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Commentary: The three most important issues facing the Republic of Haiti
Published on April 13, 2013 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Jean H Charles

The Republic of Haiti has set itself to become an emerging nation by 2030. This will not happen by that time unless it takes steps now to deal with these three most important issues.

1. The complete degradation of its ecology;

2. The intergenerational and endemic misery of the majority of its population; and

3. The lack of sense of civism and the sense of appurtenance linking one citizen to another in a shared heritage.

Jean Hervé Charles LLB, MSW, JD, former Vice-Dean of Students at City College of the City University of New York, is now responsible for policy and public relations for the political platform in power in Haiti, Répons Peyisan. He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol
Starting with the latest issue, the lack of the sense of civism and appurtenance, it is the gangrene that is ravaging the world today. The United States has just spent more than a trillion dollars to pacify and reconstruct Iraq after Saddam Hussein in the last ten years, but because not enough policy thinking and funding was earmarked for the issue of nation building, meaning injecting the sense of civism and appurtenance within the different sectors of the Iraqi population, the Shiite and the Sunnis, the situation is almost as explosive as ante.

The successful nations of this world have no other magic formula. Before implementing any institution or infrastructure building they have given themselves the task of infusing the sense of civism amongst the different ethnic or geographic groups of their nation. Failure to do so, each citizen will try to take its own brick from the national edifice preventing any incremental unified construction. I am afraid it is the story of Brazil in spite of the buzz that Brazil is now an emerging nation.

Haiti, in spite of its original role of pioneering nation-state, has enjoyed very few years of nation building experience. Its founder Jean Jacques Dessalines was assassinated two years after independence, as he was enforcing the doctrine that the state patrimony must be shared by all. Henry Christophe tried the same formula as King Henry in the northern part of the country, but fifteen years later, the whole edifice crumbled as the laissez faire doctrine of Alexander Pétion took hold nationally and survived until today.

The different economic and social initiatives have all failed because they are not cooked with the oil of the sense of appurtenance. The benefits of social engineering have remained, as the Haitians have baptized with their natural wit, á l’oral, meaning without the expected outcome. The doctrine of the sense of appurtenance according to the Renan dictum, the bible of the concept of nation building, is the first ingredient to institute a nation state for any government that has the ambition to do so.

It is the belief and the practice that all the citizens, whatever the confines of their geographic location or the shade of their color or the status of their parents, will receive the same appropriate services of sane institutions and adequate infrastructure. The child of the city as well as the child of the countryside can aspire and can achieve his greatest dream if he appropriates enough diligence and enough creativity.

This is not the story of Haiti. Cumulative governments have accepted that 90 percent of the population lives marginalized, either in the country side without schools, health care and roads and economic incubation, or live in the slums of the city with the same indifference to the basic needs of that segment of the population. Different international organizations with social intervention in Haiti have either mimicked the culture of the government or have engaged in make believe initiatives that have compounded the problem. 

To conclude this topic, the Haitian government must take steps to incorporate the education of civism in the curriculum of the grammar schools, the sense of ethics in the secondary schools and at the university. Through affirmative action, it must make sure that those who have been discriminated against for the past two centuries receive their share in the patrimony. This must be done with the consent and the assent of the elite as a natural obligation that each brother owes to his brethren.

Once this step is taken, it will be easier to attack the second issue, which is the intergenerational misery of the majority of the population. The spectacle is the same whether in the capital, in the small towns or in the countryside, hordes of men and women are idle or engage in makeshift commerce where the return is so small that it is a psychological endeavour to continue the business of staying alive. The grandmother the mother and the child all inhabit the same hut with no prospect of a better tomorrow. The grandmother, who barely knows how to read and write, the mother with only a grammar school education, and a child in an underfunded school, ill nourished and doomed to quit school before achieving the Baccalaureate (high school).

With such a large population with no formal education, it is difficult to apprehend the policy that Haiti is open for business of the government. Very few global businesses will entertain opening shop in such an environment. There will be some, but they are so inimical to good business practices that the population will regret that they were let in in the first place. The Haitian government should instead initiate a policy of Haiti seeking for business. Using the natural and creative talents of the majority of its population, Haiti must concentrate instead on value added products, using art as an addendum to machine-made pieces.

Best Western hotel has just built its first major facility in Haiti. According to the corporate executives, Haiti has added a touch of art to each one of its rooms and each one of the walls of the Best Western Haiti is one of a kind piece of jewelry, tooled and retooled by hundred of artisans who were given a free hand to use their creative talents.

The Haitian government, to employ its masses of unemployed and underemployed people, must incubate hundred of creative centers where any modern flat screen TV can be transformed with carved mahogany frame into a picture setting. The replicate of this model of art imitating nature and nature imitating art will be extended to all home furniture including the toilet cover. This is the forte where the Haitian people are best. They will find themselves useful to themselves, useful to society and useful to the world.

The Haitian government can also use its mass of agricultural workers to produce organic and nostalgic fruits and vegetables for its Diaspora in the United States, Canada and France. The free zone should serve as a receiver for the packaging, and the dispatching of fresh produce to all corners of the world, bringing back precious foreign exchange money into the country. With a culture of export oriented nation, this intergenerational misery will come to an end and progressively the culture of wealth building will become part of the fabric of the society.

The degradation of the ecology is a component of the misery of the population. Unable to wait for the tree to grow it has taken into the habit of eating the seeds. Haiti’s vegetation was once destroyed by the rapacious colonial practice of cutting its entire forest of hardwood trees, such as mahogany, cedar and chain for the construction of palaces in Europe. But nature has been so generous to the country that the loss was replenished with a vengeance, with the help of good soil and abundant rain. The population to feed was only around 500,000 people at that time.

It is now 10 million people. Charcoal made of carbonized wood in a pit is the preferred ingredient used by the rich and the poor for cooking. It would have been sustainable if the wood was only the discarded ones. But, the peasants deprived of any other cash commodity are now indiscriminately using avocado, mangoes and all type of fruit trees for making coal for cooking.

Inundation, flood, and construction in a fragile environment have also contributed to render Haiti a land so vulnerable that any constant rain of one or two days will cause disaster of biblical consequences. It follows if Haiti plans to enjoy the status of an emerging nation by 2030 it must first hold onto the land that it already has before the whole structure goes into the sea. It will have nothing to enjoy as it seeks to become an emerging nation.

The government has declared 2013 the Year of the Environment but so far it has been as most programs introduced in Haiti, big propaganda with no result and no outcome in the end. The minister of environment has failed to engage the public in a massive conservation culture, where in each home vegetable residue is put into a pit to produce organic manure. The seeds of each eaten fruit are saved to be transformed into a seedling for planting later.

Haiti has also failed to engage into the carbon exchange mode where it will use its mountains to partner with the pension fund of say New York or California State to invest into massive plantation of mahogany, cedar and other precious wood. This investment will bring high returns to the foreign retirees, to the nation and to the Haitian citizens while facilitating the cooling of the atmosphere.

These are the steps to be undertaken to bring Haiti into the path of progress and development. They represent the groundwork upon which education, infrastructure, tourism and health can be tacked upon to deliver a true emerging nation well before the targeted date of 2030.
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