Later in June this year, Haiti will conclude formal steps towards becoming the 55th member (associate) of the African Union, the umbrella pan-African body. This would bring the Caribbean country several great leaps forward towards integrating fully with a community, even if several thousand miles away, that it naturally identifies with culturally and spiritually. Though on separate halves of the globe, Haiti arguably has more in common with the African continent, than it does with the rest of its neighbours camped out on the Caribbean Sea.
Haiti is, of course, more than welcome and eligible to link up with the rest of its historical and genealogical kindred in Africa, not in the least because in today’s world of high-speed, instant connectivity, geographical borders – especially those drawn quite arbitrarily during the sharing and appropriation of Africa by soulless land grabbers after the Berlin Conference – should be the least criteria required to accede to a common identity or shared values amongst the peoples of Africa.
Haiti’s membership announces a new epoch for the AU. Just like NATO or the OECD, some of the more influential communities of nation states around the world form their membership purely out of shared interests or a common ideology. The AU is hopefully moving in that direction.
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Sadly though, Haiti shares more than just a common identity or socio-cultural heritage with the rest of Africa. Just like many countries in Africa, Haiti remains largely impoverished; it has repeatedly struggled to get itself off the ground and record any meaningful leap forward in the modern era. Yet it remains the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Since gaining independence in 1804, Haiti has been plagued by the limitations of crude leadership, corruption and internal strife, all of which are all too familiar to Africa.
Haiti has practically courted Africa for a while now and the reasons are quite obvious: largely ignored or scoffed at by its neighbours, while having to endure record levels of poverty and a general government flop, piled harder still by a series of natural disasters, Haiti needs all the aid that it can get. But Haiti’s relationship — better to look at it as a partnership — with Africa need not be one of dependency or unequal standings. There exists a lot of mutual benefits to be derived on both sides of the bargain.
Haiti for its part hopefully gets to align with the AU’s policy statement of zero tolerance for needless mischief and shenanigans by all governments in power across the continent, and makes the much-needed shift towards genuine, multi-party, representative democracy. Haiti also needs to establish or re-establish the right regional alliances and position itself for development in the 21th century.
It turns out that Haiti is by no means the only country outside of Africa that has clear ties to the motherland. Jamaica and Brazil are two examples that easily come to mind. But on this score, the island nation of about 10 million people seems to be clearly ahead of the curve. In spite of the well-documented stories about Africa and its many troubles, there exists today an unmistakable narrative of an Africa rising, however slowly from the shadows of its past; a rapidly expanding local market, an emerging middle class and an assortment of unique opportunities waiting to be harnessed by Africans for Africa.
The opening up of back and forth commodity trading is always a good place to begin, and who knows? Haiti may be only the starting point; the relationship may just extend to the entire Caribbean region in the near future.
Haiti’s membership will also bring and enliven the rest of Africa with its proud heritage, it remains the only nation in the western hemisphere (an axis that includes the US), to have defeated the European trio of Britain, France and Spain. This gets even more interesting when we remember that they are the only nation born out of a successful slave revolt.
Haitians would forever hold their head high knowing that their liberation wasn’t handed out to them; they went forth and seized it by the strength of their arms. They remain a living testimony of the unconquerable African spirit that lives on in the hearts of everyone who calls this great continent home. And like it’s said in Swahili, Karibu Haiti; welcome Haiti.