Magazine article New African

A Tale of Two Countries

Magazine article New African

A Tale of Two Countries

Article excerpt

What do Haiti and Zimbabwe have in common? Two hundred and eight years ago, the Haitian revolution ushered in a new global paradigm: African people were masters of their destiny and slaves to no one. Two hundred years later, Zimbabwe's painful fight to control its land and resources in the teeth of strong opposition from some powerful nations, has ushered in a new paradigm on the African continent, writes Ifa Kamau Cush.


In 1801, EMPEROR NAPOLEON BONAPARTE of France ordered his foreign minister, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, to inform the English government, with whom he (Bonaparte) was negotiating a peace treaty, that: "My decision to destroy the authority of the blacks in Haiti is not so much based on considerations of commerce and money, as on the need to block forever the march of blacks in the world."

Haiti at that time was governed by formerly enslaved Africans who had earlier routed the armies of Spain, Britain, and France during the Haitian revolution, which had begun 10 years earlier in 1791. Napoleon's suggestion that commerce and money were unimportant was, at best, disingenuous. During that period of history, Haiti generated one quarter of France's global profits and Napoleon was not about to lose that to what he considered to be some lowly Africans who had humiliated his much-vaunted army.

However, Napoleon still wanted to "block forever the march of blacks in the world", so he sought succour from the "Anglosphere", which is defined by Ted Bromund of the American conservative think-tank, the Heritage Foundation (ranked as one of the most influential economic and social policy think-tanks in the world), as constituting "the values that have created the modern international state system of which the US and Great Britain are leading members."

Member states of this "Anglosphere", according to Bromund, were founded on the values of liberty, self-government, the rule of law and the right to private property. Bromund, however, conveniently omitted the enslavement, mass murder, and grand theft of other people and their resources, including Africa's.

It was those shared "values" which motivated the British, the Dutch, the Spanish, the Portuguese and the Americans to destroy Haiti, the first free African nation in the modern era.

According to Dr Hilary Beckles of the University of the West Indies, after the Haitian revolution, the country asserted in Article 44 of its 1805 Independence Constitution "that any black person or indigenous native who arrived on the shores of Haiti would be immediately declared free and a citizen of the republic".

More significantly, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Haiti's leader at the time, offered captains of slave ships $40 per head for their enslaved African victims if they diverted their ships, en route from Africa to the Caribbean and the United States, to Haiti. Many captains took advantage of Dessalines's offer.

Haiti's constitutional provision undermined the economic viability of the slave-holding states in the region--the United States, England, Spain, Holland and Portugal--for Haiti now provided a geographic space to which enslaved Africans could flee without fear of being returned to their mutilation and death. And that is precisely what happened. After 1804, thousands of enslaved Africans fled Jamaica, the Bahamas, Central and South America for Haiti and freedom.

Haiti was, therefore, isolated at birth--according to Dr Beckles, "ostracised and denied access to world trade, finance and institutional development" by the European slave-holding nations and America. The French even refused to recognise Haiti's independence and declared it an illegal pariah state. The Americans followed suit and refused to recognise Haiti in solidarity with the French. The British, who were negotiating with the French to obtain the ownership title to Haiti, also moved in solidarity, as did every other nation in the Western world. …

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