Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Night in Maputo

Living in Southern Africa, I often feel like I have a front row seat to the theatre of global politics. 

Brazilians dominate Mozambique's booming coal industry and the Chinese have a monopoly on infrastructure development around the city. But the battle for cultural influence is where the real fight is found. 

The handful of cultural centers in Maputo, sponsored by various embassies, hold events throughout the year attempting to sell their culture onto unsuspecting (or, at times, actively participating) Mozambicans. It is soft power at its loudest. 

Last month, when I watched a Mozambican children's choir singing the Chinese National Anthem in fluent Mandarin, I thought I had seen it all.

Not so. Tonight, the US Embassy in Maputo hosted an American Electoral Night. Don't let the fancy name fool you, the event was a full out party. Three-hundred people packed under a parachute tent in Maputo's fanciest park to taste a little slice of classic american electoral insanity. 

They were not disappointed. Mozambicans wearing patriotic American hats ate cheeseburgers smeared in Ketchup and slurped their Coca-Colas (official sponsor) while CNN election coverage and live a Twitter feed broadcast from four Plasma TVs.  

But the highlight of the night was a mock debate, in which Mozambican students channeled their inner Obama, Biden and Romney and Ryan, and bickered over gay marriage, abortion, unemployment and the Syrian conflict. 

The Mozambican candidates were judged on their knowledge of the American political system, adherence to the Republican/Democratic platforms and, of course, rhetorical style. 

They all did fairly well, save a nervous "Joey Beeden," who claimed Obama was pro-choice because there were too many poor street children roaming US cities. 

Throughout the room there were pamphlets explaining "How Democracies Transfer Power", "Decrees of Democracy" and " The Basics of American Politics". 

At the end of the night, all Mozambicans cast their fake ballots and, unsurprisingly, elected Obama, who gained 228 votes compared to Romney's 24.

A Mozambican friend who accompanied me to the party said it best, "The Chinese could never pull off a party with this many hats." 

At the end of the day, by allowing Mozambicans to vote, debate and learn about the US election, the State department was doing what it does best, projecting the idea that anyone can be an American. This direct cultural identification goes a long way, not only in clearing the path for US-Mozambican relations, but also in dissolving accusations of cultural imperialism. 

Events like these give people who are extremely impacted by, but have very little control over the US elections, the illusion that they too have a say. 

And that skill will take the Chinese, Indians and Brazilians a very long time to master.

1 comment:

  1. Impressive. I never would have imagined any of this taking place. But then again, it makes sense for the major powers to struggle for influence directly with the people of these countries. Great observations on your part!