Saturday, November 8, 2014

Campaign-in-the-butt

With the presidential campaign wrapping up here, midterms happening Stateside and finally copping season 2 of House of Cards, I've had politics on the brain lately. I don't normally talk about politics, partially because I was taught that it is impolite dinner conversation and partially because it annoys me a lot. Nevertheless I thought it would be interesting to compare American politics with those here in Mozambique.

Moz is a pretty new democracy coming from failed "one party democracy" (whatever that means) and socialist leaderships following liberation from colonialism. The political party system is massively complicated , facing corruption seeded since the war and influence from so many foreign interest agendas that no one knows who to trust anymore. What Mozambique has is the right to vote, a fact worth celebrating in itself. Despite being a democracy, though, the country is still riddled with socialist gray areas, like the presidential portraits hung high in every school,  shop and restaurant...Big Brother always watching.

Here in the south the majority by far is FRELIMO--the liberating party from the war-- and mum's the word about the other two major parties. The south is more developed, being closer to the capitol, but things get more complicated the farther north you go. As you head up, paved roads turn to gravel and then dirt. The income gap gets wider and development in general decreases. These people have more cause for complaint against the current regime, and thus are more likely to lean towards the RENAMO or MDM parties. This is also where political tensions rise, as in the case of RENAMO attacking civilian and military vehicle convoys in the province of Sofala. Thankfully these have since stopped despite yet another FRELIMO win and peace accords between the party leaders have been signed.

Elections were relatively peaceful here. They remind me of the elections for Miss Homecoming in college: full of gimmicks and based largely around how many campaign parties they can throw in the streets. Lots of our classes were cancelled here in Panda because professors were busy campaigning. All of our desks and some of our classrooms were commandeered for campaign use, so for two weeks we taught under the mango tree. These instances are common but mild. At a school farther north a student was given the ultimatum of donning a party Tshirt or not being allowed to study that day. She refused and went home. Some of our friends and colleagues participate in the majority party campaign even though they disagree with their policies. They do this because if they come out openly as in favor of another party they will be fired or refused employment. Things like this make it hard for me to appreciate how far the country has come because there is still so far to go. I sit on no high horse though because American politics strikes a similar chord with party loyalty to a fault. People of both nationalities act as if their political affiliation is akin to a sports team. They sing and dance, wear the swag and trash talk like it's all a game. They blindly follow their team with die-hard loyalty, checking the vote-party box on ballots, making excuses for just about anything and always blaming the other team when things go wrong. These affiliations come from parents or friends or even habit.

I'm a Republican. Being a Republican in the Peace Corps is like being a zebra in a pack of thoroughbred horses. As minority as I might be, though, I've had some productive and intelligent political conversations with my colleagues. We can speak objectively and open-mindedly...the only way to approach the issue of government in my opinion and I feel that my generation is doing better at that. Even so, I've gotten used to being a political outcast among my peers. Growing up in the South, it's easy to inherit the Republican fandom, and while I register on the same side I don't often agree. I'm a Republican because I believe in the free market, in conservative spending and in limited government. I'm a Christian, but I believe in the separation of church and state because I believe forcing adherence to any religion defeats its purpose entirely. Unfortunately this makes me the minority member of the GOP.

I can deal with being in the minority or even being the only person with my beliefs. What really baffles me is the important research people forego before heading to the polls, as if they identify with nothing outside of "red" or "blue." They want Hillary because she's a woman, Barack because he's not white, or George because he's a Christian. Voting history and domestic policy loses over the hot-button issues during the debate and who shakes more hands on the trail; or in the case here who has more Tshirts and better music. In both cases we end up with the dangerously uninformed and dangerously loyal majority controlling the polls. The only way the system works is with checks and balances, and the only way to keep those in place is to keep an open mind and make an informed decision based on facts and not feelings. This political can't-sway-me fandom has led to pretty terrible things in past societies. For further reading, see the rise of Hitler in Germany or the beginnings of Communism in Russia.


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