Magazine article New African

Our Debt to Haiti: Beyond Showing Our Solidarity with the People of Haiti, What Else Should Be Done? Well, We Can Begin by Apologising to Haitians for Our Disgraceful Neglect

Magazine article New African

Our Debt to Haiti: Beyond Showing Our Solidarity with the People of Haiti, What Else Should Be Done? Well, We Can Begin by Apologising to Haitians for Our Disgraceful Neglect

Article excerpt

Haiti is an important part of African history--though you wouldn't believe it from its treatment by the African world. Even before the recent earthquake, Haiti had become a byword for backwardness and under-development--"the poorest country in the western hemisphere". In recent years its president was virtually "kidnapped" and dumped in South Africa, and control over the country outsourced to the UN.

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Watching all this unfold, there was little response from African leaders. At grassroots level, no people's movement was developed to save Haiti. In saving Haiti we would have been salvaging a hugely symbolic pillar of our freedom.

The condition of Haiti today is a rebuke to Africans everywhere. This should be our jewel; the country that struck the second blow for freedom should be a shining example and beacon of what African freedom ought to stand for--prosperity, protection of the poor and vulnerable, equality and a place of opportunity for people to realise their potential. Instead it represents the opposite of all those values. A few misguided black Christians have even dignified evangelist Pat Robertson's crude attempts to delegitimise the country's independence by supporting his claim that Haitian freedom was built on a devilish pact. The basis of the pact is the disputed 1791 prayer by Boukman Dutty, a Jamaican-born Voodoo priest, which triggered the revolution:

"Their god commandeth crimes, oursgiveth blessings upon us. The Good Lord hath ordained vengeance. He will give strength to our arms and courage to our hearts ... Cast down the image of the god of the whites, because he maketh the tears to flow from our eyes. Hearken unto Liberty that speaketh now in all your hearts."

Our successful history of resistance in the modern state system begins here. Had we integrated Haiti properly into that history, we would have learnt valuable lessons and avoided numerous pitfalls. Being the second black nation to declare independence over the last 200 years (the first was Palmares in northern Brazil in 1595), Haiti's history has contained all the tropes and archetypes that now play out all over the African world.

This includes resistance and sabotage from former colonisers, sanctions and invasions, control through debt financing and structural adjustment policies, local confusion and incompetence in devising and implementing alternative economic systems, lack of national unity and purpose due to class, skin, religious and regional differences, venal elites, cruel and undisciplined armies and dictators, and a long-suffering and uneducated mass. …

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