Give Haiti another chance — and the support it needs

Photo of Haitian protesters holding up sign saying Al Mayadeen / New York Times

In the midst of a clearly unfolding humanitarian disaster, many friends of Haiti are turning away from the impoverished nation, arguing that everything has been tried and little has worked. But turning our backs on Haiti now will only consign the country to misery, violence and hunger, with the ensuing outflow of emigrants. Based on wide experience in eight conflicts, to include Haiti, I believe there is a way out of the current dead end. It requires patiently and assertively combining international expertise and resources with Haitian will and energy to address the country’s intertwined problems of security and governance.

Haitians never have developed a means of collective decision-making, going from dictator to occupation and back again for more than 200 years. Meanwhile, its population has suffered nearly unprecedented demographic, economic and environmental pressures. The country’s latest tyrants are the gangs that compete violently over territory and resources, blocking the flow of even basic humanitarian aid.

It does little good to dwell on Haiti as a victim, however; history and geography have been unkind to many nations. As longtime Haiti observer Bob Shacochis put it, when given the chance Haitians will “rise stoically” to the challenges around them. And as analyst Georges Fauriol suggests, while the international community has been agonizing about what to do next, Haitians have been building the rudiments of a civil society that is prepared to take a central role in the country’s rebuilding.

In every conflict I have observed or participated in, the center of gravity for the restoration of security and governability is what one of my mentors, the late fragility expert Rufus Phillips, called “a political cause worth sacrificing for, one that could earn the support of the people.”  International partners too often try to move quickly to an election or elite bargain without doing the hard work to develop a national consensus.



Related Links

Suggested Content

The Politics Of Disaster Relief

After a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, the aftershock reached China in ways that few anticipated.The earthquake forced Chinese leaders to navigate the tricky politics of disaster relief.