Haiti: A Nation without State

When we talked about Haiti, it has a solid grounded history of the nation. Yet in the guise of political instability, there has been no functioning state since inception.

When we talked about Haiti, it has a solid grounded history of the nation. Yet in the guise of political instability, there has been no functioning state since inception. Haiti as a politically imagined community is embedded in the society with the story of Dessalines and Toussaint L’ouverture and as the first black colonized nation that emerged in the 19th century. Since it has a strong political communion, why then does Haiti as a state fail to emerge?

I think the failure to establish the functioning bureaucratic state lies in many interventions that Haiti has received since its inception where administration originated from the face of the Haitian elite. Where the bureaucratic manpower is foreign, Haiti did not have a choice to develop its own bureaucratic regime, let alone a discursive regime of the government.

In the history of middle age Europe and Southeast Asian kingdoms, the state emergence originated from despot or what we call as warlords that captured the entire territory. In need of administering resource extraction, they create administration. A simple example is taxation. Many gangs in Latin America or Non-Civil Organizations (NCO) like Pemuda Pancasila in Indonesia capture the resource by levying tax on inhabitants.While it does not seem like a state, it works as a state within the state that demonstrate that the state is about collect and impose the extraction and mobilization of resource.

In Haiti, this is not the case for the formal administration to levy taxes and mobilize inhabitants, instead it falls into NCO semi-state whereas the former presidents, Aristide and Dualivers, utilized the same machinery to impose their authority. The state is administered through informalization of bureaucrats, where patron-client and under the table decisions are more important than in public records.

Foreign intervention closes half-eyes on this practice, but this is the reason why many NGO failed for ‘nation-building’ because the nation is already there, but not the state. Haiti in dire need for ‘state-building that is based on the local inhabitant. In my opinion, I prefer large inefficient bureaucratic expansions of Haiti government rather than small-weak administration with the help of NGO as our goal is to have sustainable stability over Haiti.

Warlords and many powerholders should invert the obligation with the state through rationalizing the bureaucracy by inviting them into the state. Similar to that is nationalization of civic organizations where they governmentalize the loose institution, for the state that incarcerates the state justification.

Institutionalization of informal sites and relations is cheaper than building professional and formal government whereas the institution is already in place, only needing to be governed and institutionalized. Better to watch the robber be a banker, than the banker to be an innocent bystander in robbery. Formalization of the society is akin to drawing a motif that has an underneath pattern, it does not need sophisticated notions or concepts as we use what is already there.

However it sounds easier than actually being done. With the current situation, Haiti is a nation literally without a state. I think the first step for the elite is to gain concessions from evert armed gangs to be absorbed into the state. By structuring them into the state, the Haitian state can monopolize the violence. It is an arduous task for the governing body. Haiti is in dire need to restructure the nation-state with the coming of military intervention. International aid and intervention only can work if it places Haitian (middle class and lower class) as a priority to get the benefits. The Haitian elite need to perform and consess the larger shares of the economy, at least temporarily, to the lower class especially in rural areas.

The development plan that Haiti can embark is pro-poor and pro-rural policy, similar to Indonesia in 1965s after New Order taking over. Pro-poor and pro-rural is a prevention method that absorbs some of socialist ideas to effectively maintain the status quo. In conjunction, for the common goods the youth/adolescence that receive education require to live in the rural area to create a common and idealization of the rural life. It can prevent brain drain and attach the burgeoning elite to the masses where they will ‘reflect’ on their privilege as the elites.

Student volunteerism is important to impose the rural and political imagination of the elite. By enacting mandatory student volunteerism, Haiti can benefit from the surplus of manpower for development while simultaneously reducing political activism and directing the youth toward local development. In the Indonesian case, student volunteerism has trained the adolescent into would-be bureaucrats which benefits the local government and expansion of the bureaucratic state.

Haiti has a nation, but not the state. In re-establishing a state that has been swept through political turmoil, Haiti needs to use the foreign aids to develop the Green revolution of small holding landowners while simultaneously restabilizing urban areas. I think there is a surplus of urban population that are currently unemployed and prone to radicalization and join the gangs. There is no simple solution for that, but Haiti can try to maximize the values of manpower by ‘exporting’ them into the countries that need to ‘construct’ their economy such as the Middle East or even Africa. In Indonesia, surplus local laborers are temporarily sent to Gulf countries as domestic workers and construction workers. Perhaps, lower class Haitian can work in the sea as fisheries laborers roaming around the Caribbean and becoming domestic workers in surrounding countries (I think it is already done). By that Haiti can reap from remittance to build their economy.

Local elites need to be harmonized for Haiti to be stabilized, throughout history the instability that has caused Haiti into a failed state originated from competition between elites to extract the resources. The Haitian elite need to understand that there is need to change for more stability. Haitian histories mandated that bloody conflict always began from Haitian elites who did not have the shares of the extractive resource. To create harmony, it is advisable for the governing administration to diversify necessarily the power and the wealth of the Nation as to gain temporal stability.

After gaining a pact and social contract in Haiti, the local populace and even elite should not carry arms. There should be disarmament throughout the country to ensure that the political-economic instability did not turn into violent conflict. In Haiti, we need to break the cycle of violence by creating the monopoly of violence by the state. If it is not done, then Haitian disagreement will turn into violence once more.

In Vodou, the folk religion can be organized as a political machinery of the state. Similar to Hindutva in India, diversal cults and spirituality can be turned into a political machine that supports the state, if not the backbone of the state. While the majority of the elite are christian, Vodou still plays a part for common people and without formal institutions, it can be a dangerous diversal political power for the current governing administration. Hence, Vodou is a part of the nation as well as a part of the state.

In creating the state, it is no easy task. But I believe that the younger generation of Haitian can accumulate power and legitimacy by selectively implementing my advice for reality-making. Young Haitians do not need to run away from their own nation-state, instead they should build their nation-state according to their will. It is the will to improve and will to live from the current conditions to the future.

Si towo bif te konn vale llipa ta kite yon kòd senk kob touye l .

If the bull knew its strength, it would not let a five cent rope kill it. – Libète (1999:288)

Andy Fharose
Andy Fharose
Indonesian Area studies Analyst and Anthropologist where he graduated from Leiden University.