January 1st marked the 213th Anniversary of the Haitian Revolution which spawned the world’s first Black Republic; the first time in human history that an enslaved people rose up to defeat their slave masters to establish a nation. As I have often remarked, the Haitian revolutionaries shattered the myth of white supremacy at the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade by decimating the army of Napoleon Bonaparte of France, the most powerful nation in the world at that time. But, Haiti and the Haitian people have been plagued by woes ever since the Revolution, most often because of the interference and intervention of external powers in its affairs. The impact of these malevolent external forces, coupled with persistent internal tensions, conflicts and contradictions have stymied the process of building and sustaining a viable democracy. Indeed, 2016 was another difficult year for Haiti as the nation was rocked by constant protests over a flawed presidential election and ravished by yet another devastating hurricane.
However, the November 20, 2016 re-run of the presidential election produced an outcome that may offer a glimmer of hope on the horizon if the newly elected President, Jovenal Moise, decides to follow the path of former President Rene Preval and rise above factionalism and partisanship to install a “Government of National Inclusion.” There are some early indications that he may be willing to do so. However, before commenting on these developments further, let me digress to explain my intense interest in the fate and future of Haiti.
The mere idea of an Independent Black nation was viewed as a threat to the primary engine of commercial and financial development for Europe and an emerging United States in this era, the extraordinarily lucrative trafficking of Africans and the brutal exploitation of their labor via the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Hence, the nations of Europe and the United States colluded to stigmatize, marginalize and punish Haiti and its people for one of the most glorious human rights triumphs in history!
The nations of Europe and the U.S. were right to be fearful of the impact of the Haitian Revolution and the first Black Republic on their domestic and colonial aspirations. The epic victory of the Haitian revolutionaries spread like a conflagration among enslaved Africans and colonized/oppressed people everywhere. The fact of an independent Black nation would become a beacon of hope that would inspire slave revolts, anti-colonial rebellions and revolutions by freedom fighters for generations. As such, I have also stated time and time again that people of African descent everywhere owe a special debt of gratitude to Haiti for restoring our dignity and resolve to be free in an age of European imperial expansion and domination.
Anyone who knows me well, is aware of my passion and devotion to Haiti and the Haitian people. It is this “special debt” and the incredible resiliency, creativity and pride of the Haitian people that fuels my abiding love and commitment to Haiti, the first Black Republic. It is in that spirit that the Haiti Support Project (HSP) was created. The mission of HSP is to “build a constituency for Haiti in the U.S.” by mobilizing/organizing African Americans to contribute to paying the debt by partnering in the process of democracy and development in the First Black Republic. I am extremely proud that HSP has worked to fulfill this mission for more than two decades.
Over the years HSP has also convened Symposia and Forums on the Future of Democracy and Development in Haiti to discuss strategies for solidarity and support as well as explore ways to address crises, issues and obstacles to progress in Haiti. I am also honored that Congressman John Conyers, the Dean of the Congressional Black Caucus and stanch champion for Haiti, has often asked me to Moderate the Haiti Issues Forum at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc. Annual Legislation Conference. I have occasionally utilized these platforms to share HSP’s perspective on matters of importance as it relates to the process of democracy and development in Haiti. It is in this vein that I have elected to respectfully offer perspectives on the recent presidential election in Haiti.
One of the concepts/ideas that HSP has consistently advanced is the urgent need for a critical mass within the political class to commit to placing the interest of the nation, of Haiti and the Haitian people, above personal, party and factional interests and aspirations. I am increasingly persuaded that zero sum, winner take all electoral processes are counterproductive in young, emerging democracies like Haiti — especially where winning control of the government is seen as an avenue to enrichment for many within the political class. Under these conditions, the battle for control of the government is often fierce; an exercise where the masses of the people are little more than fodder in the struggle between ambitious politicians eager to fulfill their own interests.
Unfortunately, the zero sum/winner take all creed is deeply imbedded in the political culture of Haiti. This is a major impediment to electing a government that will prioritize meeting the needs of the Haitian masses and the collective interest of the nation first. In my judgement, for Haiti to reassume its role as one of the leading nations in the Caribbean and the world, this zero sum/winner take all attitude must change. It will take a critical mass of courageous political statesmen and women within the political class to effect this change. Perhaps, that moment has arrived.
Despite protests by candidates who were declared losers, there appears to be a consensus that the presidential election met international standards for being declared “free and fair;” not perfect, not without some flaws, but with flaws that were minor and insufficient to effect the outcome. It is important to note that Haitians at home and abroad (the Diaspora) took control of the electoral process and administered the elections. For once, the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) functioned in a non-partisan way so as to inspire confidence in its deliberations and declarations. In addition, all major political parties, including Fanmi Lavalas, were accredited and included in the election, thereby clearing another obstacle to the legitimacy of the outcome.
These favorable factors will be irrelevant, however, if President-Elect Jovenal Moise chooses to continue to play the zero-sum/winner take all, politics as usual, game. He is already perceived as little more than a stand-in for his predecessor Michel Martelly. And, he won in an election with a woefully low 22% voter turn-out – which means he can hardly claim anywhere near a mandate from a majority of the Haitian people. He would be wise to take these realties into consideration as he contemplates what kind of President he would like to be, one who plays politics as usual or one who seizes the moment to cultivate a different kind of political culture and path towards a brighter future for Haiti and all of its people.
As I noted earlier, there are signs that Jovenal Moise might take the statesman like route. An article in a Haitian newspaper suggested that he “appeared to extend an olive branch to opponents, particularly the three candidates who filed disputes with the electoral tribunals.” Mr. Moise went on to say, “we will see what can be done for the country in concert with the candidates who have taken part in the elections.”
If the President-Elect has the vision and courage to pursue this path, he will be following in the footsteps of former President Rene Preval who demonstrated the value of creating an inclusive government. While Preval’s non-charismatic temperament was not well suited to lead the country after the disastrous earthquake, it was ideal for the task of combating the negative habits and practices of the zero sum/winner syndrome characteristic of too many of Haiti’s presidential administrations. As President, Preval appointed rivals from different political parties and factions to his cabinet. In effect he shared leadership and the allocation of resources with his opponents. Preval also encouraged dialogue and debate internal and external to his administration to foster a sense of engagement in the policy-making process. He involved the Diaspora as an important asset to Haiti’s development and pushed for duel-citizenship to permanently ensure a vital role for the Diaspora. And, he was firmly committed to transparency and accountability in terms of government revenues and expenditures.
The results were very promising: The competitive temperature was lowered and combativeness declined in the political environment because of the inclusive, deliberative style of the Preval Government; Haiti’s GDP increased substantially because of the atmosphere of stability and security; and, foreign investment was beginning to flow because Preval’s insistence on transparency and accountability inspired confidence within the international community. Unfortunately, this promising process was derailed by the earthquake and the monumental task of recovery and rebuilding. And, politics as usual returned as the order of the day.
Haiti is still recovering and rebuilding. The masses of Haitian people are still suffering, yearning for a change in their day to day lives. Politics as usual will not change their circumstances or build a nation worthy of its glorious beginnings. What is required is for a critical mass within the political class to emerge with the vision and courage to place the interests of the Haitian people and the nation first. President-Elect Jovenal Moise is positioned to usher in a new era in Haiti’s history. To do so he must resist the norm, the tendencies of the zero-sum/winner take all syndrome that has sabotaged Haiti’s promise as a nation. He must be bold enough to create a Government of National Inclusion and call upon all parties, factions and constituencies to join him in forging a new future for Haiti based on a renewed sense of national purpose and unity.
A Government of National Inclusion can devise and promote policies and practices which can educate, mobilize, organize and empower the energetic and resourceful Haitian people to eradicate illiteracy, hunger, poverty, disease and the ills that retard human development and fulfillment. The Haitian masses and patriots of all political parties, factions and constituencies, including the Diaspora should call on President-Elect Jovenal Moise to accept this challenge. A Government of National Inclusion can create the pathway to an engaged, prosperous, stable and secure nation; a nation worthy of its legacy as the world’s first Back Republic born out of one of the greatest revolutions in human history! The Haiti Support Project stands ready to play a respectful, supportive, partnering role in this great endeavor!