Thursday, October 18, 2012

Haiti and Africa. Not so Bat Shit Crazy

Face of Malawi reports  


" If all goes as planned, Haiti, yes North America’s Haiti, will become the latest member of the African Union sometime in January. Haiti and Africa share a sense of history, and African countries stepped up in the wake of Haiti’s earthquake, which has led some to conclude the time is right to formalize their ties.

The African Union has 54 member states — all of them are located on the African continent. But as early as January, that could change. 
Haiti might be en route to becoming the first country to join the African Union that isn’t actually African. Or is it? "

An excellent question. The African diaspora is huge. Black Latin American's tend to see themselves as Afrodescendants of the Americas  as opposed to the American Afroamerican designation. With regard to Latin America generally this wouldn't work the indigenous people would need to be taken into account. Haiti has no remaining indigenous population left. The Taino were wiped out by diseases and Spanish indifference, ( those that live to this day do so as part of the black population the result of inter breeding with escaped slaves ) the repopulation by slaves from Africa has left a homogenous black population. James Mitchener's Caribbean give an excellent account of the history of the the region. 

" Mian Georges, of Benin, is among the thousands of United Nations personnel from Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa, who’ve participated in missions in Haiti in recent decades. But Georges says for Africans, the connection to Haiti is unique.
“We are practically connected by umbilical cord to Haiti,” he said. “Our histories are common. Our cultures too. When I came to Haiti, it was basically the same food. I feel like I’m back home in Africa.”

That is overstating things. The histories are vastly different Toussaint Louverture defeated the armies of Napoleon  to win independence for Haiti only to be tricked and die in prison in France, however the die was cast and in 1804 Haiti was a nation the first ever modern day black nation. France was broke and America was to acquire Louisana. African freedom came about largely due to European decolonisation. Interesting to think that most European nations learnt Napoleon's lesson but sadly not France.  Their behavior in New Caledonia to this day shows even Vietnam failed to teach them a very basic lesson.
As for the food argument, not valid at all. For all that these alone are not reasons enough to prevent Haiti joining the AU. 

" And Georges’ country, Benin, has a special link with Haiti. It was a Beninois, Toussaint Louverture, who led Haiti’s successful rebellion against the French at the end of the 18th century. That established Haiti as a symbol of black independence."

I admire Georges enthusiasm  but has he forgotten African History.  The hegemony of Great Zimbabwe is legendary.

" So to many Africans and Haitians, the idea of Haiti becoming a member of the African Union seems natural.
Last July, at an African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Haiti’s communication minister Ady Jean-Gardy moved to make it official.
“We’re already in the Organization of American States,” he said. “We have a representative at the European Union, and we think we should be in the African Union.”

And therein lies the greatest stumbling bloc. Being part of the Organisation of American States and having diplomatic relations with the EEC is no reason to become part of the AU. The real issue is one of geography.

" Jean-Gardy said an AU membership could lead to economic exchanges geared toward development, and inclusion in African trading blocs."

Indeed economically it would be good it would also make Haiti eligible for investment funding through the African Development banks / funds.

" The AU postponed a decision on Haiti’s inclusion in the union until January 2013. But Africa appears poised to let Haiti into the fold."

" Babacar M’Bow, from Senegal, is a cultural consultant with a focus on Haiti. And he’s been pushing for Haiti to be let into the AU.
“Our parents were advocates for Haiti,” he said, “so we inherited this charge.”
To many Africans, there is a sense of indebtedness to Haiti because Haiti has been an advocate for Africa. When Haiti was the only black member of the United Nations, it pushed for the liberation of Africa from colonial rule."

I guess you take your rewards where you find them.

" Haiti also enjoys a level of prestige in African countries that it doesn’t have closer to home.
M’Bow says he grew up in Senegal surrounded by Haitian professors and artists. And the Democratic Republic of Congo has welcomed waves of Haitian professionals.
Jean-Junior Joseph served as communications chief for Haiti’s prime minister a few years ago. Then he went to Congo to work in a similar position.
“The prime minister spoke to me on different occasions, and said, ‘what can we do for you?’ They always think we belong to them. They think, ‘well they shipped you over there. Now come back to us,’” he said."
I am skeptical to a degree on this. Robert Mugabe doesn't show a lot of respect for Jamaica rather he treats them with contempt and familiarity it would seem in his at any rate case breeds contempt. 
" After the 2010 earthquake, the Democratic Republic of Congo, dependent on foreign aid itself, pledged to donate $2.5 million to Haiti. And Senegal’s president flew 150 Haitian students to Dakar to attend college there, for free.
Small-scale exchanges have also been happening.
Earlier this year, Port-au-Prince resident Baudeler Magloire flew to Benin on a National Geographic travel grant to share his expertise in composting toilets with organizations there. And he was struck by how connected people there seemed to feel to his country.
“When I said I was Haitian, they said, ‘Yeah, Haitians are our brothers.’ Most people know the history of Haiti, they learn it in school, and there are people who worked in Haiti,’” he said."

Learning about a place in school is totally different to understanding it.

And while many here in Haiti believe their country is essentially African, their understanding of what Africa is is more complicated. To some, it is where they go after they die. Others think it is a single country. And it gets worse in some circles, according to M’Bow, who visits Haiti often.
“Most Haitians are ignorant of Africa,” he said. “If you want to insult somebody, you will call him an African, ‘Look at an African!’ It is a derogatory term, and it highlights that ignorance. So there is work to be done.”
That is not a small point almost every African I have met, black and white identifies as being African. That is a powerful bond and one Haiti doesn't share. The British are starting to realise they are not Europeans in the same way that the Europeans of continental Europe are. Geography matters.
" M’Bow says there’s also work to be done if Haiti wants to joint the AU.
“If Haiti is a member of the African Union,” he said, “all bets are off. Haiti is subject to analysis and criticism as any other member state of the union.”
In other words, the Haiti-Africa relationship would have to develop beyond symbolism and shared history."
For all my caution it is probably worth a go. A mechanism for exit should be considered as it will quite likely need to be different for that of a continental African nation.  

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