Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

"The Haitian State: Something Alien"

Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

"The Haitian State: Something Alien"

Article excerpt


For more than 200 years Haiti has operated devoid of solid institutions and political stability. Haiti is currently undergoing its second United Nations (UN) peace-keeping mission following the second successful deposition of a democratically elected president. The World Bank states that Haiti is "limited in capacity to establish law and order or to create conditions for economic growth and poverty reduction." (1) In 2006, Transparency International ranked Haiti as the most corrupt nation in the world out of the 163 countries in its annual corruption survey. (2) And speaking in anonymity, an Intelligence Official stationed in Haiti passionately described Haiti as "the worst country he had ever seen on all levels and where corruption is so entrenched that it is accepted as part of the everyday culture." (3)

In 1979, David Nicholls referred to Haiti's state government as "something alien." (4) Nicholls' thirty-year old comment may have indeed inadvertently set the seeds for a discussion that the discipline finally needs to have. This article uses existing research on Haiti spanning the past 160 years, as well as current interviews with Haitian politicians and citizens, to examine and investigate certain characteristics that when present contribute in making Haiti "something alien."


In 1492, after the ship the Santa Maria ran aground, Christopher Columbus left part of his crew ashore, thereby establishing Hispaniola, the first Spanish settlement in the New World. In 1697, following the War of the Grand Alliance in Europe, the French acquired the western half of Hispaniola from Spain in the Treaty of Ryswick and renamed their portion of the island Saint Dominque. By 1789, Haiti produced more wealth than the thirteen North American colonies combined, two-fifths of the world's sugar and fifty percent of the world's coffee. (5) By 1801, thanks to the efforts of Toussaint L'Ouverture (Toussaint), Haiti became the first free black republic in the New World, the first and only country where a slave revolt was successful and the first non-European post-colonial state of the modern era. (6) By 1804, Haiti was independent, it was operating without state institutions, and it was being governed by a confederation of mulatto elites and black Haitian military generals called the "ancient regime." (7) Haiti's early combination of the military and the elite resulted in the early and ongoing dominance of the new nation's government, and the introduction of increased divisiveness based on color differences between the elite mulattos (light-skinned blacks) and the noirs (dark-skinned blacks). (8) No other nation in the world had ever been created by slaves and no other country in modern times has confronted freedom under the same circumstances. (9)


John Drysdale called post-independent Africa "the unimaginative application of alien systems of government." (10) The same can be said of the Haitian system of government. David Nicholls described the Haitian state as "something alien" and stated further that "at no time in the history of the country has there been a significant degree of long-term popular participation in the political process." (11)

While Nicholls finds it hard to find the terminology necessary to describe the Haitian system of government, other scholars have attempted to try. For example, Mats Lundahl and Ruben Silie write that in Haiti state kleptocracy was established as the main methodology of government as early as 1804, and similar findings call Haiti's government predatory as well. (12) Nicholls did suggest that a better definition of the Haitian state should include its heavy reliance on the military. (13) Carlene Edie points this out and writes that in Haiti "traditionally the state has served as the instrument of the elite and the military to suppress and extort from the ordinary people" and adds that "Haiti's elite has historically viewed the majority poor as objects to be exploited, not as subjects in a shared political system. …

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