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The Haiti Question



Haiti: Put a Stop to Blaming the Victim

Haitians dig for brackish water to use for washing

(AP Photo/ Daniel Morel)

I empathize with the situation in Haiti. The loss of an estimated 200,000 people to an earthquake is one of the cruelest act nature can ever give to humanity. It is most cruel when one considers the fact that the availability of well planned infrastructure and effective governance system would have reduced the loss and damage. It is depressing to observe the international press blaming Haitians instead of probing the genesis of disorder in this Caribbean country.   

Haiti is the least developed country in the western hemisphere. An estimated 80% of its population lives below the poverty line. The country offers a classical example of how elites in developed economies conspire with elites in poor countries to disenfranchise the citizenry. It is on record that a North Atlantic Alliance that featured the French, the English, the Americans and the Dutch initially refused to recognize the independence of black Haiti in 1804. This alliance against Haiti’s independence manipulated both politics and economics, literally suffocating the newborn Haiti from interacting with the rest of the world. To gain acceptance in the global family, Haiti had to literally bribe France with an estimated $ 21 billion (then 150 million Francs). The bribe passed as debt to France.   

“Why are Haitians unable to come out of poverty?" an international journalist asked me, expecting my response to focus only on the negative effects of aid and the World Bank machination at the behest of the North Atlantic Alliance.  

Haitian elites working in collaboration with developed country elites financed by donor communities stole Haitian people's abilities to take charge of their destiny. Haitians are unable to exit poverty because their country's attempt to fit into a skewed global market system ignores the fundamentals - the people of Haiti. They, and as we here in Africa, have remained spectators in the global system.  

Our political, school and economic systems among others have not given us an opportunity to evolve a system unique to our situation. When buildings come crushing on the poor who migrated from their villages in search for false hope in the city - the press blames them. When fire guts settlements in Kibera slums, the elite are heard asking:  

“Why do they stay in such deplorable buildings anyway?"  

The Haiti debacle should serve as a wake up call for underdeveloped nations to probe existing systems even as they rush to take a seat on the bus of development. Let the spirit of  over 200,000 Haitians who passed away due to the bad governance seed planted in 1804 re-energize the quest to have Haitians take charge of their destiny.   

I applaud the gesture extended by the Senegalese president, Abdoulaye Wade that has offered land to Haitians. I also applaud all other African nations and especially Jacob Zuma of South Africa that have committed to support Haiti at its greatest hour of need.   

Haiti does not need aid to develop. Haiti offers a clear example of the purpose of aid, it is not to help people develop; it benefits donor's interests! It is important to distinguish between the typical World Bank aid of underdevelopment and emergency assistance in times of catastrophe. Putting people first in any given country offers a clear benchmark to determine the abuse behind development aid and even emergency assistance.   

It is time the elites in poor nations sought to evaluate the bigger picture and their country's core interests. You and I have the responsibility to take charge of our destiny.   

James Shikwati james@irenkenya.org is Director, Inter Region Economic Network.