It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light

Mwen se echantiyon yon ras kap boujonnen men ki poko donnen

Si vous voulez vous faire des ennemis essayer de changer les choses

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Clinton Appointment as Special Envoy Stuns Haitians by Stanley Lucas

The appointment of former President Bill Clinton as UN special envoy to Haiti this week stunned people in country and has sparked some debate about the former President’s role. ---------------------------------------------------------

UN deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe announced on May 19 that President Clinton would "help to jump start social and economic recovery efforts in Haiti" and "focus attention on the importance of new partnerships and efforts among the private sector, civil society and donors as well as strengthen local capacity." She added that the post, which is not a "full-time job," would be similar to Clinton's previous service as UN special envoy for the 2004 tsunami recovery in Asia. -----------------------------------------------------------------

This appointment has the potential to be a great positive for Haiti. No one in the world has a higher profile than President Clinton. Appointing someone of his stature to this position sends a strong message that Haiti’s recovery is a priority to the UN. Through the establishment of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), the former President has become a dominant figure in philanthropy, social responsibility and development projects globally. Only Bono matches Clinton’s philanthropic prowess. Clinton’s organization has led the effort to integrate the private sector into development activities through "Commitments to Action" that translate into real dollars and real business opportunities. The CGI website announces that "members have made more than 1,400 commitments valued at $46 billion, which have already improved more than 200 million lives in 150 countries." ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

President Clinton bringing his resources, experience and attention to Haiti will certainly impact the country’s development. And, there is no shortage of development projects in Haiti that could benefit from attention. Virtually every sector of the economy is need of development. The meaningfulness of the impact, however, and whether it will strengthen Haiti will rely on how he leverages his role and implements the projects. For example, details such as how funding will be disbursed. Will funding go through Haitian ministries, the CGI, or another platform created by Clinton and his colleagues? How will projects be selected? Andrew Natsios outlined nine principles for reconstruction and development in 2005. These serve as the foundation for USAID’s work internationally and many other organizations. Will Clinton’s plans follow these principles or other clearly defined principles? Most importantly, though, will Haitians (in-country and Diaspora) actually benefit from this involvement? Will they own projects and be responsible for implementation? This will be key to building capacity in-country. ---------------------------------------------------------------------

There are two significant challenges that the former President will face in his efforts that are worth noting. First, the abysmal and unpredictable security situation in Haiti presents a major obstacle to the functioning of any development project. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The second significant challenge is the "hearts and minds" of the Haitian people. Many Haitians still harbor bad feelings about the 1994 military intervention by the Clinton Administration. The invasion resulted in a redoubling of then President Aristide’s reign of terror and corruption – and Haitians suffered tremendously. Returning Aristide to power proved disastrous for the country. According to Haiti's General Accounting Office Aristide stole more than US$350 million dollars from the country’s coffers over nine years. While Clinton focused on democracy and development, Aristide focused on his own corrupt agenda and turned out to be a dictator. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A concerning political situation is surfacing again with the Preval Administration and hopefully history will not repeat itself. In three year since taking office, the Preval Administration has failed to institutionalize democracy or to address meaningfully any priorities of the Haitian people (security, job creation, education, health care, agriculture, and free and fair elections). Rather, Preval’s agenda has been focused on centralizing power and creating a one-party rule. Preval no doubt hopes that access to lucrative business deals for President Clinton and his colleagues will distract the international community’s attention away from serious misconduct, including manipulation of elections results, illegal amendments to the constitution that allow him to retain power or hand pick a successor. Preval has the power to award contracts for the operation of the national port, the airport and the telecommunications system. The Group the Bourdon, a corrupt and informal alliance of Haitian business leaders close to the Administration, will likely be the real winners. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

This dynamic presents a significant challenge. If President Clinton was perceived as wading into Haitian domestic politics to favor or facilitate one side of the political spectrum, he may encounter resistance the people he is trying to help. During my weekly radio interviews, I have fielded many angry calls from people who are still outraged about the 1994 invasion. They recall personal stories of suffering brought about by that decision. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Overall, this appointment is likely to be a net positive for the country, but it will require a careful strategy focused on navigating the political situation while keeping a sharp focus on clearly defined development goals and project criteria. Certainly, the former President has a great amount of influence in the bilateral relationship given his Hilary Clinton’s role as Secretary of State and the placement of Clinton protégés in key positions, such as CIA director and the Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere. However, it is likely that he will refrain from getting involved in politics, especially given his wife’s role and his dedication to building CGI. Let us hope for the best.