Friday, December 9, 2011

What Just Happened?

Despite his continuing personal popularity, Obama is likely to lose the next election if the unemployment rate doesn't start dropping soon--or so our political scientists tell us.

Yet in Congo, voters just reelected the president of a country that is now ranked at the very bottom--187th out of 187 nations--in the United Nations Development Report. A country where corruption is reaching levels last seen under Mobutu, with ministers auctioning off the nation’s mineral wealth for suitcases of cash. Where the army seems incapable of reining in the rag-tag assortment of militia besetting the eastern provinces—although it did fire on a group of unarmed demonstrators in the capital last week, killing five. A country that is known internationally as the rape capital of the world.

And not only did voters chose him, they chose him resoundingly, by 49 percent to 32 percent for the main opposition figure. Even allowing for a certain amount of fraud, that is an impressive win. Furthermore, a greater percentage of registered voters actually voted in the election--often at considerable inconvenience--than vote in the richest and most stable democracy in the world. What's going on?

I have to admit that I don't really understand what voting means for many Africans. What expectations do they have for government, what sort of "social contract" do they imagine obtains between themselves and their leaders, how do they adjudicate competing claims for their allegiance? Who decides who to vote for, and on what basis? What family dynamics are at play, whose authority is decisive, what sources of information are considered relevant?  I just don't have a good, clear, granular understanding of these dynamics at all. Any reading suggestions?

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