Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Difference in politics

It's amazing how different politics is depending on where you are. In the US, there is actual controversy over a bill. The content of laws is discussed, debated and widely known. Policy is sufficiently closely related to what actually happens that it generates fierce discussion and can win or lose elections. Politicians still try and do bizarre and clearly bad things, like sell off state utilities without requiring a bid process (h/t Alanna Shaikh). The difference is in what the people on the ground pay attention to.

In Mozambique, for example, the reality in the ground is far removed from policy. This isn't all because all African governments are corrupt. Part of it has to do with the fact that Mozambique is a pretty poor country, so the government doesn't have an awful lot of cash to play with. Where money does exist, it is very often in the form of donor funds that are either conditional, tied or carefully controlled by donor agents. One of the ways to try and bring down your opponent, now appears to be associating them with false cholera information. Or maybe the opposition is responsible for the false cholera claims. Or perhaps the ruling party is simply trying to deflect attention from their own apparent inability to stop the attacks.

In the US, no-bid sales of energy utilities is a big, immediate concern that can generate debate. In Mozambique, who is to blame for cholera-myths that lead to attacks and deaths, is far more real. I complain as much as anyone about voters in Southern African democracies refusing to elect based on policy. Perhaps it is sometimes because the policy in question is so far removed from the reality that other factors are more important.

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