L’union fait la Force

Unity is Power: A Haiti for Haitians by Haitians 

Haiti is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. Sound familiar? This phrase summarizes the world’s view of Haiti since the end of the Duvalier era, an end that has since been marked by a myriad of political and national transitions. Recently the International Crisis Group (ICG) published its final paper examining the current political climate in Haiti. They made a series of recommendations for a Haiti, most of which centered on ways of improving national dialogue and cooperation.

This blog will focus its attention on the recommendations made by the ICG for a national pact. It is within these recommendations that the lack of unity and conversation within Haitian politics is brought to the forefront of ICG’s analysis. The Haitian brand of politics, as defined by ICG, is characterized by the exclusion of Haitian citizens in the political dialogue.  In addition, although the ICG report acknowledges the increasing tension between opposing Haitian political parties, the focalization of this blog will be upon ICG’s recommendations for the structures needed to promote a Haitian involvement in the recommended national consensus. Analysis puts an open national dialogue, something that was missing in the previous regimes, as the solution that would allow Haiti to make strides in reconstruction and economic improvement.

Before exploring the specifics of this national consensus, as detailed by ICG, it is important to understand how Haiti has arrived at its current political challenges. This will promote an understanding for what needs to be overcome to allow for development and progress. Proposals for the involvement of Haitians in a national dialogue have to be promoted by current President Michel Martelly, and all herein future leaders of Haiti.

Haiti’s current brand of Politics

At the head of Haitian politics is current president Michel Martelly. Martelly came to power in May of 2011 with a popularly praised set of initiatives known as the 5 E’s. This is as five point plan with the following focuses:

  1. Employment
  2. État de droit (rule of law)
  3. Education
  4. Environment
  5. Energy

Despite Martelly’s initial popularity because of the 5 E’s, his presidency has been defined by confrontations with Parliament and other sectors that have blocked any sort of widespread consensus. This infighting has severely delayed the implementation of the 5 E’s, which has caused segments  of the Haitian population to lose confidence in Martelly. To make matters worse, severe drought and two disastrous tropical storms have increased food prices and decimated Haiti’s agricultural sector. All in all, it is safe to say that the socio-political climate is significantly strained.

Against this backdrop, the Crisis Group explores a series of suggestions to facilitate the national dialogue believed to be the key to progression.

The current Haitian brand of politics excludes the majority of citizens, leaving a communication gap between the greater public and the elite. Furthermore, national dialogue is inhibited by the institutional instability that followed former president Aristide’s dismantling of institutions. These difficulties are also marked by five national transitions happening simultaneously in Haiti after the end of the Duvalier dictatorship.  These include:

  1. A movement from a non-democratic culture to a democratic society, with erratic armed violence.
  2. This violent democratic society reconciling and re-instating peace, while the government suffers from ineffectual leadership.
  3. The dwindled state developing into a modern nation state that is plagued with chronic and pervasive poverty.
  4. A movement from chronic poverty to a thriving and equitable economy, interrupted by the devastating 2010 earthquake.
  5. Recovery and rebuilding from the 2010 earthquake.

Though the challenges of promoting a national dialogue have plagued Haiti for some time, there has been a recent development in the urgency towards change. There is now a genuine demand from international donors for a push past this stalemate. They are tired of the political instability. Therefore with international pressure the need for a national pact is more immediate than ever to move Haiti into the modern world. Without this national consensus, Martelly faces a failed presidency and Haiti risks international abandonment.

Defining a Haitian national pact

ICG puts a dialogue led by Haitians for Haiti as its first recommendation for Haiti. An inclusive national dialogue would in their opinion be needed to manage reconstruction and development, as well as setting mutually agreed upon long and short term goals. This involves bringing key actors into conversation on the selection of a constitutional council as well as resolving institutional credibility questions about appointments and fair elections. Members of this dialogue must be the very Haitian citizens and members of government ruling Haiti, of which has not always been the case. This national consensus requires the unity of communities, religious leaders, professionals, as well as political leaders.  This would usher an end to the public disenfranchisement felt by Haitian citizens and their government. Haiti must demonstrate a willingness to participate in an inclusive initial dialogue marked by shared priorities and a push to extract commitments from political and civil society.

A voice should be given to all, but a commitment to compromise is also key. Every member of this open dialogue should hold a personal responsibility to move beyond the bitter partisanship and historic disenfranchisement, coming together on national challenges to move Haiti forward in all sectors of society.

Furthermore a mechanism must be created that stimulates greater citizen participation in national decision-making, one that would include all members of Haitian society in a national and progressive dialogue. The business community alongside the religious, professional and political leadership must identify a trusted national institution or set up the public structure that will serve as a bridge to this national accord.

An example of a mechanism, independent of ICG’s suggestions, that could serve as a bridge to a national discussion and accord; is International Action’s new Chlorine Development System (CDS). The CDS is a self-sustaining, Haitian run program that will create a national chlorine distribution network. In doing so, different communities and neighborhood leaders will be united and have the opportunity to discuss local and national issues.  If done correctly, the CDS representative will have some influence in political discussion.

Alongside this recommendation for a national consensus and dialogue, a responsibility from foreign investors and countries is also necessary. These international parties must allow and commit to a Haitian-led national dialogue, and refrain from influencing Haitians and their government based on personal economic benefits or agendas. Similar parties have been significantly responsible for the severe impairment of the domestic rice production. Haiti was self-sufficient in its rice production and remains a country that sees roughly 70% of its population employed in agriculture, yet it has become the fifth largest importer of American rice in the world, importing over 80%. A further $234 million in estimated agricultural losses following rain and flooding in last year’s Hurricane Sandy add to the misery. The country is already strained and cannot afford negative influences from the international community.

The ICG report concludes that Haiti must come to a national consensus for reconstruction and progress. Haitians should dominate this dialogue. Conclusively, emphasis on the need for a Haitian led consensus will allow Haiti to begin to break with the political instability and struggles of its past, while securing that Haiti is pushed forwards towards a modern, democratic, and distinctly Haitian Haiti.