WHERE do you even start to rebuild a nation that has been traumatized by just about every conceivable crisis and human tragedy under the sun? From human slavery, foreign occupation and military coups to earthquakes, famines and epidemics, Haiti has seen it all. Convulsed by factions and political machinations, the country is notorious for violence and corruption against the backdrop of weak institutions, poor infrastructure and an ignoble reputation as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Now it appears a political crisis is brewing following a decision by the electoral council to postpone a runoff presidential election, raising fears that Haiti could plunge into instability amid a leadership vacuum.
More than four years after the election of Michel Martelly in 2011, Haiti is as politically polarized as ever. Having taken just about the same amount of time to organize legislative elections, a presidential and legislative runoff vote scheduled for Jan. 24 had to be cancelled for the second time by the electoral council, amid violent protests and allegations of electoral fraud.
The chronic mismanagement and poor governance as well as the open contempt for democratic processes in Haiti have given new meaning to the term “banana republic”. Meanwhile, as if the situation wasn’t combustible enough, the outgoing president – no stranger to controversy – has been accused of denigrating women by releasing a song called “Give them the Banana” – taunting his critics and aiming sexually suggestive lyrics at his main target, an award-winning female journalist. All this probably explains why Haiti will remain a “banana republic” for a long time to come.
But seriously, it seems that the world has a special proclivity for ignoring or forgetting the plight and suffering of the Haitian people. Last year, the mass deportation of Haitians by the government of the Dominican Republic, as well as the racism and xenophobia that they have had to endure in that country – initially caused an outrage but have long-since faded into the world’s rear-view mirror. As for the holding of democratic elections almost five years ago in the midst of a humanitarian and economic disaster, many people believe it was an ill-advised move. Writing for an international newspaper then, a Haitian patriot residing in France expressed his abhorrence of the idea: “They could have found another way to govern the country than to stage an election over the earthquake ruins and dead bodies still warm from cholera infection or from lack of medical attention caused by the electoral chaos. My anger remains so strong against those who advocated elections to govern…what? I barely recognize my country as being such.“
Meanwhile, the United Nations through its Security Council has released a statement expressing deep concerns about the political paralysis in Haiti – and has underscored the urgency of seeking a quick solution to the electoral crisis. Part of the statement read: “The members of the Security Council reiterated their strong condemnation of any attempt to destabilize the electoral process, in particular by force, and urged all candidates, their supporters, political parties and other political actors to remain calm, refrain from unlawful violence or any action that can further disrupt the electoral process and political stability, resolve any electoral disputes through established legal mechanisms and to hold those responsible for such violence accountable.” But even as the U.N. has provided assistance of sorts, many Haitians do not trust the U.N. peacekeepers who have been blamed for introducing the deadly cholera epidemic in 2010, which has infected over 700,000 Haitians and killed more than 8,000.
To be sure, the national election did little to alleviate conditions in the broken country, known for electing lesser evils – and given the refusal of the Haitian Opposition Alliance to meet with the OAS Mission, the way out of the impasse is unclear. The fact that 10 people are being considered for the temporary role of caretaker leader indicates the extent of the political tribalism in the country. Hence, could Haiti be days away from a full-born leadership crisis?
In an interview with the Associated Press, Chairman of the OAS Permanent Council, Sir Ronald Sanders expressed tempered and conditional optimism that the country would lift itself out of its present predicament. “If I am to believe what people have said to us about their determination to save their country and to take it forward, then I believe there’s hope that they will reach a solution,” he said. Ambassador Sanders has also made it clear that “this fact-finding mission is not in Haiti to interfere, meddle or mediate in Haitian affairs.”
Of course, I reacted with Pavlovian instincts to Ambassador Sander’s remarks, thinking that Haiti definitely needs a great deal of support and guidance (if not interference) from especially CARICOM, which appears to be on the periphery of the discussions, seemingly satisfied to leave the influential role of mediation to the so-called Core Group – USA, Canada, Brazil, France and Spain. By the way, I couldn’t help noticing that very little about the Haitian political crisis has been reported in the local press. Does that mean that we couldn’t care less about how things unfold in Haiti?
There is no doubt that the task of rebuilding Haiti is enormous, as it is still reeling from the devastating earthquake which hit it in January 2010, killing more than 200,000 people. The fact that the country has only received $4 billion from the $12 billion pledged by the international community goes to show the extent to which Haiti has been ignored and treated like a failed state – earning it the unflattering title of “Republic of NGOs”. Yet, the overwhelming presence of NGOs has not necessarily helped the country progress. In fact, the administration of outgoing President Martelly has consistently complained that most countries have channelled their foreign aid through NGOs (perhaps rightly so given the level of corruption in the country) rather than the Haitian Government.
At any rate, Haiti is at a crossroads and will require sustainable and inclusive leadership moving forward. Even so, have we truly misunderstood Haiti as David Rudder has lamented in song or are the Haitians themselves responsible for their own plight? One thing is certain: Haiti’s problems cannot be addressed without greater international co-operation and trust. Above all, Haitians need to start taking personal and collective responsibility for their own development and progress. Although CARICOM has its own demons to deal with, it could still be leading the effort in helping Haiti contain or avert a potentially long-term crisis. Even as I sometimes doubt the capacity of CARICOM to implement and execute, I, like David Rudder – the Bob Marley of calypso – believe “one day we’ll turn our heads and look inside you.” I still believe with more committed political and technical assistance from CARICOM and the wider international community, Haiti will eventually turn the corner.
For comments, write to ClementSoulage@hotmail.de – Clement Wulf-Soulage is a Management Economist, Published Author and Former University Lecturer.