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Commentary: Debunking the myths that impede Haiti's development
Published on August 23, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Jean H Charles

The Haitian case of underdevelopment has been the subject of several studies and initiatives on the national and international level that has brought little relief to the majority of the population. Haiti, albeit not a nation at war, can be compared, in fact, not in size, to Iraq or Afghanistan, in terms of international funds invested and the lack of result from same.

Jean H Charles LLB, MSW, JD is a syndicated columnist with Caribbean News Now. He can be reached at: and followed for past essays at Caribbeannewsnow/Haiti
The USAID is providing to Haiti more funds ($712 million) than the whole Caribbean nations taken together. The European Union has adopted Haiti as a special friend, providing some 321 million euros to the country. The Spanish Development Agency (72 million euros) is focus on helping Haiti provide running water to the population. The Canadian Development Agency has adopted the police department.

After the earthquake of January 12, 2010, Haiti has been visited by and assisted with some of the largest to the most obscure NGOs in the world. Bill Gates has his own formula to eradicate poverty in Haiti, focusing on health and education.

The keen observer to the Haitian countryside as well as to the many favelas of the capital and the cities will retain a picture that shocks the conscience in terms of public hygiene and lack of the most rudimentary habitats for families that endure intergenerational poverty.

Haiti has graduated its nomad population post earthquake from the temporary camps that invaded its parks and its schools, to more permanent habitats. Yet the displacement from a camp to a favela, even when it offered a rainbow colored vista, is not conducive to human development.

Why has Haiti, which had the same standing as Quebec or the Dominican Republican in the 60s, sunk so low in all the indices that reflect the prosperity of a country? The reasons lie in the low consideration attributed to the myths that impede its development.

At the beginning education was reserved solely and only for the rich.

Preoccupied with securing the physical landscape of the country freshly liberated from a world still bent on using slavery as its best manpower, Haiti neglected education as the tool for true independence. Its successive governments gave a low priority in building a critical mass of educated people. If the present government has made education a priority, it has not created a consensus on how the funds for such education should be raised and what language should be used in educating the children.

The private sector still occupies the lion share in educating the Haitian children (80%), taxing the parents to a level that is not sustainable. I was in the Dominican Republic on the first day of class this week; I could observe the business of schooling is the business of the government. All the children in their khaki pants or skirts and their blue shirts are enrolled in one nation, one school, and one curriculum.

The success stories of Haitian public school are too rare. There is the story this week in the Nouvelliste of the Lyceum of Mombin Crochu, a small locality in the northern part of Haiti, with no roads and no electricity, where all its students have succeeded with high mark in the national examination.

There is a big debate in the social media today as to whether teaching in the classroom should be in Creole or in French. Experience has proved that the children understand better in Creole, but perform better in academics if they are forced to speak and to write in French or any of the modern languages. Lesson one: Haitian development must pass through education. The business of education is the business of the government not of the private sector. Forcing the children to learn French, English or Spanish while the instruction is given in Creole for better comprehension is a means to reach perfection. The policy should be to build large and excellent schools like the story of Mombin Crochu that can accommodate some three to five thousand children each, making the option for private schooling unattractive.

If you want to become rich go into politics

One of the most venerated Haitian presidents, Dumarsais Estimé is responsible for the debacle in the Haitian economy today. Around 1947, Haiti was the biggest and the best exporter of bananas to the United States, its peasants with no landed estate patrimony could provide some of the best bananas that were sold not only in the United States but also in Europe. Slowly, the Haitian peasant was getting richer. Injecting politics into the economy, President Estimé took the points of sale from the wholesalers and awarded them to his preferred politicians. The Haiti banana exporting business stopped some six months after, not reviving until today.

This policy of mixing business with politics survived almost all the following governments. Former President Jean Bertrand Aristide has been called to justice this month, because of the alleged intermingling of state funds, personal business and politics.

Haiti has created a class of nouveau riche made of public servants. Legislators, senators and directors of services are there for their own personal benefit, not to serve the citizens. Lesson two: public service must become an institution that serves, not acting as a predator on the public.

If you want privilege and nice living, create your own non-profit or work for one.

Haiti has proved that the non-profit organizations without a strong national planning ministry to direct their services where they are most needed are an impediment to development. How you would explain that some 800 non-profit organizations are established or allowed to perform in the country while there is so much need in all areas, whether it be health, education, infrastructure, or economic stimulation? The truth is the organizations are there for themselves with very little interest in game change.

The main institutions like the USAID are interested in funding myriad organizations, diluting the effect where a critical mass would be affected by the funding. As such, the fish follow the bait, if you want to get rich or receive the privilege of an expanded expense account, create your own organization.

The Haitian government, following past practice, is inviting loosely regulated organizations to seek funding for projects with dubious goals and missions, perpetuating the wrong and moving away from permanent solutions to the problem.

It is our turn to skin the pig; you had your chance to do so, already!

President Estimé started the culture under the indigenous doctrine that Haitians with dark skin color should occupy the whole field on politics in Haiti since the mulatto has retained power for the last 150 years with no meaningful result for the masses. We should now shamelessly take the command of power. The concept of le vivre en commun that stamp all nations willing to enter into development is not part of the Haitian fabric.

Wealth creation is not for the trodden since they do not know what to do with wealth anyway.

Haiti, albeit the motherland of human emancipation, has shown little interest in enriching its own citizens. The poorest country of the Western Hemisphere, we find no comprehensive public policy of wealth creation in the budget formulation. The minimum legal salary for an eight-hour workday is around $6.50, while the average worker maintains that he can only make ends meet with $55 per day.

In conclusion

Helping a country to stand on its feet is an art and a science. While the science belongs to the economist, the art belongs to the social scientist. For Haiti or Afghanistan, unmasking the myths that impede the development constitutes the first step towards a sustainable solution. Failure to do so, Haiti, Somalia, Afghanistan, or Iraq will remain failed states in spite of the injection of large funding and extensive intervention.
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C. ben-David:

Good piece though I think tight reins by government on the NGOs will make matters worse due to corruption and mismanagement. I include the schools in this. The reigns should be held tightly by the overseas donors who should carefully ensure that funded projects and schools are properly managed and results oriented. Don't give money to incompetent or corrupt institutions such as the central government.


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