August 26, 2012

The White Correspondent’s Burden: A Diaspora Response

The African diaspora intellectual gets a two-second mention in reporter Jina Moore’s recent admonition to Western journalists to, “tell the Africa story differently”–or better yet, tell Africa’s stories. Note the plural form. Moore bemoans journalism’s contribution to the dominant image of Africa as suffering from, well, everything. Her solution to this persistent and persistently warped narrative: nuanced story-telling and, she asks that journalists take a leap and re-imagine Africa.

What isn’t needed, she adds, is what many African diaspora intellectuals and activists, among others, have suggested: “taking the mic away from foreigners” altogether. It’s a curious non-option, made even more so by the poverty of her rationale. But I suppose it’s no more curious than the fact that Moore’s essay, provocatively titled, The White Correspondent’s Burden, essentially decries racism and white supremacy without ever mentioning those words. This do-si-do dance of the colorblind is fascinating, and, absurd. An essay calling for an end to the erasure of complexity from African life, erases, too.

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July 13, 2012

Recent NYT coverage of the Caracol Park disappoints

President Martelly unveiled the foundation stone for the Caracol industrial park, November 2011 (Haiti Liberte)

After reading Deborah Sontag’s massive New York Times article about the Clinton-brokered South Korean industrial park in northern Haiti, it took me some time to come up with the appropriate reaction. The article reads like a pump-‘em-up speech for opening night of the Left Forum. Nothing against the annual conclave of leftists; I’d be equally wary if the article tacked the other extreme towards CPAC’s party line.

The Times story is the standard Left pitch of global capitalists teaming up with self-serving governments to exploit the little people. It’s a perfect rendition, actually. Too perfect (as is this rebuttal). But it seems Sontag was more interested in maintaining the Left’s narrative than in fairly reporting on the Caracol project.

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June 27, 2012

A Haitian-American rises in Utah and in the Republican Party

Haiti may get some attention from U.S. media during the 2012 election season. Utah mayor and Brooklyn-born daughter of Haitian parents, Mia Love, is supposedly on track to become the first black Republican woman in Congress. I say, supposedly, because even if the media and some Republicans are excited by the novel rising star, Love’s up against a six-term Democrat who’s also a fiscal conservative. Caution is in order, and definitely more than the media will exercise for a black, Mormon Republican woman who has said she wants to take apart the Congressional Black Caucus from the inside-out. Love’s politics aside, what caught my attention a couple of months ago was the extent to which her Haitian immigrant identity is integral to how she sells herself to voters. She mentions her parents’ influence quite a bit, specifically their aversion to handouts.

“[My father] said: ‘Mia, your mother and I never took a handout. You will not be a burden to society,’ ” she said with a stern smile. “ ‘You will give back.’ ”

I’m not taking a huge leap when I say that the subtext here is one with which Caribbean and African blacks are intimately familiar: “we” are not like black Americans.

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June 13, 2012

Gros Morne mango plant closed by the U.S., but is the story true?

A Le Nouvelliste article about a Gros Morne mango plant, closed by order of the US, is being circulated online as an example of the US delivering, according to the mayor, yet another “slap to the Haitian people.” I tend to focus on foreign coverage of Haiti but I’m writing about this LN article (read the English version on Defend.ht) because I want to encourage readers to demand the quality information they deserve about a field as critical to Haiti’s development as economic news–and this article ain’t it.

As an outsider, I learned early on that a defining quality of The Haiti Conversation is the frequency and normalcy with which rumor and hearsay is deployed to support fossilized political points of view.

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June 11, 2012

Haiti news coverage after the world has gone away

Support journalism done by Haitian journalists. Above, one training sponsored by Solidar’IT (Frederick Alexis).

It’s been nearly two years since I visited Haiti and a year since I’ve written about it on this blog. In a perfect world my silence here reflects how often I’ve thought about my time in the country, its problems and of course, this Develop Haiti-diaspora-aid news idea. In a perfect world.

Back then, I used to look ahead to what news coverage about Haiti would be like once the world and its money inevitably moved on. I see diaspora as key to developing Haiti because unlike the native-born, the world has a short attention span and ‘two-years-post-quake’ can’t make the coin jingle like ‘6-months-post-quake.’ With barely enough bright spots to dimly light a dark room however, the English language information on offer generally sucks. The reason is simple: very few people if anyone with a stake in Haiti’s development (diaspora, NGO, business, donors, etc) demand better information.

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May 8, 2011

DH Film Review || When the Drum is Beating

Recently I walked out of When the Drum is Beating, a new Haiti doc that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.  I fumed on Twitter but later that night I dropped in on the after-party at a hotel bar for the doc’s stars, visiting members of a 62-year-old orchestra from Cap-Haïtien, the Septentrional. By Flatbush, Brooklyn standards the party would’ve been a flop but as far as artsy-intellectual Manhattan gatherings go, it wasn’t too bad either. “There’re a lot of newcomers to Haiti here tonight,” was how one enthusiastic Haitian mingler described the crowd. Makes sense. Much of the doc came across like it was made for a liberal sensibility that’s shocked-just-shocked by deprivation.

When the Drum is Beating is about the band and the history of Haiti from slavery through the 2010 earthquake.  That’s a lot, too much, and it shows. Thank God then for the archival footage (rare stuff, to hear a 1915 Marine narrating the US’s arrival), some poignant interviews and the festival scenes.  As a concert-goer says during fet chanpet, “When Septen plays I’m rich, when they stop I’m poor.”

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March 23, 2011

Which NGOs are doing a good job in Haiti?

Last week journalist, Michele Mitchell Tweeted me to ask who or which aid organizations are doing a good job in Haiti.  I didn’t want to Tweet back, “I dunno,” without explaining so here goes.

As vital as international NGOs can be, they’re not first on my mind when thinking of what works in Haiti. In truth I’d rather brainstorm, innovate and build long-term programs that strengthen the country, i.e. job creation, investing in entrepreneurs, strategic economic development, public-private partnerships, bolstering public sector capacity. But INGOs operating on a charity or short-term aid model dominate Haiti’s landscape so (shrug) unfortunately they dominate The Haiti Conversation, too.

I can’t really answer Michele’s question though because, well, how would I gauge who’s doing a good job? Continue reading

March 14, 2011

DH Reviews||Mac McClelland’s rape feature in Mother Jones

I really, really wanted to like Mac McClelland’s one-year anniversary article, Aftershocks: Welcome to Haiti’s Reconstruction Hell.  Good writing aside however—and the fact that these guys and many of these guys dug it—I have a problem with a 6,000-word piece of journalism that holds no specific office or official to account for Port-au-Prince’s misery upon miseries:

“Every day it is like this: fighting, a lot of violence, murder, a lot of rape,” [MINUSTAH soldiers] say, shaking their heads. “A lot of rape.”

That’s like there being a decade-long rape epidemic in New York City and a reporter not asking any public official, why? Followed by, what are you doing about it? Followed by, why aren’t you doing anything about it? — Snow wasn’t removed on time after a huge storm this holiday season and within hours every New Yorker knew the name of the head of the department of sanitation.  No reporter would’ve covered that story without answering the main question: “Who f%$ked up?”—and that’s just snow.  The same news gathering standard should apply to rape.
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February 13, 2011

A Haitian-American nurse reflects on her service in Haiti

Like other first generation Haitian-Americans, Melissa Martelly had been itching to use her nursing skills on the ground in Haiti. Below, Martelly, who also has a masters in international peace and conflict resolution, writes about becoming an unlikely activist and her first trip back to Haiti since the earthquake.

Haitian-American nurse Melissa Martelly caring for one of her many patients in Croix-des-Bouquets, September 2010

I never thought that I would want to dedicate my life to developing Haiti but January 12th was my wake up call. Although I was born in the United States I’ve been visiting Haiti since I was a child.  Last September was the first time that I was there to help my people. Imagine: thirty-five seconds transformed me into an activist who now works to end Haiti’s history of poor governance, class division and social inequality.

I am a registered nurse and I had been trying to get on the ground since the earthquake.  All doors were shut.  To this day I don’t understand why international development organizations would not select a Creole-speaking Haitian-American health care professional to provide immediate assistance.

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December 18, 2010

At DC panel, lessons from Liberia on USAID’s transparency

Haitian diaspora gathering in Washington, DC, March 2010 -- was that the last one?

Editor’s Note: You require transparency from us but none from yourselves.  That’s the charge leveled at USAID by Liberia’s finance minister (and a couple of other people), at a recent Brookings Institution panel on the lack of transparency among aid organizations. Haiti’s finance minister probably feels the same way.  As poorly as Haiti ranks on the corruption index the US ranks near the bottom in international aid transparency. And what comes out of this panel is that while we’re great at measuring other governments’ corruption, we apparently suck at competently measuring ourselves, the donors.  Read on for the Liberian minister’s edited remarks, which also raise the question, is the Haitian diaspora lobbying Congress to improve USAID?

Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan, minister of finance, Liberia I concur fully with the assessment … that aid transparency is a necessary condition for effectiveness…. Liberia is a highly aid-dependent country.  I don’t want to go through the history of civil war, the destruction, and the reconstruction efforts.  As we speak we receive more flows to the country through aid than even our domestic revenue.  [And] although the amount of [aid passing] through our budget [had] been very insignificant–around 2-5 percent–it has gradually gone up to 15 percent.  We are hoping that as we improve our country’s systems, more donors can use them.

Now, [however]… we have a situation where most donors want to use parallel [NGO] systems [and not] government systems.  [But] the parallel systems [have to] give us better development outcomes … otherwise, the moral justification of using the parallel system does not exist.

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