Reynald Altema, MD
Here we go again. We are responding en masse to another racist ranting and diatribe. Our pride is wounded of course and we call for change back home primarily and some here in the power structure so we can have a voice. For a limited time, there will be some ad hoc activities. Soon thereafter the event will fade from collective memories. Without minimizing the impact and potency of political involvement on this side of the Atlantic, that in or itself will not suffice.
The stark reality of life back home will remain unchanged or at best some cosmetic changes around the edges can take place but if history is any guide, plus ça change, plus ça reste le même. Sooner or later we will be reminded of it again in a less than diplomatic way by someone somewhere and the whole scenario will repeat itself.
Lest there be any misunderstanding, let’s be clear on this. As a Haitian-born individual, it hurts each time one more negative narrative catches oxygen. It also hurts and even more so when one observes the following facts: whether we like or not, we rank last in all metrics used to evaluate a country. We can argue ad infinitum and come up with every type of excuse as to why it is so but it doesn’t change anything.
The question then becomes the following: what’s the way out that morass? Is there a way?
In my humble opinion, this is as good a time as any to reassess the landscape. We need to understand that as long as poverty is so rampant in the country, our brothers and sisters fleeing the homeland seeking refuge on foreign soils will be treated like nuisance if not worse. This is true in our neighboring country and others. This phenomenon didn’t start yesterday either. In the famous novel “Les gouverneurs de la rosée”, Manuel reminds us of the Cuban expression “matar a un Haitiano o matar a un caniño.” Our brothers and sisters doing sorely needed menial jobs or simply seeking them have never been given the welcome mat over the years.
Traditionally the popular approach has been to band under a political banner behind a leader promising the moon. If we learned anything over the past 30 years, it is that politicians come and go but the metrics seem to worsen. Invariably the presidency carries the perquisite of accumulation of a sizable personal fortune, whereas the wretched conditions persist. No better way to describe this than to avoid mincing words and call it what it is: kleptocracy.
So the idea that a leader will come and change everything for the better remains utopia. A good example is our present one. Out of one side of the mouth he pretends to fight corruption, out of the other, he claims not to be interested in pursuing fraudsters in the Petro Caribe dossier. Who is kidding whom? This type of sanctioned impunity is as revolting as the offensive remark under discussion and needs to be called out collectively. It seems that we keep giving passes to our own’s trespasses but become disproportionately jolted with foreigners’. Our reaction ought to be same in each case. Maybe next time our own trespasser will think twice before uttering such farce.
The vicious cycle of poverty, bad management, corruption is self-sustaining. That is scary. In the face of limited resources, it is quite obscene to mishandle them. We have mastered that distinction.
Is there any light at the end of the tunnel? Tentatively yes. When faced with the calamity that befell our country 8 years ago, a group of concerned citizens decided that the public sector had failed and a grassroots effort comprised of professionals-mostly but not only-of Haitian and other nationalities created not only a think tank to analyze and offer solutions but has since started implementing them.
GRAHN (Groupe de Réflexion et d’Action pour une Haïti Nouvelle), grahnmonde.org, in record time has decided to help burnish the level of professional competence by creating the country’s first and only graduate school, ISTEAH, a science academy, and is in the phase of a nascent project of starting a smart city, pigran.org, where education, research, entrepreneurship will coalesce à la Silicon Valley to create professional cadre, create jobs and reduce poverty without any partisan leaning. If the public sector is either not willing or not able to, then honest citizens who can help should join the fray to help Haitian society overcome its socio-economic ills. Manna will not fall from the sky. NGOs have multiplied and the problems remain just as acute. Poverty is a source of big business. In the name of helping to fight the earthquake, any number of entities and personalities raised money but Haitian society has nothing to show for it. The country is being sucked to its dry bones by the very people whose mission it is to safeguard against such mismanagement. A change of mind-set is what is needed. A mind-set where society welfare takes precedence over pilfering for personal gain. Increase literacy, eliminate poverty. Do away with the notion of schadenfreude.
The best and only way to shut the mouth of bigots is to change the reality back home. The best way to change the reality back home is to enhance access to education, create job generating enterprises, help state institutions function better, refrain from partisan infighting over bread crumbs and concentrate on building the country’s infrastructure. All we need to do is remove our heads buried in sand, forever asking others to be more concerned about our lot than we are and follow the example of other countries that take care of business and fight graft, nepotism and wisely use their resources. It is not a magic formula and it’s maddening why we don’t seem to get it. One man’s opinion.