By Leo Hornak
If a proposal under consideration by the African Union this week were to bear fruit, Haitians made homeless by the earthquake could start afresh in a new homeland in Africa.
African Union (AU) President Jean Ping yesterday announced that the idea of resettling displaced Haitians in Africa would be part of the AU's formal agenda during its annual summit this week. According to Mr Ping, Haiti's history as a creation of the slave trade and the world's first black republic creates a special obligation for African Union members.
"It is out of a sense of duty and memory and solidarity that we can further the proposal ... to create in Africa the conditions for the return of Haitians," said Mr Ping. The idea of a new Haitian homeland in Africa was originally suggested by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade last month, and now appears to be gathering momentum. As a first step, Mr Wade has asked African governments to naturalise any Haitians who wish to emigrate to their country, and to encourage African families to adopt Haitian children orphaned in the earthquake.
It would not be the first time that a new African state has been created to house the descendants of slaves from the new world. In 1847, the American Colonisation Society, an unlikely coalition of abolitionists and slave owners, created Liberia with the same aim in mind. Thousands of former slaves and their descendants eventually made the journey from the US to west Africa. Little care was taken to protect the rights of the tribes already living in the territory, however, and Liberian society has been divided between settler and indigenous communities ever since – indigenous Liberians were only given the vote in 1963.
Mr Wade has also referred to the Middle East as a model for his Haitian project. Speaking to Euronews last week he said: "It's not asking too much to transplant those who want it. Israel was desert. Palestine was desert. People were transplanted who today are building a country."
The resettlement idea also raises questions about whether many African countries have the resources to support a large influx of impoverished Haitian refugees, or would be willing to give up territory for a new state. Senegal has some points of cultural contact with Haiti, but it is far from wealthy. In 2009, Senegal was rated 166 out of 177 on the UN's Human Development Index. Haiti was 17 places higher at 149.