The African brand is on trial in Haiti

OPINION – The world’s first independent black republic, Haiti, was struck at 4:53pm local time or 21:53 UTC on 12 January 2010, by a magnitude-7.0 earthquake January 12, 2010, at 21:53 UTC.

The earthquake, the most severe in 200 years, exposed more about our African heritage than the visible damage to human and physical infrastructure that we have seen.

Haiti’s geography in the Western Hemisphere may be misleading as the values, beliefs and principles that inform its approach to nation building may not be any different from the majority of African states.

We have seen the global response to the calamity. The nature and source of the response is instructive.

At a time when the viability of the global capitalist system is in question, we see the major players in the humanitarian and philanthropic spheres originating from the West.

Many developing countries would want to look at the East for salvation but regrettably the face of help that has dominated our global airwaves is from the West suggesting that most of the complex challenges caused by nature will still require Western leadership notwithstanding the challenges that confront capitalism as we know it.

The African brand is on trial in Haiti and yet the response from Africa is largely missing in action with the exception of South Africa.

The death toll is estimates at more than 200,000. As we observe the extent of the damage to property we cannot help but come to the conclusion that the severity of the impact on human and physical assets would have been mitigated by professional design and construction.

But who are we as Africans to say this when we know that the majority of our structures would not stand the test of nature.

What is evident is that our pain calls for a global response exposing the fact that we have no coherent plans to mitigate not only the dangers inherent in nature but more importantly the dangers posed by our own inaction and lack of planning.

Without the generosity of the very people we ridicule in our daily discourses, do we ever pause to ask the question about our own lack of response and organisation the situation that we are witnessing in Haiti?

The capital city was devastated and so was the Presidential Palace which was badly damaged, with the second floor entirely collapsing onto the first floor. The Haitan Parliament building and the National Cathedral were not spared

On 6 December 1492, Haiti’s native Arawaks Indians fell victim to Spanish rule thanks to Christopher Columbus, the explorer. In 1697, the control of Haiti shifted to the French and the conversion of the island into a sugarcane producer underpinned by slave labour began.

It took an insurrection led by Pierre-Dominique Toussaint l’Ouverture of the 480,000 slave population in 1791 for the first declaration of independence in 1801.

However, unlike the declaration of independence in the USA, the independence of former slaves became elusive if not a mirage.

Although Napoléon Bonaparte suppressed the independence movement, it eventually triumphed in 1804 under Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who gave the new nation the Arawak name Haiti thereby becoming the world’s first independent black republic.

As the first child of Africans’ quest for independence, a lot was expected and regrettably in 2010 we discover that not much progress has been made in reducing the frontiers of poverty.

It remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and its experience with independence no different from the experience of many of the African states.

Haiti has been plagued by leadership challenges at the political level. This is not unique to Haiti as many African states have and continue to endure a similar civilization.

Is there any solution to our plight? How should we respond to this catastrophe? Can it happen again?

As Africans, we need to pause and think seriously about the kind of civilization we want to be part of. It would be naive to sloganeer in the face of what can and should be avoidable.

We have yet to see ourselves respond to the calamity in Haiti. Many of us are spectators of history and would like to surrender to a position where we can let history define us and not shape it.

We are alive to see the dangers posed by a lack of investment and the absence of the rule of law and more importantly what can happen if an institutional framework that is needed to underpin a civilization that respect the rule of law is absent.

As members of Africa Heritage Society www.africa-heritage.com I feel that my heritage is on trial and God has exposed what can happen to human life if the minimum standards needed for a functioning system are not in place.

We need to look at ourselves and find it within us to be the change that we want to see.

Nature has exposed that the foundation on which the Haitian model was built was wrong and we do not need an earthquake in Africa to demonstrate that we have many parts of Africa where life means nothing more than it does in Haiti.

We need to respond to the Haitian disaster not because we can make much difference but because we also are part of the story. The victims look like the majority of the people we call our brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, uncles, nephews and nieces.

How best can we respond? We know that it will happen again unless there is fundamental change in how Haiti is structured and governed. We can respond firstly in cash and in kind.

This we can do by collecting from those who feel they are part of the solution. Secondly, we can help by demonstrating that even in Africa change is welcome and desirable.

We also must look at what can happen if Africa’s eggs and resources are in the hands of the East.

If Africa, the home of 1 billion people can point the way, Haiti can follow. Haiti is our most senior brand ambassador and the results of what awaits Africa if serious introspection is not done are obvious to all.

Countless Africans die every day as a result of manmade disasters and less because of nature.

If we change, perhaps nature can be kind to us because we would have built our own strategic defence mechanisms.

We all have a part to play and let us reflect on what we want to be remembered for especially at this defining hour in our long journey to a new destination where the brand is at its best when calamity hits unexpectedly.