Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Democracy: the Vague and the Restless

Dr. Anne Pitcher, author of Transforming Mozambique: The Politics and Privatization, 1972-2000, came in to speak to our class about the history and present day status of Mozambican politics. I have to confess that before this course, I knew very little about African politics and much of what I did know came from filtered headlines through CNN and the BBC. Her talk was very informative and mirrored much of what her book revealed; stark differences in the development of rural and urban areas after independence, the uncertainty of a new political system, and the painful lack of resources which hindered the initial growth of the country. I was very surprised by Dr. Pitcher’s statement that half the population of Mozambique is under the age of 15. If that statistic is anywhere near accurate, this could mark a turning point, both physically and politically, for the country. Physically, in the sense of health, such an overwhelmingly young population leaves one to believe that a) some epidemic is targeting the older generations, b) many people do not live to reach a middle age, c) the civil war claimed many lives from the older generations, or d) all of the above. Pessimistically, it seems like I’m leaning towards option d.

The current malaria and HIV/AIDS epidemic in Mozambique has claimed the lives of thousands of people. Many children have lost one or both parents to either disease, and many more are suffering themselves through mother-to-child transmission. With so many people contracting these diseases at younger ages, when malnutrition is another factor, their bodies become extremely vulnerable to infection which exponentially increases the chance of mortality. The combination of disease and the number of war casualties depleted the adult population of Mozambique through the 1990s. If that is the case, it is logical that the majority of the population would be under the age of fifteen because that is approximately the time gap from the end of the civil war (the 1992 Peace Accord) to present day.

And perhaps this is what democracy is…the liberty to life and the pursuit of happiness. For me, democracy is simply the opportunity to choose for oneself, whether it is in the political, social or economic sense. Yet again, the idea of democracy is not simple at all. In fact, it can be the most subjective, abstract idea of discussion. What democracy means to one person can be completely different than another view. Perspective dictates definition. I value the rights and liberties that allow me to express what is important to me. But this is also one of the most important aspects of democracy; flexibility. In Mozambique, I believe that the right to a proper education, access to healthcare, and the right to own property are extremely important to the majority of the population. These cover the basic survival needs of all humans. In colonial times, many of these basic human rights for indigenous populations were overlooked by their foreign colonizers. Thus, democracy can also be defined as the free and equal distribution of resources among all.

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