Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Democracy for Deirdre

What I find interesting about discussing democracy is how arbitrary the term actually is when you seek to define it. How do you define an idea (or an ideal, for that matter), especially one as multifaceted as democracy? I suppose to start one must think “what does democracy mean to me,” then venture from there.

To me, without dogma, doctrine, or ideals, democracy means I have a say in how my government is run. As a woman, the right to vote is very sacred to me because my foremothers had to fight for someone to listen to my voice. Democracy means I get to vote, and try to persuade others to do the same, to protect my right to optional motherhood and I am heard, loud and clear. In theory.

I feel strongly about being heard, mainly because more often than not, I am ignored.  I am ignored as a woman, a college student, as someone who falls below the poverty line, as someone from the Midwest, and so on. More often than not, the majority of us are ignored. As strongly as I feel about democracy (believe me, I ‘Baracked the Vote’), I am substantially jaded and disappointed in the reality of American Democracy and what the American dream actually turns out to look like: the American Rat Race. Call it what you will, western democracy, capitalistic democracy, or even marginalized democracy, it’s a very different breed from what I was told I got to participate in upon my 18th birthday.

However, being lied to by my government has not turned me off from democracy completely. I am not a communist (in case you're still out there McCarthy!) . I wouldn’t even really call myself a socialist. I just believe in being heard.  John Calhoun resonates most deeply, "Democracy [is] not majority rule: democracy [is] diffusion of power, representation of interests, recognition of minorities" (1). 

Also, after realizing what democracy really looks like here in the States, has only peeked my interest more in the development of young democratic nations. Unfortunately, it seems that our western democracy has been translated to a similar beast where democracy is still new. What are the implications of adopting the government style of one’s oppressor? How ‘free’ is ‘free’? As Maxwell Owusu writes, “…practical issues arise from the efforts made to impose foreign political models on societies with a different history and unique combination of indigenous traditions, economic conditions, and external constraints” (2).  As democracy translates to Africa, how can the two ever really be synonymous? If the model of democracy is the western-capitalistic model, which by definition demands inequality and marginalization, how can democratic African nations be truly free and equal? Their model of democracy, inherited from their oppressor, is framed to oppress. Contradicting completely ‘for the people, by the people,’ in practice, how must democracy look to Africans? Corrupt? A complete manifestation of Social Darwinism? Kill or be killed? That’s what it looks like to me, here in the US. 

How interesting that we insist African nations are democratic, in order for us to cooperate with their development, and the reason they are in a state of development in the first place is our colonialist regimes. In a World-Systems theorist paradigm, our elitist power structure of capitalism and minority rule does set precedence for class-wars, power struggles, and, frankly, comfortability with ignoring the poor and rural.

Why did Mozambique abandon socialism? Why does Frelimo have stark disproportionate funding for urban verses rural areas? One of the most interesting things that Anne Pitcher discussed was the way in which socialism was undermined from both within Mozambique and from abroad. How much did our cold war have to do with the adoption of democracy in Mozambique? Pitcher addressed how Frelimo attempted to organize the rural farming districts in Mozambique into urban centers of production, which obviously did not go over well with the farmers. I find it fascinating that the ruling class of Frelimo, in their attempt to industrialize the country, has created the environment for a class struggle. How fitting marginalized lower classes are within capitalistic democracy. I guess we all have our place, no? I cannot wait to get to Mozambique and see first hand the power struggle between Frelimo and Renamo play out, and how democracy actually looks from the eyes of the colonalized.








Adapted from Grey, Robert D. 1997. Democratic Theory and Post-Communist Change.

New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Appendix 2.1.


2. Democracy and Africa -- A View from the Village

Author(s): Maxwell Owusu

Source: The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Sep., 1992), pp. 369-396

Published by: Cambridge University Press






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