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Entertainer Bill Cosby and wife Camille made a gift of $20 million to Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia in 1988.

Vantage Point

POSTED: April 06, 2010, 12:00 am

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In the years and decades ahead there is no bigger challenge facing the global community than rebuilding the world’s first Black Republic As I have said so often, it is a challenge which the world should enthusiastically embrace, given the status of the Haitian Revolution as one of the greatest triumphs of human rights in the history of humankind. Moreover, rebuilding Haiti must not be viewed as a charitable exercise since so many nations in the western world benefited enormously from the exploitation of the riches of Hispaniola and the subsequent isolation, marginalization and occupation of Haiti. Accordingly, nothing short of a Global Marshall Plan is in order to correct these injustices and enable Haiti to finish the unfinished Revolution.

Obviously, Haitians in the country and the Haitian Diaspora must play the leading roles in rebuilding the nation. Therefore, it is not surprising that there was a flurry of meetings and conferences leading up to the major UN Donor’s Conference where Haiti presented its Development Plan. The OAS convened a major meeting in Washington March 21-23 to secure the input of the Haitian Diaspora and Haiti experts. March 26-27, I was privileged to attend the conference convened by the Trotter Institute, the National Haitian American Elected Officials Network (NHAEON) and the Haitian Studies Project at the University of Massachusetts/Boston. Organized around the theme: Haitians Building Haiti: Towards Transparent and Accountable Development, it was an incredibly well designed and facilitated conference. I was very impressed by the genuine effort to create an environment where views of the community and the conferees could be heard on the critical issues of the principles and strategies which should guide the reconstruction process. In that regard, the sessions were profoundly enriched by the participation of leading organizations from civil society who traveled to the conference from Haiti. A recurrent refrain from these organizations was deep concern that their voices and those of grassroots organizations on the ground were not part of the process when the Government formulated the Plan that was presented at the Donor’s conference. There was a sense of anger and frustration that the Plan appears to be a fait accompli without widespread engagement of the Haitian people.

The Senior Advisor to the Bureau of Haiti’s Special Envoy to the UN sought to assure the participants that there was still room to have input and that organizations should continue to articulate their views on the critical issues confronting Haiti in terms of the reconstruction effort. In all fairness, under circumstances few nations have faced in recent history, the Government had to put together a Plan in a matter of weeks. Under these conditions it is hardly surprising that the consultation process was not as inclusive as it might have been.

That notwithstanding, I found the complaints of civil society organizations troubling. In the weeks leading up to the conference the Internet was filled with complaints by organizations in Haiti that they were left out of the process. Many of these groups have also been sharply critical of the Government’s response to the earthquake, which may have led officials to be defensive about including protesting voices in the process. I certainly hope this is not the case.

In my view the unparalleled disaster that struck Haiti provides an unprecedented opportunity to bridge the social, class and political divides that have long plagued Haitian society, by ushering in a new era of participatory engagement/democracy. Haiti’s history, culture and people are its greatest resources. Ever since the Revolution, with rare exception, the masses of workers, peasants, youth, women, ordinary Haitians have largely been locked out or left out of the process of building the nation whose independence was won on the backs of their forebears. They have not only been excluded by the powerful miniscule elite that controls vast land and wealth within the nation but the political class, those in positions of power within the state during various regimes. If Haiti is to rise from the ashes to become the bright beacon of freedom and hope for people of African descent and the world, the energy, enthusiasm, inventiveness, courage, resiliency, skill, will and spirit of the Haitian masses must be unleashed as an integral part of the visioning and rebuilding of the first Black Republic.

Toward that end, I hope President Preval will be visionary and bold enough to declare that the Plan presented at the UN Donor Conference is essentially an interim document, an elastic framework that can be stretched/shaped/molded by the systematic inclusion and input of the Haitian people. To achieve this goal is no small undertaking. But, if Haiti is to seize the potential of the moment, it is a task which should expeditiously be undertaken with vigor. A way to proceed is for the President to call for a National Dialogue on Building a New Haiti. Such a call could be followed by the President or the Prime Minister, with the blessing of the President, appointing a Chairperson and Commission to oversee the process. The Commission would be well advised to seek counsel from experts on how best to effectively conduct such a National Dialogue. It occurs to me that like the exemplary Conference at UMass/Boston, Town Hall type meetings, where people are organized into groups to discuss and report out their views on key questions/issues, might be a useful component of the process. In addition, well-structured hearings specifically designed to listen to the voices of grassroots organizations, civil society, Haitian NGO’s, business/commerce, political parties and the new leadership emerging in tent communities could be a valuable dimension of the process.

At this crucial moment in Haiti’s history, the goal of the National Dialogue would be to achieve a sense of national consensus, national purpose and national resolve on the building of a new Haiti. The Dialogue might well be contentious at times, but it will be an exercise that gives people a sense of ownership of the Plan that they are expected to support and will determine their future and that of the nation. It that regard, the “process” is as important as the outcome. If people feel a sincere sense of inclusion and ownership, they will engage with energy and enthusiasm.

To his credit President Preval has shown a remarkable capacity to bring people from divergent political parties into his Government; indeed it is one of the unheralded achievements of his second tenure in office. Now his Government has the opportunity to utilize that attitude and posture of inclusion to conduct a National Dialogue that could become the hallmark of his presidency. The Donor Conference concluded with a pledge of $10 billion over the next four years to rebuild Haiti. If there is to be a new Haiti, however, no dollar amount will be sufficient to achieve that goal. What is required is a new way of tapping the energy of Haiti’s greatest resource, its people. A National Dialogue on Building the New Haiti could give new meaning to L’Union Fait La Force in the 21st Century!

Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Founder of the Haiti Support Project. He is a Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website and To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, Dr. Daniels can be reached via email at

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