Saturday, February 27, 2016

The World is Watching: Trumping as a Political Underdog

As we come into Super Tuesday, politics and the future of our country is probably on everyone's mind. While I don't think of myself as a political person, I've been following the debates from afar, attempting to stay up to date with the tumultuous scene. I'm not writing to bore you with my political views, but to share my own experience with the campaigns as an American abroad. 

While Adourekoman lies hidden down a red dirt road, deep in the heart of the Collines, we are not isolated from the rest of the world. As some of you may know, Benin's Presidential elections are quickly approaching. With only a week left until people go to the polls, our village has been inundated with flyers, campaigners, and candidate stickers. Houses appear to have been TP-ed overnight with campaign posters advertising one of the 36 candidates running in this years election.  In exchange for a free T-shirt, our quaint little village has become littered with paper (that will ironically make its way to a latrine) and people are donating their walls to the canvassing cause.

Feeling exhausted by politics? You're not alone!
In the big towns, candidates have set up large headquarters, holding rallies and serving as rest points along their campaign trail. On any given day you'll run into a caravan of supporters, parading behind trucks equipped with sound systems, blasting praise for their candidate. Its an exciting time and there's an energy surrounding this election. People are ready for change.

One of the front runners in this election is believed to be the face for such change in Benin. Born of a French mother and Beninese father, Zinsou has spent a significant part of his life outside of Benin. And yet, despite being removed from the region, the people, and the culture, most people in my village believe he's the man for the job.

When discussing the upcoming elections with a group of village elders, one man piped in to add that Donald Trump was like Lionel Zinsou. While lacking in political experience, the two men have seized, and are capitalizing on, their outsiderness to stir up the political scene. Not wanting to voice an opinion on either candidate, I listened as this man continued to tell his neighbors about what a wonderful president Donald Trump could be for the world.

As we sat around the table waiting for the cotton producers weekly meeting to start, this man shared that Donald Trump was quoted saying that "Africans are lazy." Instead of being disgusted, everyone around the table agreed; Africans are their own worse enemies to progress and development. I sat there in shock. Is this the leader who should be representing American ideals and values? Could he be the face of our nation for the rest of the world? (And, perhaps more importantly, do the people here think they are helpless, hopeless and too lazy to achieve the progress they dream of? And, do they associate his statement as a promise for aid in the future?)

Sometimes (usually) politics turns into a game of he said, she said.  It can (will) turn nasty, violent and (almost) always personal.  But ultimately, whoever we choose to represent our country must do just that. Money speaks mountains, but can it really create sustainable change? Are we more focused on the strategy of the game than on the outcome? America, the world is watching.  Even Adourekoman has its eyes on you!

It will be interesting to see how the elections proceed here and how the campaigns unravel at home. I hope that when it comes time to vote, people choose the person who will do the best job, and not the one handing out the free tchotchkes.

Campaign signs are a daily reminder of the upcoming presidential election, and the power of the pribt media.  
So, remember that while you may be feeling discouraged, exhausted or like your environment is being polluted by political fodder, you play a key part in this game. Get out there and vote--- if I can do it from Benin, you can too!

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