Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Voice from Afar: Who Caused The Haitian Tragedy?

The earthquake which has devastated Haiti was of course an act of God. What that means I leave to our priests and bishops to educate us.

But a similar earthquake can occur in Japan or other developed countries and the institutions there and the governmental machinery will not collapse so miserably as happened in Haiti.

We know of the bad governance and other social ills in Haiti. But similar problems exist practically everywhere. Why were the results of the earthquake so catastrophic in Haiti because of human and institutional failures? We must go into history to find out.

To the few who know something about Haiti, it was the country which Papa Doc and Baby Doc (the Duvaliers) ruled with ridiculous abandon. The revealing story of Haiti is not told and deep down in his mind the African or black man even outside Haiti is made to believe that he is not capable of managing affairs without outside help.

The history of Haiti shows that the black man did not wait for others to emancipate him from slavery. Haitian fought slavery successfully and forced the slave traders to think again.

In 1797, Toussant L’ouverture, led the enslaved Africans of Haiti to victory over the French colonisers and abolished slavery. In Haiti he defeated the armies of three imperial powers: Spain, France and Great Britain and sent shock waves through the institution of slavery in the Caribbean and the Americas.

The French tricked him into a meeting and he was arrested and sent to prison in France where he died.

But the Haitians did not give up. Jean Jacgus Dessalines took up the fight. On January 1,1804, Dessalines declared Haiti to be an independent Republic. The shock waves throughout the world of slavery deepened. The Haitian revolution and declaration of independence in 1804 obviously influenced the abolition of slavery by Britain in 1807.

The independence of Haiti was obviously not welcomed by the colonialists. There was a devastating trade embargo on Haiti led by France, Spain and America. France demanded reparations for property destroyed and sent 12 warships to blockade the main port.

To facilitate recognition of the new state, Haiti agreed to pay compensation of 150 million French francs to France. Although the amount was later reduced the reparation impoverished Haiti. Infact the new state had to borrow from French banks at high interest rates to pay France.

Thus Haiti which was the richest island in the Americas became the poorest and with the minimum of development.

Haiti has not been free to develop policies to build up the country. US marines invaded and occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934 because Haiti refused to allow foreigners to take over their land. US corporations later established plantations and jeans factories using slave-type labour.

Furthermore Haiti was made to lift its tariff on imported rice leading to the flooding of the market with imported subsidised American rice. This naturally destroyed the livelihood of Haitian farmers.

Generally, dictators like the Duvaliers who ruin the country are supported by powerful countries. Even after those dictators have left office the people continue to suffer from their misdeeds by paying interests on bad debts incurred by corrupt leaders.

Nationalists are however hounded out of office and we in Ghana and elsewhere accept them as caricatures of incorrigible black leadership.

Thus Jean Bertrand Aristide, democratically elected in 2003, is hounded out in 2004 even after he had asked France to pay back the reparation paid. He was even hounded out of Jamaica where he sought asylum.

Thus the real cause of the Haitian tragedy is rooted in history. And by history I do not mean the distant past. Events in our life time are included.

Naturally, those who have been partly responsible for Haiti will defend themselves. But what is important is that mankind must make progress otherwise we all suffer. It is reassuring that the countries which have been partly responsible for Haiti’s present condition have heroically risen to her help. We hope this will lead to the realisation that we live in one world and the pursuits of selfish self-interest negate total human progress.

Many Haitians are believed to have come from Benin and a minister in Cotonou gave an interesting account of this recently. Therefore the Haitians are our kith and kin. We should be sad that we are not doing much to assist our Haitian brothers and sisters in their hour of need.

Why is that so? Does the history of Haiti throw any light? Did we not also declare independence to shake off dependency and build a prosperous future for the country and its people?

Have we succeeded? And why not? Have we maintained our self confidence? Do we rely on ourselves or foreign friends with their somewhat different aims and legitimate interests? Who and what have caused our present state of under development? The remote causes of the Haitian tragedy are still at work here and in many African countries. We must grow up and see things as they are.

Credit: K.b. Asante/Daily Graphic

Source: MyJoyOnline

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