It is getting more complicated by the seconds. The quagmire that was Haiti before January 12th and continue to be afterwards should be classified as one of the Millennium Prize problems. Haiti is as complicated as any of the open questions in the field of political science. As one of my good friends summarizes the situation, Haiti’s condition does not follow any textbook’s logic. It presents a set of problems that on the surface seem easy to solve, but only to be leading to a series of dead –end once trying to solve the puzzle.
I am an optimist when it comes to Haiti’s future, but I am also a realist, especially when I am observing so many bright minds struggling with a possible solution for my native country. I used to get irritated by people who would consider themselves a pessimist, but the more I am listening to people with good will and intentions, the more the realist part of me is letting me know that indeed the solution is not as simple as I would like.
Over the past few days, I attended a sustainable conference on Haiti in Miami Beach, Florida. The line up for the conference included super star artists like Jimmy Jean-Louis and Richard Morse to political leaders such as former Prime Minister Michel Duvivier Pierre-Louis. As I was skimming the schedule of the conference, I convinced myself that it would worth my time attending it. I expected to hear possible solutions, and I mean practical solutions to the current conditions of the country from such a knowledgeable group of people. Although, there were many relevant points that were raised, none of them reached the level of what I would consider a practical solution for the country; something that could be implemented right away. It was at that point that I came to the realization that Haiti must be an open problem.
Getting this country right would take more than a few conferences of the diaspora, donors countries, political guru, inclusion of the Haitian marginalized people, as a matter of fact, getting Haiti right requires that we see it for what it is, an open question. A puzzle that would require a devoted group of people to be devoted their whole lifetime work on how to finally crack the code of this vicious circle that Haiti has found itself.
To the average folks, they might ask what Haiti’s problems are. Often times, when this question is posed to a Haitian audience, I am always amazed how some people actually think they have an answer to this question. It is as if they know exactly what to do to get Haiti out its misery and as one person tries to elaborate on answering, another Haitian fellow would add to the complexity of the problem, and before you know it, we found ourselves asking the same basic question: what are the problems?
In order to pretend that we are even working at making life better for a majority of people in Haiti, it would be fair to assume that we know what the challenges are and the reasons why things are the way they are in the land of Dessalines and Toussaint. For the most part, it is often said that all Haitians know of the problems facing the country, but very few of us know of the solutions. It is in that context that I want us to start seeing Haiti as an open problem. A situation where we know a problem exists and yet we are unable to solve it.
During the conference in Miami, I listened attentively to the few business leaders who were present and showcasing their new products for a quick solution to Haiti’s problem. One of the businesses that attracted my attention was a firm that is building houses from shipping containers. A basic container home would cost around $3,000, and I asked one of the sell representatives why the Haitian government isn’t ordering those homes for the people instead of the begging for tents, which only provide temporary shelter to a bigger problem. His answer as expected was that the Haitian government is just being very slow responding to their offer.
I am not advocating for shipping containers to become the model homes for Haitians, but given the immediate need for decent shelter, I would assume that those shipping containers would get a decent look by the Haitian authorities. The sale representative even mentioned to me that they could put at least 100,000 people in those homes before the hurricane season, if they were to get a contract very soon.
At that same conference, Haiti’s two biggest wireless telecommunication companies, Digicel and Voila, had their representatives on a panel to talk about telecommunication challenges facing Haiti. While both companies got a lot of praise from the attendees for their contribution in helping the Haitian people dealt with the aftermath of the earthquake, I on the other hand, was paying close attention to what they see as the future of Haiti’s telecommunication.
They raised questions about the way the bid for the state-owned Teleco was handled, and what that would mean for their companies. They also talked about the fiber-optics line which was housed at Teleco’s headquarter, which fell down during the quake. It seems as if both representatives from Digicel and Voila would like the Haitian government to give them access to the fiber optics line so they could bring more telecommunication services to the Haitian people at a much cheaper price. They tried to make the point that their investments and services to the Haitian people should warrant them first jab at the fiber optics line and how the telecommunication industry should be ran for future generations.
The final point as stated by the moderator was that government should stay out of running telecommunication, and let businessmen do what they do best, but he did not specify if Haitian businessmen should get the same treatment that the foreign investors have gotten when it comes to start new ventures in Haiti.
The highlight of the sustainable conference came on the last day when Richard Morse, owner of the Olofson Hotel, took the stage to describe what has been going on in Haiti and why things must change for good if we ought to bring Haiti out of this obscurity. The talk was nice and honest, but again it adds more to Haiti’s multitude of problems than providing any concrete solutions.
At this point, I acknowledge that every Haitian and friend of Haiti is an expert on Haiti. They all seem to have Haiti’s best outcome at heart as long as they get to do what they want to do. The fellow who is the criticizer today becomes the villain tomorrow. We all seem to offer a solution to Haiti’s problem, but all of our solutions are incompatible with each other; hence the problem we were determined to solve remain with us even after our arduous works. Something got to change, our approaches to seeing the problems must change, the way we go about solving things within our reach must change, and maybe we should really take ourselves out of the equation and look for the brightest and most capable of minds to really devote their lives to cracking this perpetual problem that is how do we improve the life of millions of people who are so resilient and eager to taste the fruit of prosperity.
Haiti, as an open problem is not unsolvable, but rather it is simply going to take some time and will require different approaches. Instead of looking at the NGO and non-profit model to solve it, maybe we need to start empowering decent citizens to get involved in their government and encourage Haitian youth to become business owners rather than textile workers or retail resellers. Haiti needs good governance and influx of new businesses ranging from energy providers to research laboratories, something it has not had since its inception. Now, all that we need is a few people to work out the how-to get it done part, and hopefully they will be able to solve the puzzle once and for all.