Monday, October 19, 2009

Whew! Talk (or should I say write) about feeling down to the wire. Half-a-day and counting until my class is at the airport waiting for its departure. At this point, I should feel pretty good. I have officially finished packing; my vaccinations are all set; my automatic reply email and voicemail stating my “limited access” for the next two weeks are arranged; I started taking my Malaria pills on time; I had my last dinner with my family giving them all hotel/contact details; my ride to the airport confirmed a noon departure. Yet, despite the preparation, I’m feeling pretty anxious, a somewhat unfamiliar emotion I normally don’t experience prior to such a prepared trip. As I reflect on all I and my class have learned, though, since my first blog post only a month and a half ago – insights on Mozambique and its politics from our professors and from the country’s lead experts, survival Portuguese, basic filmmaking rules and techniques, to name a few – I realize why such nervousness exists. And, no, it’s not only there because of the day-long plane ride we have ahead of us. Just a couple of days from now, we are really going to put all of our lessons into practice. By doing so, we can reach both desired group and individual goals.

Beyond observing the overall themes of democracy and elections my whole class will study in Mozambique, my smaller group will focus on Religion & Culture. Our goals are mainly twofold: 1) to compare and contrast the major formal, organized religious practices in Mozambique to those in the states, and 2) to compare and contrast those formal, organized religions in Mozambique to those of indigenous and traditional religions simultaneously practiced there. To do so, we hope to attend religious ceremonies, speak to a variety of those who practice some form of religion (ranging from elders to the youth), and gain insights from spiritual leaders, or “healers,” who are willing to share their stories. Although my individual project is not yet concrete, I hope to find inspiration on how these religious practices influence Mozambican culture. Are the two completely intertwined? What differences are there when comparing practices in the City versus those in countryside? How similar are the people and their religions to those we experience at home? The questions are truly limitless. I think we’re all excited to have some of them answered soon.

In addition to asking these questions only others can answer for me, I also hope to acknowledge personal questions of my own. This trip will, to say the least, be a step out of my comfort zone. I want to fully appreciate that – to live in the moment, to try my best to connect with the locals, and to perhaps recognize or bring out my creative side that I know somewhere, deep down exists. Wish me luck – I’ll keep you updated on my progress!

Monday, October 5, 2009

It was only three weeks ago that my ADPM class consisted of an enlightening discussion with one of Mozambique’s lead experts – Anne Pitcher. Two days from now, we get another distinct opportunity to speak with Carrie Manning, author of The Politics of Peace in Mozambique: Post Conflict Democratization, 1992 – 2000 and professor at Georgia State University. So far, we’ve looked at her book and writings on semi-presidentialism. The next step is to gain additional insights from her in person, ones that may not be as easily translated or interpreted through text.

Reading The Politics of Peace in Mozambique, the chapter on the country’s 1999 election was of particular interest. Manning explained that this election was Mozambique’s true first post-transition general election, as the one prior to it focused more on the civil war’s end as opposed to democracy. At first, regardless of its technical difficulties, this election seemed to separate itself from problems normally associated with second elections in Africa – low voter turnout, opposition boycotts, etc. In fact, one of Mozambique’s positive democratic indicators was the symbolism behind the losing party’s contest of its results. Although this introductory information was consistent with other authors’ writings, the rest of the chapter opened my eyes to just how unexpected the 1999 election results were – and just how significant some of the problems that arose because of it became.

Manning wrote that the most surprising aspect of the election was undoubtedly the extremely close race for presidency. Much greater popularity for Joaquim Chissano was expected, partially attributable to his involvement in regional peace initiatives and his selection as the Southern Africa Development Community president. Renamo representative Dhlakama’s only title was “leader of the opposition,” which carried no specific responsibilities or authorities. Although Renamo’s alliance with multiple opposition parties was expected to give it a significant boost in the parliamentary race, its power in the presidential race seemed much more inconsequential than it actually was. In the end, Chissano’s margin of victory was smaller than the total number of ballots represented by polling station tally sheets. Renamo strongly contested the end results, also signifying how much mistrust still lied in the new electoral system.

This idea is similar to one Pitcher expressed when she explained that a common misconception about Renamo is its lack of strength. Although some literature has dismissed Renamo and its supporters as “bandits,” it has unjustifiably done so. Pitcher made it clear Renamo is still legitimate with a large voter base.

However, because a decade has passed since the 1999 election and a new party has since emerged – the Democratic Movement of Mozambique – what are the implications for Renamo’s strength? Will many of its supporters focus their efforts on the new party? Could this election symbolize the demise of Renamo? Also, does Manning predict as close of a race among parties like the one that occurred in 1999? What does this indicate regarding the future of Mozambique’s democracy?