned to armed conflict, there has only been one episode of political violence, and three sets of effective and successful elections have taken place.

However, certain aspects of Mozambique’s system have proven less appealing. Although she agrees Mozambique is a unique, overall success story, Pitcher described some of the country’s challenges related to its elections during her class lecture. There has been no change of the party in power since 1975, party identities are polarized and fixed, voter turnout is declining, voters lack necessary information, and there is strong partisan loyalty.

Clearly, there are numerous similarities and differences between America’s and Mozambique’s political systems. After having studied the formal architectural structures of both, the next step is to hear opinions from Mozambicans themselves. Do they hold a similar ambiguity in emotions, both skepticism and optimism, regarding their system comparable to that of Americans? I hope our class discovers how Mozambique’s electoral system has encouraged different party systems, organizations, and citizens.

Monday, September 21, 2009

It was only the second week of class (Sept. 16) and, already, we had quite an impressive agenda – Anne Pitcher. The author of one of the course’s books, Transforming Mozambique: the Politics of Privatization, discussed a political and economic analysis of the country. Pitcher, through her countless travels to and research in Mozambique, is undoubtedly an expert on what our class is studying. Although I and my fellow classmates clearly have interest in her work, what is perhaps even more exciting, is that she has an equal interest in ours! Pitcher may even reconnect with us in Mozambique to participate in viewing the nation’s election.

As one can imagine, Pitcher had plenty of practical advice for first-time travelers to Mozambique: what medicine to take, interesting scenery to observe (i.e. street signs symbolizing particular liberation movement support), what cuisine is a must have – apparently, certain shrimp is to die for – and what chow generally doesn’t sit well with foreigners. The list goes on. Clearly, she gave our class plenty of “food for thought” – okay, okay; I’ll stop with the cheesiness. Thus, moving on to a deeper level, Pitcher made us question what clearly inspires some of her most passionate work: the meaning of democracy. How convenient for our “African Democracy Project” course!

What particularly surprised and interested me was Pitcher’s finding of similarities among democracies that, on the outside, appear extremely different from one another. As Pitcher said (disclaimer: I’m paraphrasing here), “Nothing surprises me in African politics after seeing what happens in America.” Regardless of the democracy one is in, politics will not necessarily always work for the people, but instead, work to hang onto or capture power. I hope I’m not making Pitcher’s view on democracy sound too pessimistic. She clearly has respect and appreciation for certain democratic movements, even in the states, but criticizes certain parties for opposing them solely for the sake of resistance – to capture power rather than support what is best for the people. I suppose I expected differences to be pointed out rather than this blunt similarity – I appreciated Pitcher’s honesty.

So….before I get into what democracy means to me, my goal is to recap other interesting information Pitcher emphasized. Some of it may be well-known, but my purpose is to reflect on it more before I give my own definition. Secondly, these facts will highlight what may be the most important issues regarding democracy for the people of Mozambique.

Pitcher mentioned “critical features of independence” post colonization that, in addition to low levels of literacy, skills training and lack of experience in governing, included little understanding of democracy, popular participation and civic engagement. This explains the core of what other developed nations take for granted – an education from early childhood that explains, although sometimes ambiguously, what a democracy is. Additionally, to add to Mozambicans’ confusion, it seems that with democracy (or any change in governance, such as a focus on socialism post independence), comes modernization, something Pitcher also explains in her book. A push for modernization brings with it a lack of cultural roots. Although her work in Nampula Province suggests citizens still remember their former clan names and cultural practices, research in other provinces, such as Zambezia, proves otherwise. Part of this can be attributed to new religious practices that Protestant and Catholic missionaries brought with them, particularly in southern regions. In the north, more traditional religious practices and indigenous cultures were maintained (Pitcher mentioned bride wealth as an example). Along with these “modernization” divides, came clear class differences that political parties attempted to focus on when recruiting supporters. Renamo, for example, claims that Frelimo is “too modernist.” Pitcher made a point to not dismiss Renamo supporters as “bandits” like some tend to do, however. This party is clearly legitimate and has a substantial number of powerful voters.

Moving on to more recent events that help define Mozambique’s democracy, Pitcher explained how unique Joaquim Chissano’s voluntary step down was after he served his term upon winning Mozambique’s second democratic election in 1999. In other African nations, a leader doing so is almost unheard of. Also unique in this upcoming election is a new party, the Democratic Movement of Mozambique. Pitcher wonders whether it will represent the demise of Renamo or whether citizens will resort to violence to support it. Her list of electoral challenges currently facing Mozambique include no change of the party in power since 1975, the existence of polarized and fixed party identities, a decline in voter turnout, and lack of voter information.

After studying democracy in different countries – particularly observing their differences and similarities – the most important thing seems to be the power, particularly given through knowledge, of its citizens. In addition to granting basic rights, such as freedom and equality, it seems understanding of these basic rights is equally important. I look forward to more narrowly defining this definition in classes to come.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ever since getting my first taste of traveling at a young age, I developed a list of top places I felt I needed…well, more so wanted, to see. I can’t quite put my finger on exactly why Africa (in general) has always been number one. Maybe it was from my younger days of, yes, as cheesy as it sounds, being an Oprah fan and watching her visit and build schools there. Perhaps it was seeing my older brother’s African safari pictures when he returned from spending a summer there. Or, it could be due to avidly watching the Discovery Channel’s programs displaying the continent’s beyond-beautiful wildlife. Another contributor may be hearing stories of those who have done volunteer work there and who have come back changed – for the better – as a result. In any case, I jumped at the opportunity to take part in the African Democracy Project. However, I must admit, Mozambique was not necessarily one of the countries I had always heard about. Upon researching and reading more about it, though, I couldn’t believe just how much knowledge and information I lacked. Mozambique’s rich history, the struggles it has overcome, and its current successes all make it a fascinating place to study. Clearly, I still have A LOT to learn and, fortunately, my African Democracy Project course will provide the encouragement and resources to do so.

Part of this learning, as I discovered the first day of class, revolves around focusing on one topic of particular interest. Plenty of preparation will go into this subject before getting to research it, first-hand, in Mozambique. The overwhelming question, “Where to begin?” immediately came to my mind.

Through lots of brainstorming since, however, I realize my main interests tie in to what I am studying in school – Business. Economic development and investment (foreign and national) are clearly vital for any country to prosper. Although Mozambique is making improvements, its population’s low literacy rates and high levels of poverty demonstrate there is still a lot of work to be done. My questions, therefore, stem from wanting to know how the country’s economic development can improve:

How can Mozambique create a more-efficient self-sustaining economy? Who is and is not investing…and why? What is the government doing to encourage positive business growth?

Although my questions are still broad, I hope to narrow my research down through continued inspiration. So far, I have found broad articles explaining Mozambique’s most recent business developments, such as increases in banks, telecom and tourist firms. Additionally, I have briefly studied entrepreneurs (such as Greg Carr, who is restoring Mozambique’s Gorongosa Wildlife Park), who are investing in the country’s development. My research goals prior to traveling, therefore, are to get more detailed information regarding new companies and investors in Mozambique. Upon doing so, I will be better prepared to get my questions answered once I am there. The most effective approach in Mozambique would be to interview citizens from all walks of life (i.e. business developers, governmental officials, individuals working for new companies, etc.) to observe market trends, if any. Upon returning, my goal is to present my research through text or, even more preferably, video. Although I have little background in film production, I would like to expand my creative side, as I feel a documentary would ultimately interest a broader audience…perhaps it could inspire in others a similar passion I have to travel to Africa?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Acolher bem…Welcome. Thank you for visiting “My Mozambique Experience.” My name is Veronica Topolewski. I am about to embark on what may be one of the most unique opportunities of my life. Will you share it with me?

In less than six weeks, I, along with a dozen of some of Wayne State University’s brightest and most ambitious students and professors, depart for Africa. Upon recently meeting them all, I realize I am not alone with not only my positive feelings of excitement, gratefulness and anticipation, but also with my emotions on the other end of the spectrum: anxiousness, nervousness and uncertainty. Why would anyone want to face such extreme and nerve-wracking emotions, one might ask? To be able to take part in WSU’s first African Democracy Project – Mozambique.

Our class will spend its fall semester studying the politics in Africa. Within this time, it will spend two weeks in Mozambique interviewing a variety of its citizens, including its former President, Joaquim Chissano. The class will, among other unique assignments, develop a film documentary to welcome Chissano when he visits Detroit in 2010.

I mentioned “other unique assignments.” Let me explain. Other goals of the course, as stated in its Project Schedule, are to learn how to learn and think creatively – interesting and somewhat foreign concepts for a straightforward, uncreative, get-to-the-numbers-side-of-things Accounting student like me. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not bashing Accounting. The reason I chose my major is, in part, due to my lack of excelling at anything “artsy.” So, you can imagine that I felt quite overwhelmed on the first day of class when one of the professors suggested including interpretative poetry and interpretative photography into our blog assignments. My first thought?: “Uh oh.” My second thought?: “This actually might be kind of……..neat?”

On that note, I will update my blog on a regular basis (as creatively as I can) to document my experience in this course. Thank you for visiting. Até logo…See you soon!