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The Haitian diaspora: Conscience and economic engine

Kerlande Mibel

Haiti is currently a blank canvas, full of possibilities and opportunity. Since the earthquake on Jan. 12, experts have submitted their recommendations for reconstruction. But even as they, and others, jostle by Haiti’s bedside, it becomes clear that the country has been slow to take advantage of its greatest asset: its people. Haiti’s people along with its diaspora must now take control of their destiny.

Roughly 80 per cent of trained and educated Haitians currently live abroad. This is, in and of itself, a major challenge. How might Haiti avail itself of its diaspora, and moreover, what should its role be? Just as Haitian professionals contribute to Quebec society, Haitian expatriates from around the world are currently contributing on economic and social levels to the communities in which they have settled. But what might we expect this scattered, heterogeneous diaspora to proffer for the rebirth of Haiti?

A voice that carries

It is a foregone conclusion that the diaspora has been summoned to be a full participant in the nation’s reconstruction. Initially, it should do what it can to ensure that the interests of the country and its citizens are fully respected by becoming its watchdog. It would be wrong to believe, and fanciful to hope, that friendly nations might embrace such a role. Even though their sympathy for Haitian victims and their relatives is sincere, their commitments remain first and foremost focused on their own countries and toward their own constituents. It will be important to ensure that the designs of global financial institutions are not imposed upon the people of Haiti, nor copied from failed models in other 

Who else might raise such questions and dare to criticize the massive processes now underway? Despite its ambitions of sovereignty, the Haitian government seems too dependent on foreign institutions to properly question the models they propose. Further, civil society is too busy working to heal the nation’s wounds. Thus, if Haiti’s interests are to be defended during this reconstruction and after, it will require a vigilant diaspora to help during this trying time.

One may also wonder who can question the increasing number of NGOs operating in Haiti. Millions will be allocated for humanitarian aid to these agencies in response to the Jan. 12 disaster, but what guarantees exist regarding the judicious management of these funds? By the same token, Haiti currently represents a golden opportunity for seasoned investors; whether they take advantage of the Haitian government’s current vulnerability to plunder the country’s resources is a worrisome unknown. It is therefore in the hands of Haiti’s diaspora to deploy its critical expertise and examine the processes at work, so as to convey its meaningful opposition whenever required. If done consistently and effectively, this alone would represent a significant accomplishment.

Secondly, the diaspora will be called upon to play an important economic role. However, boasting about the billions it will inject into the economy will not be enough, as it becomes clear that money transfers alone will not spur sustainable macroeconomic growth in Haiti.

Creating institutions that provide economic tools which can put Haiti on a path to prosperity will therefore be important. The state could assist in the rebirth of Haiti by acquiring companies in key industrial sectors such as renewable energy, tourism and agriculture, and the funding required to build such institutions could come in part from the Haitian diaspora. In comparison to the capital lent by global financial institutions, the funds raised by the diaspora would be free of constraints, and as such would allow for a more strategic economic development. Funding from the diaspora could also support construction and infrastructure projects within Haiti.

In addition, incubation initiatives focused on certain sectors of the economy might also be considered to enhance recovery by assisting in the creation of businesses that increase local employment. In summoning the massive investments required, the diaspora and its business leaders would be poised to play a critical role.

Moreover, in the medium and long term, stimulating local entrepreneurship can lead to a feasible path to job creation. This initiative may include the rearrangement of school curricula to include training in the creation and operation of small businesses. Finally, the diaspora may also use its knowledge, professionalism, expertise and networks around the world to ensure growth and prosperity of Haiti’s private sector.

Rebuilding pride

Jan. 12 has more than ever underscored the opportunity to rebuild Haitian society, re-examine its values and redefine its internal and external relationships. This is an opportunity to summon the legacy that pioneers and founders, such as Louverture and Christophe, have bestowed. It is also an opportunity for Haitians to redefine themselves collectively as a people. The diaspora can help by offering positive images of Haiti and Haitians.

In addition, for the new generation of young Haitians in need of role models, it is important that national pride finds itself expressed in words and actions, structure and strong roots.

While all members of the diaspora cannot be seen making ostentatious gestures, they must each help in their own way to change the discourse and practices that damage the nation. We have seen this change through authors such as Dany Lafferrière in Canada, or Edwidge Danticat in the United States, who have both recently taken a stand and placed Haiti in a favourable light.

Further, government representatives such as Patrice Gaspard, an advisor to President Barack Obama, and Michaëlle Jean, the Governor General of Canada, provide positive role models that inspire all members of the diaspora to live up to the legacy of the founders of Haiti.

It is time for the Haitian diaspora to collectively break free of an attitude that keeps it trapped in a mindset of failure. A proverb states that when hope and vision are lost, a people will live in disorder. What is our vision? It is up to Haitians and the Haitian diaspora to decide.blue square

Kerlande Mibel is President of the Jeune Chambre de commerce haïtienne de Montréal. As Policy Advisor to the City of Montreal, she has over seven years of experience in local economic development, mainly in entrepreneurship.

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