11.30.2012

Persisting Pan-Africanism: Haiti’s Likely Entrance into the African Union

African Union and Haitian Flags
The African Union (AU) is currently comprised of 54 African states (all states minus Morocco and the 2 suspended states: Guinea-Bissau and Madagascar), which aims to accelerate social and economic integration of the continent, to promote human rights and democratic principles among its members, and to defend the sovereignty and unity among all African states.

Come January, the composition of the African Union will very likely change with the acceptance of Haiti as the body’s first non-African member. And from what it seems like, Haiti’s entrance is fully supported by most, if not all, African states. As reported by Haiti Libre:

The African Heads of State warmly applauded the arrival of Haiti in the African Union, referring to the diplomatic efforts conducted since 1945 by Haiti for the creation of African States, Haitian protests against the invasion of Ethiopia by Italy, the struggles conducted against the war of Algeria, the support for the independence of [Libya] and the assistance of Haiti to the RDA (African Democratic Rally) who realized at once the decolonization across Africa in the sixties.

To those unfamiliar with Haitian history, it may seem odd for Haiti to be accepted as a member of the AU given that it is not located on or near the African continent; however, for those who are familiar with Haitian history and the history of African liberation movements, the entrance seems natural.

Haiti’s Ties to Africa
Haiti’s history and culture are inextricably linked to Africa, as is the case for many Caribbean and South American nations with a large African diasporic community. This is true not only in the obvious sense that slaves were taken largely from Benin and Togo and sent to Haiti during the times of slavery, but also more deeply in the fact that Haiti’s 18th century rebellion against French occuption, which eventually led to Haiti’s independence, was led by a Beninois man named Toussaint Louverture.

Furthermore, the fact that Haiti was the world’s first independent black republic served as a beacon of hope for many in Africa at that time, proving that liberation and independence was indeed possible. Haiti was also instrumental in the decolonization movements and independence struggles across the African continent in the mid-20th century.

It is not only Haiti’s independence struggle that is significant to Africans, but also its culture. Compared to its Caribbean and South American neighbors, Haiti’s culture is very much tied to African cultures. This includes similar foods, such as okra and taro root, similar music, such as Haitian Kompa which draws significantly upon African beats, as well as its language, French, which is the official language of many African nations.

African leaders have long recognized Haiti’s significance and similarities to Africa. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Senegalese President Wade argued that because Haitians were of African descent, it was African leaders’ duty to accommodate any Haitians who wished to repatriate to Africa. Wade also suggested that all Haitians who wished to move to any state in Africa should be naturalized. He also “urged a mass adoption programme across the continent for orphans of the quake”. Wade did not stop there. He even proposed to the AU that a new state be created in Africa where homeless victims of the Haitian earthquake could resettle (obviously, this never came to pass).

From this, it is clear that many Africans recognize their historical and culture similarities with Haiti, which they share because of the slave trade which wreaked havoc on both those who remained in Africa as well as those taken away.
Michel Martelly. Photo: Joe Raedle, Getty Images. Source: In2EastAfrica

Benefits for Haiti from Entrance into the African Union
Clearly Haiti is not seeking to join the AU merely because it feels close to African culture, nor is the AU considering accepting Haiti for merely that reason – there are obviously benefits in this for both Haiti and Africa.

African states would benefit from Haiti’s entrance into the AU because the Haitian Special Envoy, Ady Jean Gardy, announced plans to provide technical assistance to AU members to aid in debt cancellation efforts. Assistance of this kind, if it were to succeed, would significantly help with Africa’s social and economic development.

Haiti’s benefits to joining the AU would include access to more economic and trade opportunities, which would aid in Haiti’s economic growth and provide access to new markets in which to participate.

Currently, Haiti is severely dependent of foreign aid, much of it coming from the U.S.; therefore, some are considering Haiti’s entrance into the AU an attempt to decrease its reliance on U.S./Western foreign aid (which currently makes up 40% of the Haitian budget) and increase its participation in African trade and markets, to access credit through the African Development Bank, and to also reap the benefits of Chinese investment/development projects that are occurring across Africa.

Persisting Pan-Africanism?
As a student who has studied many Pan-Africanist works and is familiar with similarities in Caribbean and African Pan-African ideologies, I cannot help but to think that Haiti’s entrance into the AU is somewhat reminiscent of the zenith of Pan-Africanism during the mid-20th century.

Although Pan-Africanism is no longer an ideology that is central to African politics, aspects of it clearly persist, and this is just one example. The African diaspora is increasingly playing a larger and larger role in African politics as well as economic and social development.

So why not allow Haiti to join the AU? After all, they are Africans in their ancestry, they share a similar history and culture, and from what I can tell, it can only benefit both parties.

If Haiti can turn to African states to become less dependent on Western foreign aid (which I am sure comes with a lot more strings attached than African aid would), then I can only see this as strengthening Haiti’s sovereignty and encouraging its development in a more sustainable manner. Who knows, perhaps with increased involvement from African states, Haiti will once and for all no longer be considered the poorest state in the Western Hemisphere.

Although I am no expert, I am remaining optimistic and have high hopes for what this partnership will bring.  

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