Published on November 26, 2015
By Jean H Charles
My experience running as a candidate for president of the Republic of Haiti has convinced me that Haiti is indeed a bad nation peopled by bad citizens. What comes first: the bad citizens feeding a bad nation or a bad nation birthing bad citizens? I do not have the answer yet. But I am close to the hypothesis that the bad nation produces bad citizens.
Jean H Charles LLB, MSW, JD, was a candidate in the last Haitian presidential election. He can be reached at jean firstname.lastname@example.org and followed at Caribbean News Now/Haiti
Haiti has exploded after the gallant victory of heroes like Jean Jacques Dessalines Henry Christophe and Capois la Mort, whose bravura in the last battle in Vertieres on November 18, 1803, marked humanity for eternity. Capois’ horse fell onto the ground by an enemy bullet; standing up, he ordered his troops to forge ahead with the cry:
“En avant, en avant,” (go forward, go forward). The French General Rochambeau stopped the battle to salute a hero that transcended Spartacus and later the war continued, to produce the first slave victory in human history.
On the first day of the following year, after the departure of all the French troops from the soil of St Domingue on November 29, 1803, Haiti on January 1, 1804, burst independent into the world with the mission to free its own people and to free all people on earth enchained by slavery. In fact, its first constitution said exactly so. All the slaves as well, as all the black and Indian people that can reach its shore are given automatically not only freedom but also Haitian citizenship.
It did not take long for this epic human story to become uncomfortable by the assassination by his own brethren of the founding father Jean Jacques Dessalines. His body was mutilated. Defilee, a so called disturbed woman, gathered his parts to be buried. His name was banished from the Haitian soil for almost a century. Up to this day, no re-enacting of his death has been proposed in a play or in a film by the Haitian storytellers or any freedom fiction writer in the world.
Haiti is still carrying the ghost of this murder; it has not yet been exorcised. It has been a bad nation since, producing for two centuries bad citizens. The science of good and bad nations should be these days the preoccupation of world leaders and world academic institutions. How to produce good nation that will birth good citizens should be the concern of today world.
September 11, 2001, in New York; November 13, 2015, in Paris; the horde of refugees braving the Mediterranean to reach the soil of Europe from Syria, Iraq, Mali and Afghanistan; or the flotilla of desperate Haitians or Cuban trying to reach the soil of Florida, represent clear signals that we are living in a dangerous world for the citizens of the affected nations. Pope Francis is so concerned he wondered aloud recently whether we should celebrate Christmas in this year of our Lord 2015.
We need clearsighted leadership that could study the problem in its entire dimension to bring about an adequate solution. Again, I remember in the days of the late 60s, when New York City refused to give all the rights of citizenship to black Americans from the South who were escaping poverty and discrimination; it was my alma mater, Columbia University School of Social Work, that stepped in with professor leaders like George Bragger and Frances Piven to challenge Major John Lindsay to make New York City hospitable to all people, not only to American citizens but to all who come to the shore of Lady Liberty.
I have observed in the past 60 years that Haiti has bad leaders that refuse to leave. Some have been helped by the international community, some have remained by sheer force of terror like the Duvaliers and some have remained by adopting a new persona; for the more things change, more they remain the same. This election year is a clear example of that recurrent situation. Read my commentary five years ago: What’s next for Haiti?
Can this transition be the last one controlled by the forces in power? I am in the midst of this drama to speak in the first person. I have set myself four goals after the election:
• Expose the political parties such as the one I was enrolled under, as mafia organizations that regularly rob the candidates of funding provided by the government for campaigning.
• Educate the population to take their destiny in hand and refuse to be taken in by past leaders that insist on not leaving in spite of poor results in governing.
• Inform the Haitian people what it takes to live in a good nation where the sentiment of appurtenance flows in the veins of all the citizens, where sane institutions and excellent infrastructure exist all over the country, where those who are left behind are being pushed forward and where last but not least the divine mission of the nation has been engaged in for a better humanity.
• Mandate the citizen president to leave at the end of his term, gracefully after a task well done, without mortgaging the nation’s resources or its citizens!
Haiti has none of these characteristics. In spite of the fact the public cries foul with manipulation and irregularities if not outright fraud in the election, the people themselves cannot play outright innocent. I have seen a clear market for buying and selling of votes around the balloting offices. The people, believing they will not receive one iota after the election, have been engaged in selling their votes. I personally know influential political leaders who became national brokers of vote buying and selling.
Haiti has shown little consideration for its own people; let alone returning to its divine mission of emancipator nation. It is sinking badly into the haves and the haves not. The haves are those who are close to power, the have-nots are those with no link to power. It has exactly the same structure as in colonial times: 4% well off now, as 4% big planters then; 11% middle class now, as 11% enfranchised then; and 85% very poor rural citizen now, against 85% slaves then.
As soon as you leave the capital or any major city in the nation it is as though you are entering a medieval world, no electricity, no running water, houses that look like slave abodes, roads fit for horses not automobiles and the government trumpeting through billboard and advertisement that it is a caring government.
And the people of Haiti, as said by some of its best romantic writers, Jean Price Mars and Jean Baptist Cineas, ”All his life the Haitian citizen is one who sings and suffers, who pains and who laughs, who dances and who resigns himself to his fate.” Its leaders have filled their minds with the worst slogans of non-citizenship; slogans like stealing from the government is not a sin, swim by yourself to get out, question those who have and ask them why yourself have nothing, giving thanks is an act of a coward, put blame onto other nations for your own misdeeds.
Yet the people are generous to a fault, for in the extent of their poverty they are not inclined to be defeated or blame someone else for their fate, with resilience and fate in the future they are dedicating themselves to their children, believing they are a piggy bank and social security, not being aware that the government, coupled with their own self-creativity, should be the provider of the essential amenities of life, like public peace, excellent environment, good education and good health.
Haiti is not alone in that category of bad nations, regularly called failed nations. Zoom in on any country where you see the citizens are leaving in hordes and you will find a failed or a bad nation. They are numerous in the 54 states of Africa; they are getting to a dangerous level in the Middle East after foreign intervention that should have bought stability and good governance.
Why, with all the social scientists of the United Nations, the United States and the European Community, the good formula for building vibrant nations out of the failed ones has not been found, remains for me an enigma. Why billions if not trillions have been spent with catastrophic results after the stabilization process in Iraq or Afghanistan, and it is not the concern of scholars as well as the ordinary citizen to find adequate remedy?
I have tried in most of my essays to teach the five principles of Ernest Renan for nation building as the best solution to bring peace and stability to this world:
• Instill and practice the sentiment of appurtenance with your people;
• Build excellent infrastructure and sane institutions all over;
• Reach out in earnest to those who have been left behind;
• Find out and apply the divine meaning of your nation for the betterment of this world; and
• Say thank you for serving after your term in power and, leave with grace and gratitude.
I am building the Ernest Renan International Foundation for that very mission on planet earth, any willing godfathers?