Haiti, the fight against the Western aid policy

Christian Wisskirchen is a member of the Management Committee of the Haiti Support Group who has been involved in campaigns to work towards participatory democracy in Haiti since 1992. He has worked for the UN in Haiti in 1995, as a Human Rights Officer.

Massive humanitarian aid is indispensable today, given the scale of the disaster in Haiti, but it should be deployed in terms of a different vision of the reconstruction process. Firstly Haitians must be given every employment opportunity possible in the reconstruction process, which will in turn help the local economy. A new aid policy should be a break from the paradigms that dominate the traditional circuits of international aid.

Haitian grassroots/civil society organisations need to bring forward a new generation of political leaders to advocate effectively for agrarian reform and an integrated urban land reform programme, the struggle against illiteracy and for reforestation, and for the construction of new modern, decentralised and universal systems of education and public health.

Debt relief with the right kind of strings attached and the right kind of government implementing the benefits has had enormous impacts in places like Mozambique or Uganda on spending on education, health, etc.

But this needs, as many Haitian people demand, changes in the way government operates and accounts for the aid influx. Decentralisation, as foreseen in the 1987 Constitution, but never effectively implemented, needs to be at the heart of a reformed state apparatus. Aid needs to get through to the lowest level, so that local people can hold local officials to account for how it is spent.

Maybe most problematically and urgently is the fight against the Western aid policy for Haiti: Professor Paul Collier’s plan, duly adopted by the UN, and now energetically promoted by Bill Clinton, is a reprise of the failed development plans of the last 30 years. It focuses almost exclusively on the Western perception of the main "strength" of Haiti: its cheap labour. This misconceived focus on creating quickly many jobs in production line jobs has pulled people from the countryside into the slums of the capital, but the jobs in the factories have proved elusive, due to political instability, natural disasters and fickleness of foreign investors who find yet cheaper labour, but more stable conditions elsewhere.

Haiti needs to be allowed to repair its environment, develop sustainable agriculture and raise its tariffs to protect the developing market from subsidised imported products. But there is not much time. IGO’s and donor goverments are readying themselves to decide on Haiti’s future at the UN Donor Conference in the second half of March. They are not waiting for Haitians to consult and present their ideas to them.


Further reading:
Gary Young: The west owes Haiti a bailout. And it would be a hand-back, not a handout

Reed Lindsay: Spirit and strength will pull Haiti’s people through