Issues Awaiting Haiti's Next President

Haitians after the 2010 earthquake

On March 20, Haiti ostensibly elected a new president in a presidential runoff election after the inconclusive November 28 election. At the moment, results are still being tallied. Although this election included acts of violence and administrative problems, initial reports show that this round went much better than the one in November. However, the long-suffering Haitian people are still far from celebrating. 

The election, when the dust has settled, will be the culmination of a controversial, fraud-laden process in a country that suffered a massive January 2010 earthquake that killed at least 300,000 individuals, leaving nearly a million people living in squalid temporary tents and camps, and a cholera epidemic that took more than 4,000 lives. Despite the urgency for leadership, the outgoing government could not organize a free and fair election. Credible evidence suggests that the outgoing government may have attempted to rig a preferred candidate into the presidential runoff.

Either the wife of a former president or a popular singer will become the next president of Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Whoever becomes the president of Haiti will face immediate daunting issues.

The new president should immediately eschew the emergence of personality cult, mysticism and messiah complex around the presidency and government. Haiti has suffered from know-it-all leaders who often violently attempt to muzzle political dissent. The Haiti of 2011 deserves a humble, listening, accessible, dynamic, patriotic and efficient leader totally committed to the present and future welfare of all Haitians.

The new president must take complete charge of the machinery of government. Today, Haiti is run like a potentate by the international community and nongovernmental organizations largely due to the shambolic, dysfunctional and massively corrupt governments that have ruled Haiti for most of its history. To assume control of the machinery of government, the new president will need to demonstrate in short order total commitment to transparency in government operations; provide a clear evidence of a sustainable plan to move Haiti forward; show verifiable evidence of commitment to the rule of law; make moves to strengthen democratic traditions; and begin the necessary steps to strengthen national economic, political, civil society and cultural institutions in the country.

The new president must put Haitians to work in massive infrastructure projects. Haiti needs to clear rubbles from the earthquake; rebuild destroyed government buildings, schools and hospitals; assist families in reconstructing destroyed homes; decongest major urban cities; expand road networks and electric grids; and extend water supply and sanitation services to more communities and homes. This task will not be easy, since pledges of more than $10 billion made by many countries and organizations in response to the 2010 earthquake are not under control of the government. While working on gaining access to the internationally pledged resources, the new president should begin to put Haitians to work from domestic resources, no matter how little.

The new president must work with all segments of the Haitian society to build a more equitable control, implementing policies that seek to alleviate poverty at family and communal levels. The new president should capitalize on the well-known entrepreneurial capacity of the average Haitian by investing in small-scale businesses in communities throughout the country as part of the long-term effort to raise living conditions and create a thriving middle class. The government support for small-scale enterprises should become a major priority in relationships with external donors and organizations.

The new president should also work with the tiny but powerful business and intellectual elites that have dominated Haiti for more than 50 years. The focus of this partnership should be on creating a more equitable Haiti and the support of enterprises that can provide employment opportunities for thousands. The key is that the new president should make it clear to privileged Haitians that it is unsustainable for a tiny segment of the population to control the political and economic sphere of a country amidst grinding poverty and abject hopelessness suffered by a vast majority of the population.

Finally, a most formidable challenge of the new president is how to nurture and expand government's relationship with the powerful Haitian diaspora. The number one foreign policy objective of the new president should be to develop a genuine development partnership with Haitians in the diaspora. The relationship between Haitian governments and Haitians in the diaspora has been mutually suspicious in the past for a variety of reasons. However, Haitians in the diaspora continue to retain permanent interests in their homeland, and they will not go away. They have resources (financial, technical and logistical) sorely needed in Haiti. Haitians in the diaspora should provide constructive feedback to the government while elected officials should focus on their constitutional duties. Haitians in the diaspora can play important roles in infrastructure projects, business investments, education, healthcare delivery and strengthening of national public institutions. Remittances have been a lifeline in the day-to-day life in Haiti and could be strengthened for community-based development initiatives.

The next president of Haiti has a gargantuan task of steering the impoverished but proud nation out of its multiple problems and challenges. The sustainable development of Haiti can be accomplished only by Haitians. Outsiders and foreign entities can provide assistance at best. Ordinary Haitians and a determined and focused leadership will determine the fate of Haiti, the second country after the United States to gain political independence in the Western Hemisphere.

View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Chinua Akukwe.