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    Mitt Romney

November 17, 2012

America’s Elections – Peace Lessons for Africa

During the presidential campaign between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, I was glued to my TV screen everyday and most nights. I sacrificed hard earned US Dollars to DSTV in subscriptions just for the election, and I am happy to tell you I wasn’t at all disappointed. Yes, there were some complaints about how archaic or obsolete the American electoral system is, compared to others in Europe and South America, but my African experiences told me otherwise and, besides,  the excitement, cheer and merry were second to none. To me, that is how election time should feel.

US presidential candidates 2012First, the campaign itself went on smoothly, even as the catastrophe of Hurricane Sandy inserted itself into the lives of millions of Americans. The candidates were free to travel anywhere and campaign. There weren’t any No Go Areas, whether those were a particular candidate’s stronghold or the electorate had felt let down by the incumbent and did not want him anymore. Even as he saw Mitt Romney close the gap and threaten to overtake him in polls, Obama did not incarcerate his competitor. He did not manufacture some lie and order Romney’s prosecution. At one point, the two candidates took a break from the campaigns and shared dinner and jokes. Can you imagine that happening here in Africa, even in Ghana or South Africa?

Secondly, there was equal coverage of both candidates on TV and other media. I watched intently as BBC and CNN screened the biographies of the two presidential candidates. There was no ‘Obama TV’ or ‘Romney TV’ even though I am sure the two could afford it.  It was a joy to see some whites supporting Obama, and blacks supporting Romney. My eyes nearly filled with tears at that reality. The whites did not go hunting down fellow whites who supported Obama and kill them, nor did the blacks do the same to fellow blacks who supported Romney. No blood was spilled, as we often experience on our continent.

Third, the candidates had the opportunity to articulate main issues in open debates, and often side by side. I liked what one commentator said—that people in some countries are dying and killing just for the chance to argue and debate. Indeed, that is what most of us in Africa want. We realize full well that we cannot all be president or prime minister or even cabinet minister or high ranking government officials. All we want is the chance to take part in determining our day to day lives, and our future, even at the lowest levels.

I am not sure whether Hurricane Sandy had a role in the final result or not.  However, what I am sure of is that had a similar natural catastrophe happened here in Africa in the middle of an election, heads would have rolled. The hurricane would have been manipulated to suit different ends by the candidates.

Though I could detect an inclination towards Romney or Obama by some TV hosts and news anchors, I saw nothing like we would have had here. We would have expected the anchor to run away with the TV altogether. By the way, usually there is one TV Station, erroneously called National TV.

celebrating electionFourth, it was reported that Obama edged Romney with the votes of minorities and women. The minorities included blacks and Hispanics, among others.  Here is a clear case of a good policy paying off. Besides contributing immensely to the economic and social life of America, the minorities had the decisive vote. In most African countries, minorities are classified as aliens and have no voting rights. They are mostly employed in menial jobs on farms and in mines. In Zimbabwe, it was this subjugation of generations upon generations of migrant workers (some of whom had come to the country in the 1940s) that led them to vote for the MDC.  The ruling party reacted by taking over the farms in a bid to deprive them of their livelihood as punishment. And this led to a national food crisis and everything else that followed.

Another thing to consider is that Obama won in spite of the high unemployment figures and the economy being in bad shape. To be honest, at one point I gave him little chance and thought his country would ditch him. However, in Africa leaders are presiding over worse scenarios. My own country, Zimbabwe, for instance has more than 80 percent unemployment, and we threw away our worthless currency two years ago, adopting the US Dollar and South African Rand instead. American voters realized that while the economy matters, at least it was on the mend. Not many Zimbabweans carry that hope, yet the leaders hang in there and the people trudge on behind them.

romney-concession-speechThe icing on the entire electoral cake for me was not Obama’s speech, but Romney’s. He publicly conceded defeat and congratulated Obama. This happened on the day of results, in a matter of hours. Despite the huge personal and supporter resources expended in money, time and energy, Romney did not feel humiliated and did not incite his supporters to dispute the results, or wait until people had killed each other over those results. He did not form an army to fight Obama and his own people.  He was the first to accept Obama as his president, and wished both his family and him luck and goodwill. I really felt for Romney after that speech, and if that kind of gentlemanly attitude runs in the family. I bet my bottom dollar that one day the world will see a Romney become President of the United States.  Now, is it any wonder then that president Obama promised to sit down with him and see how they could work together for the American people? This is what we need for Africa.

November 4, 2012

High Stake in the American Election

H2012 presidential election old on to your hats!  November is here. As we round the corner to what has increasingly deteriorated into a vitriolic and polarizing campaign cycle, it behooves us to step back and consider what exactly is at stake when Americans go to the polls this Tuesday, November 6th.

The US presidential election cannot be squarely pegged as a referendum on the performance of President Barack Obama’s administration over the last four years. Granted there is a deep rift between many policies endorsed by President Obama and Governor Romney, policy differences are just the icing on the cake of what is at stake in this year’s American election.

More profoundly, this election is about two candidates with fundamentally different philosophies about the role of the state, individual rights, and the global commons. The ideological incongruence of President Obama and Governor Romney, in turn, makes this election a zero-sum game where the stakes are particularly high for the losing party.

One fundamental issue on which the candidates are diametrically opposed is the appropriate function of the state.  Consider the contrasting interpretations of public versus private goods espoused by each presidential candidate.   Healthcare, education, and social security are generally considered public goods that the state is responsible for overseeing. Yet, President Obama and Governor Romney have vastly different views on the degree to which states should be responsible for providing these goods. President Obama passed a universal healthcare plan; supports increased federal funding for Pell grants, making education more affordable; and staunchly opposes social security privatization. At odds with President Obama is Governor Romney who vows to repeal Obamacare, advises entrepreneurial students to borrow money from their parents to kick start businesses, and chose as his running mate Paul Ryan, the architect of the most comprehensive plan to date to privatize social security.

Within the social sphere, the election has prompted debate over what constitutes pliable versus fixed social norms. Should rape, for instance, be viewed as an inevitable part of life? Should we, like Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, resign ourselves to the idea that rape is an act of God? Perhaps a reflection of the near historic gender gap in this election (according to statistical guru Nate Silver, President Obama holds a 9 point lead among women), social conservatives have also made this election about women’s rights. More to the point, they have made this election about restricting women’s rights, most notably by revamping efforts to challenge Roe v. Wade.

We should not lose sight of the fact that the consequences of this election will spill over beyond US borders. As a US student studying in the UK, this is all the more clear in the attention the US election receives in the news media and the interest in American politics by British people in general. There seems to be a common understanding that US elections matter, particularly since the US rose to become the world’s most dominant global actor after the Cold War.

Collective problems that transcend borders, such as global warming or terrorist cells, require international resolve and cooperation. While President Obama and Governor Romney have prioritized US interests in foreign affairs, both candidates differ substantially in their approach to global governance and, more fundamentally, on the sorts of issues they deem relevant. For instance, President Obama has been adamant about the need to restrict certain human activities that cause global climate change, while Governor Romney denies that global climate change exists, let alone that it is caused by human activities.

presidential election candidates 2012In sum, this November 6th is not merely a referendum on policy decisions made in the last four years. Rather, this election is about choosing between two largely incompatible philosophies that will have broad implications for the role of the state, individual rights, and our global commons. The stakes are high no matter how you flip the coin.