By Ed Gehy

It is understood that the higher the life expectancy of a people in a nation, the better off it is. By that logic, shorter life expectancy and poverty go hand in hand. Using this formula, could that explain why the ten countries with the lowest life expectancy are found in Africa? Could that further explain the shocking similarities shared by many African nations countries and Haiti?

Here is a list of the five countries with the lowest life expectancy:

  1. Côte d’Ivoire:
    53.3 years old
  2. Chad:
    53.1 years old
  3. Central African Republic:
    52.5 years old
  4. Angola:
    52.4 years old
  5. Sierra Leone:
    50.1 years old

(Source: World Health Statistics, 2016)

These countries have the lowest life expectancy in the world, whereas Haiti, with a life expectancy of 62 years old, has the lowest life expectancy in the Caribbean. Haiti does share many, if not all, of the factors that seem to have crippled the continent of Africa for too long: low levels of a working healthcare system, a high mortality rate, high rates of unemployment, economic disparity, social exclusion, and poverty, among other factors.

The effect a low life expectancy has on a country is twofold: one is an economic impact and the other a historical and cultural one.

From an economic standpoint, if people are not living long enough, they cannot contribute to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). The longer people work and the more people that enter the workforce, both factors will surely increase the country’s GDP, thereby, increasing the country’s economic growth.

GDP is the sum of all goods and services produced by a country in a year. Whether we look at it in terms of market values or quantities produced, there is a clear correlation between higher GDP and sound economic growth.

In the case of Haiti, it all comes down to those in power, both past and present, and their unwillingness, it seems, to implement policies favorable to economic growth. Historically, less corruption in a nation equates to better economic growth.

Promoting the rule of law against corruption

Just as it is in most third-world countries, government offices in Haiti are swamped with corruption. Bribes are everywhere. It can be hard for one to get a license to open a business unless one bribes the official in charge, whose job it is to facilitate the process. Money earned by tax revenues and foreign aid is often pocketed by those corrupt officials. Consequently, the state is always in a state of depletion.

Improving health and education

To be blunt, healthy people are more productive. Increasing access to potable water, improving sanitation, and promoting vaccinations to fight against infectious diseases are all tangible steps that can be taken to reduce illness, and ultimately, an early death. According to the World Bank, one-third of the Haitian population is under the age of 15. This comes as a result of a low life expectancy.

If the low life expectancy has its impact on the country’s economy, it is not any different historically and culturally. It is not by chance that the population would care a lot more about the annual carnival than they would seeing the state organizing job fairs and workshops to improve chronic unemployment.

At any given moment, a government could be toppled should it fail to organize the country’s yearly traditional carnival, commonly known as Mardi Gras. This is a clear example of a nation not having its priorities straight. In this case, it is not an exaggeration to consider the people not as victims, but accomplices.

Similarly, it is not an accident to see a crowd yelling, “a vie, a vie” as a sign of support during a presidential address. Although such a crowd is likely acting more by ignorance than by folly or fanaticism, little do they know the devastating effect this phrase has done to the Haitian psyche.

The display of such attitude can only be the result of a total disconnect from the past, or, perhaps, a sign of total ignorance.

In sum, Haiti is trailing behind. If the country is to live sustainably, there is no other way than through an understanding of the nation’s historical past. The best way to promote that understanding, therefore applying the relevance of past achievements into today’s society, is by bridging the gap between the past and the present.
Lessons will not be learned if we don’t know, understand, and value the past. Equally true, it would be a lot easier to confront today’s challenges if we had yesterday to refer back to.

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