hope and change in 2008 politics

peace without sickness, failure without denial, and democracy without restriction

Hope and change have gained a great footing in not only the 2008 Presidential elections in the US, but also in the communities of Northern Uganda. Peace talk negotiations and a cease-fire in fighting have allowed children to return home, families to rebuild, and communities to begin creating lives without fear from conflict. The conflict in Northern Uganda is often tagged as a “civil war,” but largely centers on a rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). (Read more here) Thousands displaced, abducted, lost – hundreds killed. The peace talks have been going well and two weeks ago (April 10th) Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA, was supposed to come out of hiding to sign the peace agreement. He did not show up and his spokesperson claimed he had been sick. Sick or afraid? Kony and his top officials are now on the top of the International Criminal Court’s arrest list. It seems he may have been sick with fear of being held accountable for his long-running violent resistance.

The election count in Zimbabwe has been delayed. After many have called for the results to be released from the election, electoral officials have decided to recount 23 out of the 210 seats. This will take 3 more days. There is fear that the recount will include vote-rigging, something that would not be new in Zimbabwean elections under Mugabe. It is well known that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party has gained the majority over Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party. There are fears that the recount could reverse that majority. Hope for change in Zimbabwe is stalled yet again and there is no guess as to when election results will actually be released. Now hundreds of opposition supporters, fleeing “state-sponsored” violence, have been detained. Most will be charged with inciting election violence as the scapegoats for Mugabe’s government response to political opposition.

Opposition candidates have been arrested, people stayed away from the polls, rising cost of food and decline in wages have lead to a popular discontent with the Egyptian government. People are more concerned with getting bread on the table than on turning out in the polls. The main opposition party in Egypt has been officially banned and their candidates have been arrested and detained so that they cannot campaign. The hope for change has been squashed by the current government, but not without at least some opposition. The Muslim Brotherhood, with its candidates banned, boycotted the elections and clashed with police. There is fear in the government that they will lose more support to the “pro-Islamist independents” who seem to have the backing of the people. The US is not the only country where the rise in power of Islamic groups has produced an unfounded fear and caused actions that are far from democratic.

Kenyan politicians have reached a deal to allow a coalition government. Mwai Kibaki will remain President and his opponent, Raila Odinga, will serve as Prime Minister. It is not clear how the people will react to this evolution. The next major task of the coalition government is to work on relocating the hundreds of thousands of displaced peoples as a result of their “election” or move to power. Nearly 140,000 people are living in tents and depend on food handouts to live. Adding difficulty, there is disagreement in the parliament as to what actions should be taken first: returning the displaced or preaching co-existence and reconciliation. The historical rifts in Kenyan politics will need to be handled as soon as possible if Kenya is to move forward with the stability of the past.

In all four cases there is an extensive past to learn in order to fully understand the current situations. Each case represents a direct outcome of former colonial systems perpetuated (especially their failures), oppressed populations, and a push for democracy that seems to be historically flawed in its practice and exportation. Hope and change may just become buzz words for the 2008 election year, but they also have the great potential to live up to the aspirations of many looking for a new way of handling governments and societies.

democractic movements as terrorism

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is the Zimbabwean political party focused on promoting democracy in a country where it has become very dangerous to associate with politics. Formed as an opposition party to the Zimbabwean African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), which is led by current President Robert Mugabe, the MDC brings together a number of civil society groups. The MDC is now labeled as a terrorist organization by Mugabe’s government, political activists are regularly beaten and arrested, and known members of the MDC disappear. The MDC front webpage tells of three recent deaths of people closely affiliated with the MDC. The site notes that this is becoming an all too common.

In a 2000 parlimentary election MDC candidates won overwhelming majorities, but there were calls of unfair elections and the issue remains caught up in Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court. The South African Development Community (SADC) and the South African Ministerial Observer team both maintain their positions that the election was free and fair. MDC members say there was harassment and force used by the ZANU-PF government at the polls. In 2004 the MDC split over the decision to take part in the 2005 parlimentary elections because of the “illegitimate outcome” of the last election. The MDC voted to take part in the elections (33-31), but Morgan Tsvangirai voted the decision down saying it was a waste of time. The MDC then split into Tsvangirai’s decision supporters and pro-senate members, led by the former MDC deputy. Some say that the split was ethnic based.

There are two main ethnic groups in Zimbabwe, the Shona (75%) and Ndebele (19%). Ndebele was an ethnic category that grew out of the military state created by the British in 1830. The ethnic term of Ndebele encompassed people of many different origins and in fact Shona people lived in this conquered area, but were placed under the Ndebele label. However, the ethnic identifications of and between these two groups were very low and there was no historical enmity between them. In 1896-7 these ethnic groups actually joined in the Ndebele-Shona Chimurenga resistance to the British. Guerilla forces grew and became political parties, but neither was purely ethnic based and recruited across the board. Needless to say the ‘ethnic conflict’ in Zimbabwe was the least serious of all African ethnic conflicts. The greatest conflict was between Black and White in Zimbabwe. There have been recent talks to reunite the split political parties.

This is the real historical problem that has led to Zimbabwe’s current problems. The problem in Zimbabwe can be summed up to a battle between Pan-Africanism and Neo-colonialism. Mugabe has called for White people to leave and so it makes the situation difficult when British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has said that he is working closely with the MDC to create a regime change. Well there may be a high degree of internal pressure, the external powers cannot be dismissed. In order for the Western powers to achieve the goal of regime change they will use their secret services, CIA, network os military bases, and economic tactics. There is this other side of the argument that says maybe the MDC is not promoting democracy at all and is really a facade for Westerners to experiment in African politics yet again (Zaire’s Lumumba?).

Back to democracy, regardless of conspiracies the basics for democarcy do not exist in Zimbabwe. Recently six MDC members were arrested under the “Law and Order Act” for holding illegal political meetings. The 2008 Presidential election is close and the MDC and ZANU-PF are in negotiations. Tsvangirai has said that the MDC wants to participate, but they want to ensure that it is a free and fair election. The MDC wants to participate to create democratic change and not to give legitimacy to a system favoring one side. The MDC is demanding that there be international control of the elections and that millions of Zimbabweans abroad be allowed to vote, a new voters’ roll and the appointment of an independent Zimbabwe Election Commission to supervise the polls. South African president, Thabo Mbeki has been chosen by the SADC to mediate the negotiations between the two political parties. There is worry that Mugabe will not comply with demands.

Zimbabwe Timeline from: 1200-2007