No. 380: Haiti Hurricane Puts Republic of NGOs' Exploitation in Focus / Adekeye Adebajo / Business Day
1 November 2016
In 2004, when then president Thabo Mbeki was the only African head of state to attend the bicentenary celebrations of Haiti's slave revolt against France, many South African observers missed the historical significance of the leader of the last black republic to gain independence paying tribute to the first black republic in a 200-year diasporic struggle.
Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. More than half of its 10-million population are malnourished. Having survived slavery and French colonialism, Haiti endured American occupation from 1915 to 1934, followed by the brutal dictatorship of the Duvalier family from 1957 to 1986. Last month saw Hurricane Matthew wreak havoc on the country's southwestern peninsula, a major food-producing region, leaving more than 1,000 people dead and 175,000 living in shelters.
The United Nations estimates 1.4-million people need water, food, and shelter and a quarter of southern Haiti's health infrastructure was destroyed.
Cities and towns such as Les Cayes, Jérémie and Port-Salut, as well as surrounding villages and hamlets, suffered the brunt of gale-force winds. Overall damage has been estimated at $2.25bn, with 200,000 homes damaged along with electricity pylons, cellphone towers and trees. Flood waters have flowed into leaky sewer systems and wells have been polluted, threatening another outbreak of cholera.
There has again hardly been any significant coverage of these events across the continent.
The tragedy followed an earthquake in 2010 that destroyed much of the capital of Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas, killing more than 220,000 people, destroying nearly 190,000 homes and rendering 1.5-million people destitute.
This calamity was compounded by a cholera outbreak triggered by Nepalese UN peacekeepers that has killed about 10,000 Haitians. The world body still has 2,370 troops and 2,601 civilian police in the country after 12 years.
The proliferation of international nongovernmental organisations — Care, Oxfam, Save the Children, and World Vision — in Haiti has made them the largest such presence per capita in the world and earned the country the tag "republic of NGOs". Criticism of the relief efforts during the 2010 earthquake that some organisations preyed on Haiti's misfortune and embarked on projects of dubious value, must be borne in mind.
The Red Cross reportedly raised $225m for the Haitian earthquake, but allocated only $106m to the country. The Clinton Foundation was similarly accused of having supported the building of unusable shelters that caused health problems for locals. Companies receiving contracts for relief work in Haiti were also alleged to have donated to the foundation. The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund further supported luxury hotels, criticised for not having substantively benefited locals.
Haiti's leaders have historically struggled to maintain democratic legitimacy and deliver social services to their citizens.
The first round of presidential polls last year were dogged by allegations of widespread fraud, and a second round, scheduled for this month has again been postponed due to the hurricane.
If the African Union's identification of the diaspora as Africa's sixth subregion is to have any meaning, the continent must contribute actively to relieving the suffering of our Haitian cousins.
Dr Adebajo is executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town, and incoming director of the University of Johannesburg's Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation.