Columns, Opinion

MAHDI: Every vote counts?

In the Central African Republic, the site of a former village can sometimes be determined by an influx of mango tree clusters, with unpicked fruits on the ground. Tim Whewell described these groups of trees, the fruit ripening and falling to the ground, inhabiting a land of forgotten people with an intoxicating scent in a Saturday BBC article. The national language, Sango, has a word kpetene, which translates to “stay out of trouble.” This word often describes the temporary settlements inhabited by families eager to escape friction between neighbours.

The conflict in the Central African Republic is between Muslim herders, known as the Peul people, and the Christian majority. However, the rift is not driven solely by religious differences. Politicians who have failed in office stirred up hatred, and young men of the ‘anti-balaka’ militia now say the Peul are “their cows now.” Since these herders are being persecuted, worries of a shortage of meat now plague the area. The situation continues to worsen, but as with many internal struggles around the world, many often don’t hear about them.

The story of the fallen mangoes and human strife serves as another reminder that human massacres are still a reality to people, despite efforts by the United Nations and humanitarian organizations to prevent such widespread killings. Thoughts of these conflicts are particularly pertinent Monday, as the world remembers the Rwandan genocide that took place 20 years ago. Nevertheless, as with the Central African Republic, even horrific human events like genocide become politicised.

According to TIME, French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira has canceled a trip to Kigali where a remembrance ceremony takes place Monday. The controversy escalated after current Rwandan President Paul Kagame denounced France and Belgium for playing a role in the “political preparation for the genocide.” France was a previous ally of JuvénalHabyarimana’s government, and apparently helped train Hutu militants. France has conceded it acted wrongly, but its forces also protected civilians during the genocide. Even two decades on, the political scars of such devastation endure.

Nevertheless, in the face of such a harrowing past, years of watching countries struggle has yielded marginal progress. As information spreads, diasporas permeate distant cultures, and the voices of voters are becoming louder. Afghanistan held democratic elections for the first time on Saturday, and despite the positive connotations of a high voter turnout and lawmaker’s enthusiasm for the day that Afghanistan’s citizens can vote freely, the threat of the Taliban still persists. According to a CNN report, 20 people have been killed due to violence around the election. Yet, despite the danger, a poll indicates that 75 percent of Afghans said they wanted to participate in these elections.

While Monday marks a day of remembrance, it also marks a day of unprecedented democratic process. When we think of the word democracy, the predominant country that comes to mind is the United States. But, we often forget, that in terms of sheer numbers, India is the largest democracy in the world. As of Monday, according to a CNN infographic, there will be 15,000 candidates from 500 political parties, all campaigning for the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha (lower house) of Parliament. The total bill for campaigning is set to be $5 billion. That amount is only surpassed by the most expensive U.S. election in 2012, which had a total of $7 billion in campaign spending. And, with 814 million people eligible to participate in voting, the numbers only continue to astonish. That figure is more than the entire population of Europe. Out of this figure, 100 million will be voting for the first time, equivalent to a third of the American population. Twenty-three million of these new voters will be between the ages of 18 and 19 years old. That’s the size of Australia’s total population. The most remote polling station will have one sole voter in a remote area of Gujarat.

The scale of this operation is immense. Instead of one day to vote, there will be nine days of voting, at 930,000 polling stations, which house 1.7 million electronic voting machines, all guarded by 11 million security personnel.

Monday is a day when we mourn humanity’s failings and celebrate its democratic victories simultaneously. While the results of both the Afghan and Indian elections are yet to be determined, we simply cannot afford to forget those who’s only option is to run from the mango trees of the Central African Republic. We cannot afford to taint the lessons we continue to learn from Rwanda, and how genocide is not a relic of the past but a reality of the present. So I take comfort in that lone voter who will venture to a polling station far from the bustling cities and villages of India. Because I want to believe that I live in a world where one day many more countries can say that every single vote counts.



Sofiya Mahdi is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and a former managing editor at The Daily Free Press. She can be reached at [email protected].


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