August 26, 2012
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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March 23, 2011
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?
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December 18, 2010
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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December 15, 2010
Sometimes the Haitian diaspora gets so caught up in old school methods of helping Haiti (remittances, barrel shipping, Haitian politics), it forgets to read the tea leaves of US foreign policy–and act before policy gets made or shot down. Key word: before. Reform is all about timing; miss the boat one year, the opportunity won’t come around again for another 20 years.
Making the rounds this week is an Associated Press report that Haitian firms get $1.60 of every $100 of U.S. contracts paid out since January 12th to rebuild Haiti–or, less than 2 percent of $267 million. It is possible to tip that ratio in favor of local business owners (and the U.S. firms who sub-contract to them), but the Haitian diaspora has to act now.
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October 18, 2010
Editor’s Note: I contacted the HDS team for an interview after seeing their advertisement for survey-takers on the Corbett list a few weeks ago. One, I wanted to know who was collecting information on the diaspora and for what purpose. Two, I wanted to encourage any effort to put together a reliable snapshot of the disapora’s makeup, as well as its views on and contributions to Haiti. There is little data out there beyond basic information. Tulane University master’s students Luis Capuchina and Vinita Oberoi launched the survey on September 15, 2010. Fill it out before their early December deadline.
Why are you focusing on the Haitian diaspora?
Haiti is in an exceptional situation. The January 2010 earthquakes compounded the hardship associated with decades of underdevelopment, debatable NGO influence, environmental degradation and poor governance. We want to see how at a grassroots level, the Haitian diaspora—particularly first and second-generation—are responding to this historic disaster in their homeland.
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July 16, 2010
A tree is a rare sight at a camp and here, in Tabarre, residents use the shade for community meetings.
When I nearly fainted in the second camp we visited in Tabarre this Monday, some of the women leaders who live there brought me a Tampico juice right quick. It was sweating, ice cold. How do they get ice? And where do they keep it? Then I thought, Great. They’re running to bring me juice while the 250 families that live here get by on 500 gallons of water a day. That’s the same amount of water in a luxe hotel’s fish tank.
Sitting on one of the wooden benches in a makeshift classroom, I sipped enough of the juice to get my sugar up and gave the rest to a little boy who’d been eying it. Who can blame him. Cloudless sky, big naked sun, scrub grass, one tree, cooking inside plastic tents: it’s white hot out here for Haitians everyday.
Boys lounge on a dusty cement floor at another Tabarre camp of wooden homes, not tents, run by Saint Vincent de Paul
Why should the foreigner get camp juice?
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July 11, 2010
Annually, Haitians abroad remit more than twice the amount pledged by the seven countries sitting on the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC)–yet these seven can vote; the diaspora representative can not.
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June 18, 2010
A map of Health-related projects in Haiti (InterAction, haitiaidmap.org)
This morning I came across a job announcement directly related to Deborah David’s database proposal to wrangle NGOs and the general concern that NGOs are “wild cards” in Haiti’s development. Not only don’t they typically coordinate social service delivery with each other, there are thousands of unregistered and unchecked NGOs in the country–perhaps encouraged by the same misperception that aid worker TFTH laments:
Somewhere along the line we’ve done a basic disservice to our donors, to our “Third Audience”, and to ourselves: We have allowed them to believe that relief and development work are easy, uncomplicated and inexpensive.
For all of the romantic oooh-aaaah sometimes associated with aid work, the general population continues to basically lack respect for both the nature of the problems being tackled by aid work, and also what it takes to do aid work. And whether it’s, “98 cents of your dollar goes directly to beneficiaries”, “your $100 buys a poor family a cow and gets them out of poverty”, or “feel good about making a difference while on vacation”, we’ve become totally seduced by the belief that solving the basic problems of the world can be done cheaply and easily.
Quite frankly, I could call myself an “NGO” and get away with it. In fact, I came across an online description of myself as a “humanitarian blogger.” What in the world does that mean? I’m no humanitarian. I’m a journalist–end of story.
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June 17, 2010
Guest contributor and diaspora member Deborah D. David suggests a publicly-accessible database to help wrangle NGOs.
The NGO-led development model in Haiti is not ideal, especially if Haiti is to ever thrive on its own. Former President Bill Clinton recognized as much at last year’s Haitian Diaspora Unity Congress in Miami, when he revealed that Haiti had the most NGOs per capita after India—the second most populous country on earth. Haiti had truly earned the nickname, “Republic of NGOs.”
Four days after the earthquake, Save the Children distributes food, water and supplies at Hospital Espoire in Port-au-Prince (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
President Clinton recognized then that while the thousands of non-governmental organizations in Haiti provide necessary social services, they must better coordinate with each other for greater impact. More importantly, they must ultimately cede responsibility for providing social services to their rightful owner: the Haitian government.
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June 9, 2010
The U.S. takes the lead behind Venezuela in aid pledged for Haiti's reconstruction
Should (competent) Haitian-American professionals and business owners get first dibs at federal contracts to help rebuild Haiti? Should they be allowed to skip the line ahead of other American businesses–including minority and women suppliers? Tough questions. Who in the Haitian diaspora is asking them? Do they even feel as though they can demand preferential treatment from the U.S. government to rebuild their native country?
I’ve been reporting a story about Haitian-American business owners who want to get in on the $9.9 billion in aid for Haiti’s reconstruction. Haiti needs everything after all: roads, homes, schools, IT, etc. Most of the people I spoke to were just now learning how to procure federal contracts with USAID not to mention the 20-something other federal agencies that outsource international development to US firms. In short, they don’t really have a clue and are trying to get one.
All of them feel–very strongly–that the diaspora should help to rebuild Haiti. And when asked, say, yes, of course, (competent) Haitian-American businesses and professionals should be first in line to receive federal contracts. But what are they doing about it? Nada. Interestingly, they’re not taking this notion of having a ‘natural right’ to rebuild Haiti to its logical political conclusion — which is to lobby federal agencies for first dibs at those reconstruction contracts.
I don’t know the right answer to the above questions. I am interested in however, in considering a future where the US outsources international development primarily to hyphenated-Americans originally from the target country. Certainly more aid money would circulate in the target country’s economy instead of accruing in a foreigner’s foreign bank account. For example, Haitian-Americans are more likely than foreigners to lend, spend or share their earnings with Haitians.
So, would development happen faster? In a fairer way? And isn’t that possibility worth the political effort to find out?