Excerpts from my prepared remarks at the 4th Haiti Funders Conference on June 5th, 2019, in Miami … which I ended up not using at all (I decided to speak from the gut and results weren’t too shabby). They are insights that needed to be shared however and I have this here blog, so here goes.
On February 7th 2019, widespread protests lead to the country shutting down for 10 days. There are a lot of factors to take into consideration but we can probably narrow them down to three main ones: the Petrocaribe affair, the economy and an embattled president with practically no legitimacy left.
For the country to be locked for 10 days, there needed to be a congruence of movements all powered by growing frustrations all over the country. It needs repeating : people are hungry and forced to survive in some of the worst living conditions in the world. The Petrocaribe affair was like pouring salt on the wounds. It generated anger. Anger over what could have been. An opportunity utterly wasted. A staggering debt piled on a country just recently devastated by an earthquake. And, as American God’s Anansi would say, Anger gets things done.
The second factor is the economy. To put it succinctly, things are bad. In May, Haiti reportedly registered a 1.2% job loss and this is a country where the jobless are in the majority. Then, there are the costs of living. They are some of the highest for the region while Haiti is the poorest country with a commercial balance deficit that only rivals that of oil-rich countries. The situation is dire, the gourde is falling with no end in sight. Despair can be a great motivator too.
And of course, there’s President Jovenel Moïse who got in on a weak mandate, half a million people voted for him while 82% of the 6 million strong electorate elected to stay home. He got in with an indictment on money laundering charges about his former company Agritrans, from which he got his surname Banana Man. Agritrans is also cited in the Petrocaribe dossier for collusion, corruption and all matter of unsavory deals. There’s your opportunity window.
On Feb 7th, on the 33rd anniversary of the fall of the Duvalier regime, people took to the streets to demand the president leaves power, with the opposition, surfing on the anti-corruption wave to try to seize power. That bid failed – the US came in to remind us all that President Moïse has a 5-year mandate and that we better shush it – but it further weakened the President who has gone from being very present and assertive to a somewhat reclusive and silent figure.
We should, probably, exert some caution in characterizing the current protests as definitively different. Most of the people protesting today were protesting in 2004 as well as in other big protests in the recent years. There’s a wave of new protesters, sure, but the make up hasn’t fundamentally changed. What has however is the way they mobilize: the increasing role of social media. Even before the #PetroCaribeChallenge, the July 6 and 7 events were Whatsapp fueled and organized.
The difference could lie in trying to envision what Haiti might look like afterwards. A yearning for a common vision, a national project, what we call #AyitiNouVleA. There’s this sense that we can’t just ask for change, we need to define what that change is about. In Haiti instability + precarity is a way of life. It maintains a scarcity mentality that has prevented us as a society to change what Alain Touraine calls our regime d’historicité, leave the everlasting present and project ourselves in the future. The difference seems to be there, and technology, social media and the ability it gives to mobilize, propose and act, is fueling it.
A leaderless state
The #PetroCaribeChallenge is leaderless, by design, #LideAnvanLidè. The country too is leaderless, although not by design. President Moïse is at his 3rd government. The first one was his private doctor, a gastroenterologist who didn’t care much about governing and let it be known when he was let go by the Parliament. The second one was a former presidential candidate who had lost abysmally to Moïse’s already abysmal numbers and who was supposed to show the Moïse administration’s openness. Mr Céant was saddled with a Cabinet he had no control over, while having only 3 members of his party in Parliament. Things ended the only way they could have : The Parliament let him go.
The third and current Prime Minister was/is Minister for Culture under Céant, was a per interim Prime Minister for 30 days, then nominated as Prime Minister and has had to redo his pick of cabinet members 3 times now, as a group of 4 in the Senate are actively blocking their confirmation.
About 2 weeks ago, the group of 4 deliberately sacked the audience room in the Senate. In the last days, 70 members of the Lower Chamber threatened to resign the rest of their mandate so that the Parliament would be made obsolete. That way the President would no longer need the Parliament’s approval. They’ve backed on the decision however so we’re back to square one.
There is a pressing need for a government at the moment. International aid, from the IMF notably, is conditioned to the establishment of a new government. Logic would dictate the President compromise and remove the irritants, like the Minister for Justice who is decried for the role he played in the “mercenaries scandal” last February… or even Prime Minister Lapin himself. However logic has never been Mr Moïse’s style. We’ll likely have to look to our betters in Washington to decide the next steps. Which brings us to the elections, the US seemed to want them, even though, rumor has it, they’re not so sure anymore. The Haitian people not so much. The Core group (a group of country and IOs who are self-proclaimed friends of Haiti) is following the US’s lead. Elections will likely depend on how much the international community view them as necessary.
First scenario : they don’t happen. The President gets to govern by decree and show us what he really meant by his “The president has spoken. Period” catch phrase.
Second scenario : they happen and we, engaged citizens, particularly those in the #PetroCaribeChallenge, have to be ready to tip the scales in favor of the Haiti we want, by mobilizing and energizing the people behind ideas to get out the vote and by ensuring the elections are fair. Otherwise, the President’s party is likely to maintain power and the chances of a Petrocaribe trial ever happening becoming less and less.
From the very first sit-in the demands were clear. A marche à suivre was designed for the State, in white on black on a sign on that day of August. August 26th, 2018. We wanted an audit, an investigation, a criminal trial and restitutions.
On May 31st 2019, we got the final audit by the Accountability Court and its sentencings are coming up. The investigation had reportedly started but investigators had repeatedly stated they were waiting on the Court.
The pressure now needs to be on the office of the Commissaire de Gouvernement, the equivalent of the Attorney General, in Port-au-Prince so we can get to trial.
We started our own audit process back in September 2018, now it’s time to do our own investigation, trough the #OditKolektif with private investigators who specialize in financial crimes. There is so much we still have to learn about what happened during those 8 years and we can’t yet count on the State to tell us the whole story.
Haiti’s biggest problem is one of impunity. Folks are so certain that nothing will happen to them no matter what that they don’t even try hide their corruption. Haiti doesn’t so much have a transparency issue. It’s more of a no consequence culture. This culture also means the corrupts have been utterly sloppy and thus we should be able to easily trace what they’ve done and bring them to justice.
There’s also the fact that the Haitian people is more aware of what happened. The next step is to put faces on financial crimes committed against an entire nation. Not so much those of the criminals as it is the everyday folks who are lacking education, healthcare, food… because corrupt government officials stole and helped steal it from the people. It’s important to highlight the loss of opportunity and work on a common vision of dignity for the entire nation. The future may not look bright but people aren’t in the dark anymore. There’s hope to be had.
The #AyitiNouVleA vision has been built from about 13 000 tweets over a month, the guide with over 40 000 people, the pwogram is currently being tested in local communities and will be for a full year. So far it seems to have tapped into something people want and actually dream of. The Haitian dream, a quite modest one of dignity in solidarity, seems to be shaping up.
We’ve had people from academia, the private sector and even politicians reach out to share the vision and let us know that they appreciate the work we’re doing, that they, too, want a better Haiti. The question is how do we get there.
ANVA’s plan has 4 parts we’re working on concomittantly:
- The national project to build the Haiti we want, #AyitiNouVleA. A Haiti that invests in its people, where they live and how they live. That means investing in education, healthcare, food … the basics. It also means creating wealth, better working conditions and a better environment. We bind this with placing Haitian culture at the center of it all.
- The citizen media group to inform the people on long term problems and promising solutions.
- The Bousòl, an online multicriteria decision support system fueled by crowdsourcing that empowers every citizen to know about and influence public policies.
- The Labo, a think thank to advocate for those policies and ensure the #AyitiNouVleA project is implemented.
The ideas are there. The how is becoming clearer. The funds are scarce however. Which limits our range of action.
Ayiti Nou Ye A
In the meantime, we live in Haiti now, a country characterized by an all encompassing, multiform insecurity fueled by inequalities, corruption and, above all, impunity.
Since 2001, Haiti’s Gini coefficient has remained stagnant at 0.61. By comparison, the region’s 0.41 and Latin America is one of the most unequal region in the world. For the UN, a Gini coefficient of 0.40 is is alarming because it indicates a polarization between rich and poor difficult to take by the society. We’ve been at 0.61 for almost 2 decades.The distribution of wealth is so highly polarized that 20% of the poorest population receives 0.9% of total income and the richest 20% receives 64.3%. This fuels insecurity.
Corruption in Haiti is a way of life. It pervades every aspect of our daily lives. Detail corruption is paramount. In 2014, Transparency International had a very interesting report on corruption as a threat to stability and peace showing strong links between corruption risk and violent conflict, notably in war-torn regions like Afghanistan, Kosovo and West Africa. Haiti might not be at war but statistics are similar down to violence against women. With the help of people from the private sector and politicians alike, gangs are taking over vast areas of Port-au-Prince, the capital, and are now branching out in the countryside. Gangs help win elections. Gangs ensure the competition is dead.
All this is possible because there are no consequences for one’s criminal deeds. Almost no crime is ever punished. When there’s no consequence, incentives to respect the law are at their lowest.
Still, and even if we can all agree crime statistics in Haiti are hard to verify, things could be much worse. The Haitian National Police (HNP) has about 15,000 officers, approximately two-thirds of whom serve in the greater Port-au-Prince metropolitan area (home to approximately three million residents). Inequalities are high. Corruption is everywhere and we are not at each other’s throat. To me, that signals that things won’t take long to get better.
How to help
Invest in and trust the Haitian people. We’ll pull through but we’ll need time. Things won’t change over night and anyone promising this likely doesn’t have a good grasp of the situation. We need to think long-term. Invest in people. In where they live. How they live. No more get-developed-quick schemes.
Countries like Ghana doubled their education budget and saw their annual growth double in 12 years. The World Bank’s latest report on Haiti is clear, to fight poverty, Haiti must invest in human capital. Haiti was the first country in the modern age to make education free at every level. Our first constitution promulgated by King Henri Christophe stated that education shall be free. Primary education shall be compulsory… State education shall be free at every level. The revised Constitution in 1807 further established the practice of providing accessible public education for all. Our current constitution, from 1987, declares education shall be a right for every citizen.
These goals were never achieved but our belief in the merits of education remains strong. Haitian parents spend over a third of their income on education; generally bad and terrible education, it’s true but the belief is there and so is the decision to invest in it. This is something we can and should build on. Invest in education. Beyond early learning. All levels of education. Invest in training. And, while we’re at it, ensure people are in health and not perpetually hungry so they can actually learn.
We also need to invest in and empower the grassroots movements working on the Dignity revolution, encourage citizens to actively participate in politics, to vote, to run for office and more importantly define what they want and hold politicians accountable.
At Ayiti Nou Vle A, we are currently working on a blueprint for a multicriteria decision support to do just that. We’re planning to combine crowdsourcing, a powerful algorithm and our vision of a life of dignity for all, to design and advocate for public policies that will truly benefit most if not always all. At this very moment, there is a chance to finally begin the journey to democracy in Haiti and build a country where the people has the power to decide how it wants to live and how it’s going to get there. It’s a beautiful and quite modest dream, it’s also a possible dream that starts with believing in it enough to act on it.
In short, invest in that vision. Invest in #AyitiNouVleA.
Learn more about our program at http://www.ayitinouvlea.org/pwogram
How about we let the writing do the talking?