Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Comparison of Various Governments

Having read about the "formal institutional architecture" of Mozambique (that means the constitutional and electoral system), what are the biggest differences between the country we are visiting and your country of origin (for most of that's the US). What seems most appealing about Mozambique's system compared to the US? What is least appealing?

As we continue to learn more and more about democracy and the constitutional and electoral systems that are set in place in Mozambique, it is surprising to see the similarities and differences between this country that is just beginning its democratic journey to the current
democracy in the United States. This week, we read Carrie Manning's work, Semi-Presidentialism and the Preservation of Ambiguity in Mozambique; Lijphart's Patterns of Democracy; and the IDEA National Handbook on Constitutions and Elections.

First, some basic facts. Mozambique began its multi-party elections in 1994. The system is set up so that the presidential candidate needs a majority of valid votes. (This is in comparison to the United States' electoral college system). This means that if no one obtains more than 50% of the votes in the election, then there will be another election between the two strongest candidates. After seeing the confusion and chaos of the Bush vs. Gore elections, perhaps Mozambique's system of elections are slightly more appealing. While there are strong opponents and supporters of the electoral college, I stand neutral because I believe that there are so many pros and cons on both sides. It is hard to compare the two election systems because the United States has more states and operates on a different level of complexity compared to Mozambique.

When the United States Constitution was first written, there was no provision put in place for the formation of political parties - it just happened. The Democratic and Republican parties have been the majority political parties for decades and they have been able to somewhat balance the power between them through the divisions of power in our government. However, when we look at Mozambique's relatively short history of democracy, we notice the obvious dominance of the Frelimo party. Renamo has always been the runner-up in elections. However, things are about to change. I think the upcoming election will be very interesting because the status quo of the Mozambican election between Frelimo and Renamo will be disrupted by the emergence of the Democratic Movement of Mozambique. According to Professor Pitcher, this is a "younger" party composed of many younger members. Will this new party have a strong enough influence in the election to change the distribution of the votes? It's going to be a great time to be in Mozambique.

Another slight difference is that the Mozambican president's term lasts 5 years compared to the American president's 4 years. Professor Pitcher had mentioned that a possible question we could ask former president Chissano is why he decided to step down after his two terms. According to Manning, "In the 2004 general elections, President Chissano, who had served the maximum two terms, was replaced by Armando Guebuza." Traditionally, African presidents are known for their persistence in trying to stay in office. He obviously had the power to change the Mozambican constitution so that he could stay for a few more terms; however, he stepped down. In this regard, I believe that the United States is better in establishing the two 4 year presidential terms.

In Manning's Semi-Presidentialism and the Preservation of Ambiguity in Mozambique, she mentions that Mozambique is a "highly presidentialized semi-presidential regime". This was a confusing statement, but as I tried to understand Manning's work more, I think I understood what she was trying to say. You see, Mozambique is categorized as a semi-presidential government because a president and prime minister both exist. However, it is "highly presidentialized" because the president ends up appointing his prime minister anyways. Manning describes the relationship between the president and the prime minister as the same relationship between American presidents and their vice-presidents. In comparison, the United States is set up as a presidential system with a division of powers. A true semi-presidential system would occur in a situation like France where the president and prime minister are from different parties.

The main point that I realized from reading Lijphart's Patterns of Democracy is that there is no perfect system in the world. Every country whether it is the United Kingdom, the United States, or Mozambique will face difficulties in establishing an electoral system. However, the obstacles should not prevent them from trying to obtain democracy. For example, in the United Kingdom, the religious rivalry between the Protestants in Northern Ireland the Catholics in Ireland have caused differences and violence between the opposing views. In the case of Northern Ireland, their population is so small that it is difficult for them to obtain any sort of majority position in Parliament. This situation is analogous to the differences between the rural and urban Mozambicans and the differences between Frelimo vs. Renamo. The strength and majority of the Frelimo party is preventing the Renamo party from expressing their opinions in government.

In the IDEA (Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance) Handbook, Chapter 4 stated that "In presidential systems...presidents who have clear majority support are likely to have much greater legitimacy and be in a stronger position to push their own policy agenda than those
elected on a small plurality of the vote. This has an important impact on relations
between the president and the legislature. A president elected by a clear absolute
majority of the population can command a great deal of legitimacy in any conflict with
the legislature". This is a pretty substantial statement for the American electoral system because with our current system of the electoral college, a presidential candidate might not win the majority of the popular vote and still win the election.

Analyzing the various government and electoral systems of nations around the world has shown me that there is no perfect system. We just have to make a system work for the specific country based on its historical traditions and current needs of the country.

It will be interesting to see how much Mozambicans care about their country's government system. I hope they are passionate and excited for the emergency of a democracy in their nation. On a funnier note, I really hope that our interviews don't turn out like a clip from Jay Leno's Jay Walk when he asks basic questions about our government.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Democracy

What does democracy mean to me? Well, the first time I was ever exposed to the word democracy was social studies in elementary school. We learned about the core democratic values of life, liberty, freedom, the pursuit of happiness, the common good, justice, equality, diversity, popular sovereignty, and patriotism. To me, democracy means a form of government that is ruled by the people through elected officials that people choose through fair elections. In addition, the core democratic values should be honored by the government and its citizens. It's a pretty simple definition, right?


This past weekend, I traveled to New York for a quick weekend getaway. Everywhere I turned, I could find examples of the core democratic values. LIFE was everywhere. From people running to catch a taxi to the massive stampede of people going down the subways, New Yorkers understand the value of LIFE especially after the September 11 attacks. LIBERTY is seen in the wide array of people and the choices that each individual makes in their life. We all have the freedoms of different political views, personal freedoms, and economic freedoms. The PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS is observed in the people who tan on a bright sunny day in Washington Square Park or the theater goers who go to Broadway to watch Hair or Billy Elliott. I see the effects of the COMMON GOOD when someone gets up from his seat on a subway train in order for an elderly couple to sit down. JUSTICE could be heard pretty much nightly as police cars speed through the streets in order to correct the wrongs being committed. I see EQUALITY and DIVERSITY at the Mexican Day Parade on Madison Avenue as Mexican Americans chant Mexico as they celebrate their native country's independence. I also see DIVERSITY in Little Italy, Chinatown, Koreatown, and Chelsea. Finally, PATRIOTISM is seen on Wall Street as the American flag is draped over the Stock Exchange.


I believe that the most important aspect of democracy is the people's power to vote and voice their opinions. No matter what your social status or income level is, when it comes to election time, my vote and Donald Trump's votes are equal. This fundamental feature is what makes democracy so appealing. For a brief period of time, everybody is truly equal - I think it is a very humbling phenomenon. Personally, it is truly exciting for me to know that my first presidential election was the 2008 election between Obama vs. McCain. It is one of those memories that will be cherished forever.


While my definition of democracy is quite simple, after reading the articles on democracy, my concept of democracy has become much more specified. For example, according to Linz and Stepan in their article titled Toward Consolidated Democracies, they outline three minimal criteria that are critical for a democracy to exist. First, a state must exist for a democracy. Second, the democratic transition must be complete. Third, the rulers must govern democratically. Finally, once these criteria are met, democracy is consolidated. Therefore, when "a strong majority of public opinion, even in the midst of major economic problems and deep dissatisfaction with incumbents, holds the belief that democratic procedures and institutions are the most appropriate way to govern collective life, and when support for antisystem alternatives is quite small or more-or-less isolated from prodemocratic forces."


For Mozambicans at this point, the most important aspect of democracy should be their right to a fair election and a non-corrupt government that will embrace all aspects of the core democratic values into their administration. However, the road to this ideal state is very long because African governments have a long history of corrupt governments (even if they were said-democratic states). So, if we look at the other countries who are full of corruption and failed promises, what do Mozambicans have to look forward to? Well, first of all, democracy is not socialism. And we already know that socialism did not work too well for Mozambique. Therefore, while democracy may not be the magical solution for this developing nation, it is the first step that is necessary in order to nurture growth.


I never took the time to truly appreciate what a democracy is; however, after reading more about it and realizing all the sacrifices that people have made to obtain this ideal, I am so thankful to be able to live in a country that practices it.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Contrasting Points of View of Mozambique

As I was searching for some Mozambique videos, I came across these two very contrasting views of Mozambique. The first one shows a fancy and elegant Maputo where the travel writer speaks of her stay at the Polano, an exquisite colonial building that has been renovated as a luxury hotel today.
However, most of Mozambique is far from glamorous. The other videos show the children of Mozambique who appear to be happy; however, they are not receiving the proper nutrition or education that they deserve. Take a look for yourself!

video video

Ann Pitcher's Insights

Ann Pitcher, the author of one of our course's books, Transforming Mozambique: The Politics of Privatization, came to our seminar class to speak to us about her work in Mozambique. It was truly an honor to have the opportunity to hear her speak about her life's passion. She spoke mostly about the general history of Mozambique and how it became the state that it is today. Basically, Mozambique was a Portuguese colony in the 1920s. It is an interesting case because Portugal itself was authoritarian, which meant that unlike British colonies, there was no real democratic model for Mozambicans to follow. However, in the 1950s, there was a slow resistance against Portuguese colonialism. In 1963, the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique or Frelimo was established and they won independence in 1975. After a Civil Conflict from 1977 to 1992, a peace accord was finally reached in 1992. After that, there were three national elections occurring in 1994, 1999, 2004, and the upcoming 2009 election.

When I reflect back on Pitcher's discussion of Mozambique, I can say that I was surprised by many things. However, the two most shocking points that she brought up would be the enduring effects of Mozambique's complex past and the fact that she cited: half of Mozambique's population is under the age of 15.

First, while Mozambique is trying to move into the future, the
effects of its past is still lingering. For example, due to colonialism and oppressive leaders, most Mozambicans have lost some part of their traditional history. Picther explained that the Portuguese replaced many village chiefs with pseudo-chiefs because they thought they could control them better. This mostly occurred in areas that the Portuguese had an economic interest in. For example, in Nampula, the people today could easily remember their village clan name before colonialism/independence. However, if you ask someone in Zambezia, a state of many commercial companies and plants, the people do not know their name or much of their history. This is surprising to me because geographically, the two areas are very close, yet the two regions are very distinct. On a personal level, I can identify with the Zambezians because I have heard stories from my grandparents of when Japan invaded Korea. The Japanese attempted to erase all Korean traditions and install Japanese ones instead. The schools would teach Japanese to Korean schoolchildren and try to oppress the people. It hurts to see that our human history has so many examples of oppression and violence where a one group of people tries to control another. When will we ever learn?

Another example of the enduring effects of Mozambique's history involves the liberation period. Ann Pitcher explained that during Mozambique's adoption of socialism, Frelimo received assistance from China and the former Soviet Union. As a result, a concrete example can still be seen today in the evidence of the street names. Take a look at the Google map below. You can go down Avenida Mao Tes Tung, pass Avenida Kim Il Sung, take a right on Avenida Vladmir Lenine and then go to Manhalgalene United Methodist Church. What an eclectic group of names and historical indicators!



The second fact that surprised me the most was when Ann Pitcher explained that almost half of Mozambique's population is under the age of 15. Could this be actually true? The only explanation that I could think of was that the children are the only survivors because all their parents passed away from HIV/AIDS. Or, they could have been killed during the country's Civil War conflict. I believe that finding the answer to this disturbing statistic is necessary in order to further understand the nature of this country.




Monday, September 14, 2009

First Class!

After our first class, it finally hit me that I will actually be traveling to Mozambique this October. This moment of realization came when Professor Krause began explaining the structure of our class and what his expectations were. This class and this experience...it's actually happening! After listening to Professor Krause, I have a feeling that this class is going to be unlike any other experience I have had at Wayne State so far. Professor Krause is pushing us to think outside the box and present ideas that go beyond the typical textbook.

Through research and persistent questioning of the nature of things; not just memorizing facts but fully grasping the events that lead to a particular event, we will hopefully make this seminar experience the best it can be!

While traveling to Mozambique is exciting, I also realized how little I currently know about the country. Although I researched some general facts about the country and read Ann Pitcher's book called
Transforming Mozambique : The Business of Privatization, 1975-2000, there is still a lot to learn about this country with a history of colonial rule, fight for independence, socialism, and the emergence of capitalism. One striking fact that always catches my eye is looking at the HIV/AIDS prevalence rates of developing countries. For example, according to the World Health Organization, approximately 12.5% of Mozambique's adult population is currently living with HIV in 2007. The number of children and adults who died from HIV in 2007 is approximately 81,000 people.

After learning these facts and figures, so many questions arose. How are all these people dealing with their disease? How are the people being educated by the government about safe sex practices? How are the deaths of so many people affecting the labor supply and thus the overall productions levels of the country? While there are many questions, my main question for Mozambique is how the health care system is meeting the needs of its people in order to maintain their overall health.

In order to research and find the answer to my question, I believe that prior to the trip, much reading must be done. Whether it is in the form of facts, statistics, or journal articles, the group of people interested in the health care aspect of Mozambique has to understand how health care is currently being delivered as well as its overall outcomes. I also believe that one of the best ways to get a firsthand glimpse about Mozambique is to ask people who have been to the country. For example, at our next class meeting, Professor Ann Pitcher, the author of the book we just read will be here to answer questions and explain her experiences in Mozambique. I think she would be an essential person to start asking questions, which will start our investigation.

When we are in Mozambique, I believe that the best way to obtain answers to our questions about health care in Mozambique will be to ask the leaders and politicians what they are currently doing to solve the HIV/AIDS epidemic as well as providing health care to all their citizens. In addition, I would like to ask the people on the streets about what they think about their government and the service they are receiving.

While writing a paper would be a good way to show the effects of health care in Mozambique, I believe it is more important to catch the people's spirit and discuss their concerns. In the United States, health care reform has sparked such an incredible amount of momentum amongst the population. I would not be surprised if it is not the same for Mozambicans if they were given a chance to talk about their frustrations!

However, since our small groups have yet to be formed and we do not have a clear understanding of our specific question, we will continue to research the health care sector of Mozambique for now.