When an earthquake heaped rubble onto Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital city, one year ago, there was a sense from many people that this catastrophe could be turned into something positive.
After all, many Haitian professionals had mused that what Haiti needed, particularly in its capital, was a huge bulldozer to clear the mountain of anarchic construction that dotted the hilly city. While everyone knows that advocating such a policy publicly was akin to political suicide, the earthquake provided the notion cover.
Suddenly with more than half of the city destroyed, rebuilding it seemed less challenging than before. Raising the money required would be simple because the world was ready to open its pockets.
While rebuilding would not be an easy task by any yardstick, the bold leadership that it requires from the Haitian government and the private sector has not materialized. Instead, a year later, Haitians have reverted to finger pointing, micromanaging and are unwilling to open up the country to real economic development, according to Haitians and foreigners who have followed the situation closely.
WATCH theGRIO’s VIDEO REPORT ON HAITI’S RECONSTRUCTION HERE:
For a while now, talk of reconstruction seemed to have given way to the elections that consumed the local media as nearly 20 candidates vied for the presidency. The elections, which were supposed to be a democratic achievement for the Haitian government and the international community, turned out to be poorly managed and were, at best, a fiasco. A runoff scheduled for January 16th has been postponed. On Tuesday, the Organization of American States recommended that two candidates, Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly be declared the top two winners and head for a yet to be scheduled runoff.
With so much riding on the outcome of this election and wanting to get the results right, the international backers of Haiti intervened and pressured the government to make sure that the right candidates be declared the winner. It was widely believed that President Rene Preval threw full support behind and helped bankroll Jude Celestin, who finished in third place, but was declared the second top vote getter behind Manigat by the Provisional Electoral Council.
That move resulted in two days of intense violence across the city that shut most of the country down, with major airlines canceling flights into Haiti and people unable to leave their homes as thousands burned tires, cars and property.
Such sentiments are always ever present and if whoever wins the elections doesn’t find a way to create jobs, the redevelopment of Port-au-Prince will be stymied and the country will be worse than before.
Fabienne Doucet, a professor at New York University, has created an organization to help employ Haitians, said that strong and visionary leadership is what’s needed at this time. Doucet, like many others, believe that Haiti needs to also recruit the professionals and technicians needed to help the country not only rebuild itself, but to manage itself.
“In the last year, I’ve seen many serious plans that have gone nowhere,” Doucet said. “We need to start executing some of these plans to move forward.”
Furthermore, the new government will need to find a way to attract investors into the country. Just about everything, from agricultural development to hotels to factories, needs funding. But to woo investors, leaders have to understand that business is not a zero-sum game and that they should be willing to make concessions. And the first deals may not be the best.
“The private sector has been acting like a middle man, a merchant,” said Jocelyn McCalla, a political consultant who has worked with the Haitian government. “So their ability to be real business broker is curtailed because there isn’t a strong enough partnership with the public sector.”
These two entities, which should be natural partners, have been locked in a century-old battle with each side deeply suspicious of the other. The Haitian private sector consists largely of the country’s tiny light-skinned elite, while the dark-skinned Haitians dominate the political class. To most private sector entrepreneurs, the government is inherently corrupt, while government officials view the other side as obsessed with maintaining a monopoly and not paying taxes.
WATCH FORMER PRESIDENT CLINTON REFLECT ON HAITI’S FUTURE:
This climate has not helped the country move forward. The foreign capital necessary to jump-start the economy has not been coming in. Disrespect for the rule of law and political unrest have made investment in Haiti as attractive as the plague.
“Whatever our emotional attachment to the country, we must always bear in mind that emotion is not a particularly useful negotiating tool for sustained success,” said Reginald Dumas, during a conference on Haiti reconstruction several months ago.
“Neither is an obsession with the grievances of the past. What we must do – if, as we always say, we want a better world – is elevate action over the rhetoric and hand-wringing to which we often seem addicted. We must work conscientiously and clear-headedly together to the extent possible, in the spirit of the words of the United Nations Charter that commit the peoples of the United Nations to “employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,” Dumas, who is from Tobago, added.
As Haitian leaders contemplate the future of their country, they must remember these words and try to apply them: They could take the country to a place where once and for all it can lose its notorious title of “the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.”