FOCUS – How does the world see us?

by Ted Horwood, Captain – 

Three years ago, I was invited to participate as an “international observer” to Malawi’s presidential election. Malawi was having only its second democratic election, and to say that the incumbent president was very keen to be re-elected would be an understatement.

The phrase “free and fair” was promoted, and the international community was on hand to monitor the process. Radio and newsprint are the primary public methods of communication in the non-Western countries. During the campaigning, however, we traveled into the villages and realized that most of the population was illiterate, there was no electricity, and the meager income realized by subsistence farmers could not be committed to batteries.

So how does one participate in the democratic process? With great difficulty and with limited effectiveness. People stood in the polling booths for hours. Reports of intimidation and lost registers in opposition-controlled regions were rampant. Although the international observers noted some anomalies, the elections were validated and the president was re-elected. He then set out to change the constitution that would allow him to run for a third-term. This ultimately failed, but fueled the criticisms that Third-World countries promote “Cleptocracies” rather than democracies.

Therefore, it was with rapt attention that I watched news reports unfold of the presidential primaries. My interest in the primaries was not just to focus on the messages, nor the major players. Rather, I was reminded once again of an electoral process that is fundamental to our sovereignty. Yet I was also reminded that we have a tendency to assume that our democratic process is normal and predictable, and should be a model to other not-so-developed nations.

Having lived overseas for almost ten years, I’m sensitive to how Americans are perceived. So, my interest in the primaries focused on how the rest of the world perceives our democratic process, and what message we project to the world. After all, is there not a prevailing assumption that indicators of a civilized society are that country’s level of democracy, and democracy’s implications on human rights? To a typical American, that would be true. So, to a non-Western born individual, the perception is, “be like us, and you will be right.” Perceptions can be difficult to live with.

For better or for worse, Americans have a large impact on the world. One banker in Malawi said, “if America sneezes, Europe gets a cold, and Africa comes down with TB.” We as Salvationists are also having an impact on our communities; our expressions, lifestyles, values and character are being watched. So, if we don’t appreciate the view people have of us as an organization, a part of the Body of Christ, or as Americans, possibly it is time for us to evaluate our motives, actions and words.

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