Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Democracy in Mozambique?

Only now, since I've been home for a week or so, have I been able to really articulate my feelings or describe my observations. When people ask, How was the trip? I never can really say. Of course it was amazing, but to just say that doesn't tell anyone how the trip really was.

I was in Matola, in Maputo providence, for election day. Since returning home, I’ve gone over my notes and observations trying to get a grasp on my personal account of Mozambique’s 2009 elections. I’m trying to piece together all that I saw in order to make a story of it.

What is my election day story?

Pre-election day, while at Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, I noticed that there were no campaign materials hanging around campus. Goba had previously explained to us that the entire administration was composed of Frelimo members, as it is a requirement for upward mobility within Mozambican academia. Considering this, I was surprised that the campus wall space had not been colonized by Frelimo, as the rest of Maputo had. At Wayne, the campus had election materials everywhere during this past election. Wouldn’t the parties in Mozambique want to target people under 25, to gain support of Mozambique’s largest age cohort?
I asked the director of the law school if Eduardo Mondlane had banned campaigning on campus. He replied, no, they had not banned it- there simply was just no need to campaign on campus. I didn’t fully understand until the end of the interview. He introduced us to all the directors-past, via the portraits that hung on the opposite wall. Each had left their post as Director of the Law School at Universidade Eduardo Mondlane.when they received a high-ranking position within Frelimo.

Experiences like this, and ones like watching Frelimo spend campaign finance used to rally children (the voters of 2019), lead me to believe that Frelimo is not worried about persuading the voters of 2009. It was like a through-the-roof confidence level of victory.

On actual election day, the observation that interested me most was the level of secrecy that Mozambicans held the vote to. I was told a number of times by respondents that their candidate of choice was a secret. Those who actually admitted to favoring MDM (2 people and 2 different locations), did so only while the camera was off. Once we started taping, the two men both took the chance to either praise Frelimo, or to insist that Frelimo had provided for them. Why did these men choose to trust us, but not our camera, with the truth?

My observations of democracy in Mozambique was mainly impacted by what I saw at the university level. My group saw a certain level of censorship that prevented us from really hearing what it was the students thought about Frelimo. We did hear frustrations about the "government," but nothing party specific. It could be that the government just means the whole network of leadership that has frustrated the students... or it could be that not one other party has run Mozambique since the 1975 revolution. What happens to people who openly oppose that party? I'm sure life (and careers) become just a little harder for that individual. At least that's the impression I got at Eduardo Mondlane.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


It took me quite some time to process my experience in Mozambique, to the point that I could not write comprehensively about it until now. I kept a journal the entire time, however now that I look back at what I wrote in Africa, my notes seem sporadic. None of my journal entries really captured what it was like to be in Mozambique. There are far too many experiences to have written them all down, but I think I can express my impressions of the trip with some pictures I took.

This is Jimmy, of Jimmy’s Tours. He was our tour guide in South Africa. He took us all over Johannesburg, showing us “the good, the bad, and the ugly”. This picture was taken in a Zulu artesian marketplace as Jimmy described to us, in detail, his views on just about everything. Including Dan Rather, whom he thought of fairly distastefully. The more Jimmy showed us around, the more I became increasingly aware of my status as a foreigner. The feeling intensified in Mozambique where I still felt like an foreigner, but one that had no tongue. Without knowing Portuguese, I was that much more of an outsider. I wish I could have spent more time connecting with all the individuals we met. I wanted to ask them the hundreds of questions that constantly ran through my mind, but frustratingly could not. I did not really engage the way I wanted, and I sometimes felt like I was just watching Mozambique, not experiencing it.

For our group work, we spent a few days at Eduardo Mondlane University. We found at the university, along with frustrations concerning educational access, political centralization still exists in various ways. All the administrators were card-caring Frelimo members, either out of necessity or doctrine. One of the professors we met, Goba, described his frustration with the current situation in academia. He told us that to have access to any upward mobility within the university, one must be a Frelimo member. As one can imagine, the implications of staffing an entire university with members of one party is rather severe. A fair amount of controlled thought, in my opinion. Furthermore, the information we received from on-high, especially from the dean of the law school Dr. Armondo Cesar Dimande, was extremely optimistic. He made several unabashed claims about how 40% of Mozambicans go on to attend college (...with a 49% illiteracy rate...?), and that each court located in rural regions are equipped with translators for those who do not speak or read Portuguese. After he was finished painting us a rather lovely portrait of Mozambique, he showed us the wall showcasing pictures of law-school-deans-past... All of whom had gone on to become successful Frelimo members of government.

I saw some of the more beautiful things in Mozambique while seated in the back seat of a car. While being driven from place to place, I had the chance to sit back and watch men and women's daily lives pass me by. The women carried babies on their backs and groceries on their heads. Women wrapped themselves in capulanas and walked with their hips and their feet placed firmly on the ground. Step by step they swayed to their destination. It is one of the most graceful (and impressive) things ever I've seen.

I think this is my favorite picture from the trip. Some of the landscapes we passed were overwhelming vast, with only sparse foliage littered throughout. It seemed that all the trees grew differently from those that grow in Michigan. Their branches start low and grow wide, as if they choose to remain even with the earth rather than reach for the sky.