SAR, Vol 10, No 2, December 1994
EDITORIAL: TWO CHEERS FOR DEMOCRACY
Democracy is a "good idea," not least in southern Africa. There have been too many right-wing authoritarian regimes there, certainly. And few will mourn this year's passing - via the electoral route - of South Africa's apartheid regime and that of Hastings Kamuzu Banda in Malawi.
But authoritarianism has been a problem not only on the right of the political spectrum in southern Africa. The fact that left-wing regimes within the region have tended to lose their momentum can also be explained, at least in part, by their undemocratic nature: their refusal to allow the people, in whose name they have claimed to speak, any real control over the levers of state power in their societies. Certainly this was true of Mozambique's experience of socialism - however much outcomes in that country were also determined by the brutality of South Africa's strategy of destabilization.
In consequence, it's appropriate to hail the coming of electoral democracy to Mozambique, the detailed, first-hand coverage of whose recent election forms the main focus of the present issue of SAR. And yet it is difficult to shake the conclusion that, at most, only two cheers are in order for this most recent manifestation of democracy in southern Africa. Why is this so? The question is an important one since misgivings about the precise weight and import to be attached to such multi-party elections have implications for our thinking about the region that reach well beyond the specific case of Mozambique.
Begin with the fact that the alternatives offered to Mozambican voters were not especially attractive ones: a once-proud Frelimo now rendered crippled and corrupt versus a once-barbarous Renamo, still all too slow to cast off the trappings of its grim origins as South Africa's agent of destruction. Small wonder that many weary voters in Mozambique found themselves, in John Saul's phrase, "voting as much for peace as for party," fastening on the electoral process itself as representing one last opportunity to replace the cruelties of war with a more benign brand of political competition.
Peace: another good thing, no doubt about it. The question remains, however: just how empowering of ordinary people an election carried out under such circumstances can actually be - especially when we also note how little divided the two front-running parties in the Mozambican election are programmatically. This, too, is no accident. As Saul further argues in his lead article in these pages, "the scope for national decision-making is, at least for the moment, defined particularly narrowly in a recolonized country like Mozambique. Economic decision-making rests largely in the hands of the World Bank, the IMF, various aid agencies and a particularly aggressive band of pirate multinationals, and the state itself has been eviscerated." To repeat: what meaning can "democracy" actually have when, in the course of electoral competition, Mozambicans are in no way encouraged to debate the real circumstances in which their country finds itself?
In fact, what is missing, in Mozambique as in many other places, is (in the words of Perry Anderson) "any conception of the state as a structure of self-expression deeper than the electoral systems of today. Democracy is indeed now more widespread than ever before. But it is also thinner - as if the more universally available it becomes, the less active meaning it retains." Such, perhaps, is the most obvious political fall- out from the now seemingly ineluctable process of "globalization," and from the passivity towards the workings of the international market-place that the currently prevailing ideology of neo-liberalism encourages on the part of Third World states and peoples.
Yet the developmental promise of neo-liberalism for the countries of southern Africa is by no means obvious. And if development should not occur via this route, the implications could, once again, be dire. It has been argued before in these pages that regimes which pursue economic liberalization may ultimately be drawn back towards authoritarianism, precisely to suppress the resistance of those large numbers of citizens who are likely to be hurt by "structural adjustment" and other related programmes (see, for example, Marcia Burdette, "Democracy vs. Economic Liberalization: The Zambian Dilemma," SAR , 8, #1).
But there are other dangers as well. Wiseman Chirwa, for one, hints at these dangers in his trenchant analysis of Malawi which is also published in the current issue. Thus, in the absence of a (class-based) politics of social and economic purpose for Malawi, he fears the country could simply unravel along regional and ethnic lines, an outcome foreshadowed, he senses, in the extreme disunity that an otherwise democratic electoral process has helped draw ever closer to the surface in his country. (Other observers, even less sanguinely, have seen the seeds of a Rwanda-style outcome for Malawi in the pattern of politics that is emerging!)
In Mozambique the fact that Renamo did so well by basing much of its campaign on various sectional appeals also suggests the potential for a similar unravelling of politics there. Perhaps this is, in part, why various international observers have put so much stock in Mozambique's President Chissano ushering Renamo into some kind of power-sharing arrangement, a possible outcome that, we are told, may be in the process of being negotiated even as we put this issue of SAR to bed. On the other hand, there is nothing in Renamo's previous record to suggest that its inclusion in a new government will help Frelimo to recover its old sense of purpose or its old scepticism about benefits to be derived from subordination to international capitalism. Quite the contrary.
* * *
Not that peace is guaranteed, by any means, in Mozambique. The ghost of Angola hangs over the country even if, for various reasons, the comparison is not altogether appropriate. We must hope that the election will at least have delivered such a peace. If so, perhaps this will begin to provide the space within which Mozambicans can hope to rebuild their lives, as well as to lay an even more effective basis for their long term political empowerment - from the ground up and through "the institutions of civil society" (as Mozambique's Graça Machel phrases the point elsewhere in this issue).
Of course, we must hope for a similar outcome in Angola itself, where prospects for peace, as Alex Vines reminds us below, continue to hang on a very thin thread indeed - in spite of the recent signing of various peace accords between Unita and the MPLA government in that country. The development of the situation in Angola, where, as we know all too well, the holding of "free and fair" elections several years ago made little immediate difference to political outcomes, is something we will continue to monitor in these pages. Just as we will continue to monitor (as we are invited to do by South African grass-roots activist, Mzwanele Mayekiso, in another instructive article presented below) the degree of empowerment that this year's democratization of South Africa has actually brought to ordinary citizens there.
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Southern Africa Report
Contents - Vol 10, No 2
"Mozambique: The 'Peace Election'"
Editorial: Two Cheers for Democracy - 1
Mozambique: The "Peace Election" - 3
by John S Saul
The View from Manica - 7
by Lois Browne
Nampula Diary - 10
by Stephen Allen
Angonia: Why Renamo - 13
by Olaf Tataryn Juergensen
Elections in Malawi: The Perils of Regionalism - 17
by Wiseman Chijere Chirwa
Royal Watching in Buthelezi Country - 21
by Gerhard Maré
The Killing Machine - 25
by Alex Vines
The New Terms of Solidarity: A South African View - 28
by Mzwanele Mayekiso
Review: In Darkest Hollywood - 32
review by David Pottie
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