Editorial, Elections, Politics

How the Haitian Diaspora Can Reclaim its Birthrights

By Garry Pierre-Pierre

In 2016, Jovenel Moïse ran his presidential campaign claiming the moniker of “Neg Bannan,” or Banana Man, having ran a plantain/banana farm that successfully shipped one harvest to Germany. But we all know that in Kreyol, when we say “ou bannan” the term has another meaning: You’re screwed.

And screwed Haiti is. 

Haiti bannan elections
A young man stands in front of a lottery kiosk. Photo by Garry Pierre-Pierre

Moïse went on to win a much-delayed election that his predecessor, Michel Joseph Martelly, failed to organize on time. In the process Moïse ascended to the presidency a year later. Now Moïse wants to reclaim the lost year, saying that his mandate ends on February 7, 2022 — not this Sunday, as constitutionally mandated. 

However, Moïse disbanded parliament last year after its members’ terms ended despite the fact that they too, had lost a year. 

To me, Moïse was an odd choice for president to begin with. He had no political experience, largely unknown to the public and had a checkered past as a serial entrepreneur who dabbled in everything — from agriculture to music impresario. So when he took over, Moïse had no base and his party, PHTK, undermined him. Left on his own to tackle Haiti’s intractable issues, Moïse has been playing footsie with known kidnappers and murderers. 

Right now, Haiti is barreling down on a new set of constitutional, social, political and economic crises whose end is as opaque as the plume of smoke that billows in cities across the mountainous Caribbean nation as people set fires ablaze in protest. Moïse appears unable to turn things around as the opposition and civil society groups demand he leaves power on Sunday and nominate an interim president, as per the constitution. 

When and how does this crisis end? No one knows. 

I could have written this piece 30 years ago. As a matter of fact, I have. This is a timeless analysis of Haiti in the last 30 years. The political parties of all stripes have one playbook. They wait until the last minute to jump into the race with no cohesive or credible agenda for the country. Once they win, they refuse to hold parliamentary elections and then have to step down, leaving the country in yet another crisis. 

Chaos in country, de facto middle class abroad

But I’m optimistic that Haiti’s best days are ahead of it. The arrogance and condescension that I usually get from Haiti’s elites have been tampered and they’re humbled. Although they have not said it directly, they know they have failed the country. I came away with that sentiment after a recent visit to Haiti.

So now, the next step is for the country’s leaders – political, civil society, the private sector – to come to the realization that they need help to get out of this morass that’s been years in the making. Who would they turn to? The international community has lost its appetite for nation-building, which it was never good at anyway. Many of the so-called Friends of Haiti – the U.S, France, Canada, Venezuela and others – are mired in protecting their citizens from the Coronavirus scourge that is decimating communities around the world. 

The other natural partner, the diaspora, is disorganized and doesn’t carry much sway in Haiti. Our proudest contributions, sending billions in remittances to relatives and friends, don’t impress the Haitian government because there is little in it for them besides alleviating their responsibility of caring for its citizens. 

I’ve said many times that this remittance system must be rethought because of its unintended circumstances to the diaspora communities’ growth and wealth. Our disposable income goes disproportionally to people who frankly don’t appreciate the sacrifice and instead see our largesse as an obligation because we live in the land of milk and honey while they are eating banana and mango leaves. 

However, I understand the impulse. I know the reality in Haiti. But we’ve been doing this for a while now and it’s clearly not working.  

My optimism stems from the fact that I think there is a different and more inclusive direction that we, as a diaspora, can take to break this vicious cycle of poverty, violence and hopelessness that is choking the life out of the average Haitian whose life expectancy is steadily declining. 

I remember when I was in elementary school, my mom was filling out her citizenship application and asked me if it was ok that she was going to include me. I shot back indignantly that I didn’t want to be an American citizen because after college I was going to return home to Haiti to work for my country. It was something that she would hold over my head and would remind me occasionally of that childhood tempest. 

Eventually my love and desire of joining the Peace Corps and living in Africa convinced me that it wasn’t bad at all being an American citizen. I took my oath in Tallahassee, where I was a student at Florida A&M University.  I went on to proudly serve the Peace Corps in Benin and Togo working with agriculture teachers in the provinces for two years. 

Reclaim your rights as a Haitian citizen

During this trip to Haiti last month, I reclaimed my rights as a Haitian citizen. I got an archival extract of my birth certificate, registered to vote and soon will apply for my Haitian passport. I can now own land and run for office, not that I have any such ambitions, but I can if I so wish. 

While I have many quibbles with the diaspora and its inability to set a cohesive agenda for its various communities, it remains a beacon of hope for Haiti. The diaspora has been the country’s de facto middle class. As you know, no society can function properly without a middle class. It is the class with everything to lose. And losing we are. 

I urge all of you who consider yourself troubled by the constant chaos that has engulfed Haiti to take one more or a few more for the team. Reclaim your rights as a Haitian and do one thing: Vote. It is clear that Haitians have lost their desire for democracy, ironically enough brought on by U.S meddling in our elections, playing king maker and forcing people like Martelly on the population. 

I believe this is why we are at this dangerous crossroads. Administrations are being elected without a mandate and people are restive. Government institutions are weak and ineffective. The good thing is that no matter how this latest crisis ends, we have time to organize ourselves and vote to make sure we don’t end up with another Neg Bannan.

Garry Pierre-Pierre

Garry Pierre-Pierre

Garry Pierre-Pierre is a Pulitzer Prize winning, multi-media and entrepreneurial journalist. Founder and publisher of Haitian Times.
Garry Pierre-Pierre

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Feb. 05, 2021

ONE COMMENT ON THIS POST To “How the Haitian Diaspora Can Reclaim its Birthrights”

  1. Luthiençia Baptiste says:

    And mangos*, which I consider a lucky fruit. I wish we’d import them to the United places; I think our mangoes taste like pleasure.

    I am in no hurry to see Moïse’s tenure as President of the Republic change simply because he is the best we have, evidenced by his zeal for restoring electricity over all the Island, encouraging everyone to practice entrepreneurial self-rescue, just actively working to improve the State of Life on the island my Father walks on.

    He has made himself visible and open. Yes, to a 2022 transition because that allows more time for the work we see him doing. I want the news to report his successes – like the signing of General Electric contract, I would enjoy the sight of images of the signing Ceremony. More images of our beautiful planet is what I ask of the news.

    President Moïse is in power because this is what the people have asked.

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