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.

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