Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How does Mozambique govern?

When we arrive in Mozambique, we will so be privy to observing their national elections. After observing our own hard fought elections last year, it will be interesting to see the comparisons. As part of our preparation, we have been reading several articles that help us to understand some major differences in the way we govern our nation as opposed to the way that Mozambique governs its own.

One major difference with Mozambique and the United States is the amount of power and control that the president has. Carrie Manning in our reading speaks of Mozambique being described as a country whose leadership is seen as "semi-presidential". The author also states that this country doesn't fit the designation quite so succinctly. The term "semi-presidentialism" as described in Manning's article "has three characteristics: the president is directed by universal suffrage; and the president shares executive powers with a "prime minister and ministers who posses executive and governmental power and can stay in office only if the parliament does not show opposition to them" (Duverger, 1980, 166). In essence, although Mozambique has a prime minister (similar to our vice president, but with essentially more shared power), the president has the ability to remove both the prime minister, and the parliament.

This ability to dismiss key governmental officials differs quite considerably than our government. I can see the current health care debate in our own country going quite differently if our president has similar power. Two major decisions that the U.S president has on his agenda (health care and the Afghan strategic design) are both heated enought to exert the type of power that the Mozambican president could. However, just as it seems to work in Mozambique, the two major political parties (Frelimo and Renamo) are close enough during the elections and works as a deterrent to a major abuse of power of the presidency. As the Mozambican president has a two term option, so does our president. However, given the strong rule that could be used if we had the Mozambican governmental model, may prompt a president to risk a second term in lieu of a highly charged agenda.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What is democracy?

Although the excitement of traveling to Mozambique is still prevalent, the reality of what we are going to do is starting to sink in. We as a group are looking at democracy in Mozambique. It seemed pretty straightforward, at least for at first. Professor Krause had to go and muddle things by asking us a simple question...what does democracy mean to us (as individuals). Even after reading excellent articles on the topic, as I write now, I'm trying to overcome my "deer in headlights" demeanor. I want to answer his question and sound scholarly, but more than that, I really want to be sincere about my own beliefs about democracy.

I almost regret reading the articles prior to answering this question. As a matter of fact, I will try with great difficulty not to be swayed by the definitions of others. Of course my own reference comes from what I was initially introduced to in grade school and beyond. The philosophical ideas that I have about democracy is in part referenced during Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address in 1863, where he makes the statement (about the the civil war), "...that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth". That is, in my interpretation means that democracy exist to represent (and abide by)the will of its people to accomplish the greater good for all.

Now of course, as I think about this statement, I am forced to digress to my readings (s0 much for not being influenced) However, Robert Dahl in his article entitled, "On Democracy" (1998) puts this philosophical notion in clear perspective. He states, "democracy" refers to both an ideal and an actuality". In this regard, I think about my philosophical idea verses "how" democracy translates into behavioriol examples. What does it look like in the day and life of individuals. It is very clear these days with the infamous health care debate in our own back yard, that democracy looks and feels very different to different people. The importance of democracy both in practice and in behavior for me, means that as an individual, my voice is can be represented by those with similar beliefs that is truly represents the "greater good". The importance for democracy in Mozambique is quite the same. It should mean that whether a person lives in a rural or urban area, there is a mechanism or structure in place that allows the individual to participate in policies and decisions that reflect the greater good for all as well.

What is democracy then? How can we study this "ideal and actuality" in Mozambique if it is not clear in our own country or amongst scholars. We as a team can refer to our founding fathers ideas, discuss and debate (as we are allowed in a democracy)consense on a common definition and move forward. The problem is as is mentioned the article, "Democracy and Africa -a View from the Village" by Maxwell Owusu (1992)that "the essential problem of African democracy is... the essential problem of democracy everywhere - and it is wise to remember that only a few countries in the world have really made a success of it. Democracy has succeeded in Northwestern Europe and in a few countries outside Europe because it has become entwined in the traditions of the people". It is not easy to overlay our own beliefs on a country that is so very different from our own in terms of culture, traditions, beliefs, religions, etc.

But is our mission! We were fortunate to have a guest speaker last week, Anne Pitcher, author of Transforming Mozambique : The Business of Privatization, 1975-2000 (2002) to help us understand about this country. She spoke of the history of independence and the struggles of post independence that this country as endured. What was somewhat surprising about her presentation was the omission of how the ideas and philosophies of democratization are passed on to the youth (which she stated accounted for a large percentage of the population due to the civil war). It surprised me that this population that is so key to the future of democracy was not more of focus in the book.

We have a lot to digest in the weeks prior to departure!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Where will we begin?

Our team will visit Mozambique during their election process in October of this year. Studying the evolution of democracy is the umbrella on which we will base the documentary. After getting additional perspective on the history and current state of democracy through a class presentation by Anne Pitcher (author of the book, Transforming Mozambique : The Business of Privatization, 1975-2000), I am finding myself wanting to know more of what is was like for individuals from their transition from colonization (by Portugal) to post independence.

This is where my dilemma begins. I want to see how people are affected by the governmental changes in their everyday life. I also want to focus on the current state of education is in their country. From this view, I want to know how children in Mozambique are introduced to its governmental structure. Our own country has national and state standards to ensure we teach our children how our government is structured . In this respect, we as a country try not to influence our students to any one political party. Just look at the recent brouhaha with President Obama's address to our nation's school (The theme was touted to be a typical "stay in school" message). Some people anticipated his to be an attempt at political persuasion, while others did not see what the big deal was, as other presidents have done the same! I wonder was Mozambique watching us as a "model of democracy" during that time?

As I read some of my team member's blogs, I am aware that we come from different disciplines (biology, business, etc). This diversity of perspective will be an interesting journey! By the way, I've added links to our team members blogs so you can follow them as well!

Monday, September 14, 2009


We are beginning to get in our sub-groups according to our interest and I'm all over the board! I want to look at democracy through the eyes of education, culture, and organizational development. We will have the opportunity to interview Joaquim Chissano, the former President of Mozambique, so of course now I also want to know more about the technical aspect of documentaries (which will be the final product of the project).

At this point, the project is close enough that I'm getting a little nervous. The itinerary for the plane ride over is what did it...I'm sure. The good news is our agenda includes one day in Johannesburg, South Africa.