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Fifty years ago, China started building an alliance with the continent of Africa. At the time, there were plenty of suspicions, and many pundits—mostly from the West—questioned China’s motives. Although some of those doubts persist today, China’s alliance with Africa has had a positive impact for both parties.
Many who are uninformed about Africa’s growth and development adopt and repeat the Western perspectives rather than hearing directly from those who are credible. According to Thompson Ayodele & Olusegun Sotola’s paper, China in Africa: An Evaluation of Chinese Investment, “Contrary to what many might think, China did not foist itself on African governments like the Western colonialists who took up the administrative governance and resources of each country they colonized. Investment data shows a clear trend that this re-emergence is largely beneficial.”
Haiti Should Focus on Building Alliances Beyond North America
Haiti has been suffering for too long, mostly as a result of Western colonialism. For decades, the masses of those governed by colonialism were uneducated and helpless to tell their own stories from their own experiences. But that is changing with the Internet— everyone can have a voice now.
Thus, we respect authors such as Ayodele and Sotola who have the ability to write their own story from first-hand knowledge.
Ayodele and Sotola denied the West’s views; they continue:
More importantly, Chinese investment in Africa is not a threat to African
countries, and they are full of gains. First of all, the Chinese government imposes no political conditions on African governments before signing contracts, either for exploration or other economic activities. Secondly, Chinese firms are willing to invest where Western companies are unwilling. Western investors and aid agencies are unwilling to invest in areas such as physical infrastructure, industry and agriculture.
Take Haiti’s relationship with the West, specifically the U.S., Canada and France. The unwillingness to see Haiti develop economically is striking. For instance, on paper, the U.S. has been calling Haiti a friend and a country that is a priority for the past 50 plus years, yet out of 28 Caribbean island nations, Haiti is still considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
The Belief of Democracy Seems Selective for the United States
The U.S. Department of State Fact Sheet states, “Haiti is a U.S. policy priority. When this close neighbor is more prosperous, secure, and firmly rooted in democracy, Haitians and Americans benefit. U.S. policy toward Haiti is designed to foster the institutions and infrastructure necessary for it to achieve strong democratic foundations and meaningful poverty reduction through sustainable development.”
If this is true, how come Haiti is the first black republic to gain its freedom twice by defeating the French army, and all the surrounding islands that Haiti gave hope to take a stand against slavery are faring better than Haiti? Isn’t it time that Haiti’s relationship with the U.S. and Canada in the Americas becomes more equal?
In the article, WikiLeaks Cables Show Haiti as Pawn in U.S. Foreign Policy, Katie Soltis reported, “Haiti’s most important and reliable bi-lateral partner – the U.S. shows a much more one-sided relationship. Instead of working with Haiti to develop economically and politically, Washington’s foreign policy seems completely dominated by influential and well-connected U.S. economic interests.”
We know that one of the most powerful sticks in keeping a group or a country poor and dependent is to engineer an economic system where they are crippled economically through lack of education, neglect, and lack of access to well paying jobs. We see how that has been manifested in the U.S. in the African-American community.
In Haiti’s case, the systematic plan to keep the country poor is done through exploitation and neocolonialism. Soltis noted that “Haiti’s history is one of brutal colonial exploitation followed by systematic neocolonial intervention, and today the country faces extreme poverty and political turmoil.”
The U.S. State Department’s Fact Sheet continues, “ Strong democratic institutions, in particular the holding of regular free and fair elections, can help guarantee Haiti’s democratic traditions and ensure a voice for the Haitian people in their governance.”
Again, does anyone with intimate knowledge of Haiti’s current political disaster and the U.S.’s silence believe the above statement?
What Haitians and the diaspora are convinced of, is that strong democratic institutions will only be allowed in Haiti when the current powers no longer control the political process and are replaced by someone who is unwilling to let the vicious cycle of poverty continue for the 9.5 million people.
One way the Haitian diaspora and those who care about Haiti becoming independent is to focus on creating a special presidential fund for the next election. As long as members of the international community continue to fund Haiti’s elections, the country will remain a subservient and controlled by outsiders.
The Power of Investments vs. Aid
Aid can be an impairment to growth, and China was strategic and avoided wasting money through aid in Africa. China used a different approach in Africa, which has yielded dividends for both nations.
China has mostly focused on investments rather than aid.
Adoyele and Sotola declared:
China’s re-emergence is of immense benefit to African countries. China’s aid is characterized by equality and mutual respect for the sovereignty of the recipient countries. Moreover, the loans are not conditional; they are interest-free, and repayment can be easily rescheduled. The loans are meant for projects that would generate income and make recipient countries self-reliant and not ones that would make them depend on China.
An example of the United States’ lack of respect for Haiti’s sovereignty is what we’ve learned through the WikiLeaks Cables article by Soltis. “Haiti has been a pawn in U.S. Foreign Policy. U.S. embassy worked with major textile companies to cap the minimum wage in Haiti at 31 cents per hour.”
It was also documented, for instance:
Former President René Préval signed a deal with Venezuela to join the Caribbean oil alliance, Petrocaribe, which allowed Haiti to buy subsidized oil from Venezuela. The government of Haiti would pay only 60 percent, up front and then pay the rest at 1 percent interest over the next 25 years. This payment schedule would save the Haitian government USD 100 million per year, with which the government planned to supply basic needs and services to 10 million Haitians and increase investment in social projects like hospitals and schools. Additionally, the Petrocaribe deal would help lower and stabilize the cost of oil in Haiti after several years of high prices.
The U.S. government felt threatened by PetroCaribe and mounted a strategy to stop the deal. Soltis pointed out, “However, for two years, the U.S. government worked with ExxonMobil and Chevron, the two U.S. oil companies operating in Haiti, to undermine the new deal between Petrocaribe and Venezuela. The U.S. oil companies feared that they would have to buy their oil directly from the government of Haiti and would lose their profit margins as a result.”
Meanwhile, ExxonMobil and Chevron have been in Haiti for over 30 years and have not built one university to help the country or built one bridge for the people who have to drive in poor road conditions. Both companies have been profiting from Haiti for decades with no benefits to the people.
This is in contrast to Africa, where the Chinese have adopted a partnership based on economic growth and accomplishments. “China sees its foreign aid and investment as working to promote Chinese economic interests as well as Africa’s development… having achieved a sustained economic growth, China sees that its development model could be a template for Africa’s own economic emergence,” reasoned Ayodele and Sotola.
Ayodele and Sotola insisted:
For the past few years, Chinese companies have built bridges, upgraded railroads, telecommunication networks, and other much needed infrastructure. One unique thing, regardless of this scale of investment infrastructure, is such investments are without conditions. In view of the unwillingness of Western countries and their agencies to invest heavily in African infrastructure for fear of generating inadequate returns to offset the investment risks, Chinese investment is highly valuable and significant.
China’s investment in Africa has enabled the continent to become a leading trading partner.
“China’s increased trade with and investment in Africa has boosted the continent’s growth rate… the Chinese engagement in Africa has no doubt led to faster growth and poverty reduction on the continent. Per capita growth rate of the average African economy surged from 0.6% per annum in the 1990s to 2.8% in the 2000s.” emphasized authors Wenjie Chen, David Dollar, and Heiwai Tang.
China’s model of partnership with Africa is what Haiti deserves. “After all, any relationship where only one party benefits is not based on equality.” (Click to Tweet)
Africa’s Risen on the Global Stage, and Haiti Can Do the Same
The emergence of Africa’s economic power is on the rise and will continue to pull. For one thing, the increase in the number of educated Africans and their diasporas are bound to drive change in Africa. We know that Africa is commanding respect on the global stage.
Even U.S. President Barack Obama has made it a point to engage Africa’s leaders during his presidency. Many experts, though, have expressed the view that the U. S. is too late, because China has already established strong relationships and investments in Africa.
Shaping the Future of Haiti
What Haiti needs right now is an accelerated economic development plan. The country desperately needs roads and bridges for people to trade products both nationally and internationally.
Former president Préval initiated bilateral ties with China prior to 2010, and most recently, China signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to work with Haiti on several key projects. Since Préval started building that relationship, the next president needs to make that connection a priority. The Haitian diaspora can help Haiti by collaborating with more Chinese investors to partner with China where the benefits are mutual.
The same partnership model that Chinese investors have adopted in Africa will work well in Haiti. The country has a rich culture, not to mention its robust natural resources. You as a diaspora have the power to decide through your family’s influence and through business partnerships to remove Haiti from the ‘poorest’ status label.
About the author: Daniella Bien-Aime is the founder of the Bien-Aime Post, a digital media platform that focuses on business, leadership, education, and social media within the context of Haiti and its diaspora. You can learn more about her work by visiting her blog at www.bienaimepost.com. And if you find this post useful, consider signing up on the blog to receive future posts.