If you are like me, you must be trying to answer this question too. Let’s see if we could reflect a little on what has become of Haiti, especially over the last 25 years. This time frame has been marked by a political and social paradigm shift that took place simultaneously— which saw the country moved from a closed society to an opened one and from an autocratic dictatorship to a pseudo-populist democracy.
On February 7th, 1986, a date which became synonymous with a second liberation for the country, hope was in the air, and a vision towards an equitable nation was shared by the vast majority. In retrospective, it now feels as if the Haitian people have squandered a great opportunity by turning their back on the path towards self-determination. Rather than to control our destiny by being accountable for all of our actions, we have abandoned the principles that make a nation sovereign, and more than ever we have become too reliant on the charity of others to sustain our culture and develop our nation. The net results have been an impeccably slow destruction of the mentality of the people, and a complete dependency on outside forces.
The population of Haitians living in the diaspora won’t take long to equal or surpass that living on the mainland. If today, it is obvious that we suffer from a brain drain, in the next decade or so, if something is not done, it will become even more apparent that Haiti is heading straight towards the inevitable: The extinction of Haitian freedom. Haitians inside of Haiti are nostalgic about the good old days, those outside are even more nostalgic thinking about the land they knew.
When talking to people who were born before Francois Duvalier became president, they always salivate at the thought of yesterday’s Haiti, in which they grew up. They talked fondly of how clean every street’s corner used to be, how living conditions were manageable, the respect people had for each other and it is with a great sense of depressive melancholy that they talk of the present.
Even for someone like me who grew up in the transition era (1986-1994), it is as if the Haiti I knew had suddenly sink in the Caribbean Sea because almost none of the things I knew growing up existed today. It would have been a good thing, if those changes were for the betterment of most, but sadly almost everyone’s observation has concluded that the country has been regressed considerably over the past few decades.
Haiti has gone in the wrong direction, politically, socially and economically; however, the pressing question today is whether we still have time to reverse direction and bring the country on a path that could lead to sustainable prosperity and stability.
On the political front, the clear lack of workable institutions, disorganized political parties and incompetent leadership have to be addressed, if we are ever to reach a point where the majority can have faith in the political system. The democratic exercise of participating in elections is one way of doing so, but the society must go a step further by demanding and requiring accountability and transparency from the elected officials. The people can no longer play a passive role in the affairs of the country and expect those ill intention politicians to have their best interest at heart. A constant pressure must be applied on all public servants to serve the interest of the state and its people. The way to do that is to stay informed and to organize in a coherent manner at the grassroots level.
Socially, It is obvious that Haiti is heading if not already in a different state than it was few decades ago. The colonial, more specifically French, influence that dictated social norm is slowly being replaced by a more American influence. The escalation of the Haitian diaspora in the United States over the last few decades, alongside the more direct engagement of that country’s government in the internal affairs of Haiti has had a lot to do with that social shift.
The Hip Hop culture is in full effect almost everywhere you go in Haiti. Some of the teenagers nowadays are more comfortable to mirror their African-Americans counterpart by wearing low hanging jeans, basketball sneakers, and athletic jerseys, rather than the previous generations’ traditional fitted pants, tailored shirts. The language is also being altered, as many are showing more tolerance towards English. The return home of many young professionals and deportee also has an influence in the language alteration. Even our music reflects this new reality, more and more English terms are being infiltrated our music, as most of our bands are based in America, and want to cross over to that population. The Haitian language (Kreyol), which was already marginalized, runs the risk of being downgraded even further.
On the economy, the policies being applied are simply not viable. For more than a decade, importation has constantly surpassed exportation. Most of the jobs created are by charity organizations, and by nature are temporary. A lackluster will to invest in the people and to support local products. Haiti has become a great case-study for what not to do, if nation building or economic development is to succeed. Worst of all, the country embraces the sweatshop industry, which provides non-transferable skills and non-living wages to the Haitian workers.
There are way too many unregulated non-governmental organizations (NGO) in the country that are basically working around the same set of core issues: Healthcare, education and nutrition. Few are engaged in real empowerment of the Haitian citizens, which is what Haiti needs the most. The Haitian state must take a greater stand to demand results, and foster an environment where those NGOs work can be used to uplift the people out their current condition, and not to maintain them in a perpetual state of dependency.
There is no doubt that few people like where Haiti has gone, nonetheless most Haitians are willing to give their country another chance. This is a hopeful people, and very determined by nature. Even in this current state, most of them are still holding on to the hope that things will change. And like saying goes, “as long as there is hope, there is life.” Haiti will change course for a new direction, but it won’t happen without the involvement of all. The moment for change to sprout is now.
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