Reconnecting the umbilical cord: Haiti to join the African Union
By Sophia S. Vilceus
Trice Edney News Wire
On the fourth floor of Howard Center, two graduate students and two professors in African Studies mulled Haiti’s application to become the first potential non-African member of the African Union in January 2013.
“If you consider that islands like Martinique are quite far away from Europe but are still part of the European Union, Martinique by virtue of being a part of France, Haiti’s becoming an AU member doesn’t seem so improbable,” said Phiwo Mnyandu, a Ph.D. student from South Africa.
Mnyandu was referring to the 7,371 miles from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, headquarters of the African Union. The distance between Fort-de-France, capital of Martinique and Brussels, Belgium, headquarters of the European Union, is 4,376 miles.
Alem Hailu, an African Studies professor at Howard University, elaborates: “Skeptics will undoubtedly point to the insurmountable problem of geography, politics and logistics that will be faced. Visionaries who focus on possibilities grounded in relentless efforts and commitments, on the other hand, can find reason for hope and triumph.”
Professor Mbye Cham of the African Studies program at Howard acknowledges the obvious challenges that will inevitably surface due to the geographical distance between the two regions; however, he supplements by saying the advent of such advanced technology and communication would mitigate potential drawbacks.
There seems to be a common theme of support yet apprehension.
“I for one would like it,” Mnyandu said. “Symbolically, powerful. Materially, I’m cautious. I’m not sure how much material and developmental benefit Haiti can extract from similarly impoverished countries in Africa.”
Cham refutes the aforementioned statement by asserting that the amount of institutional resources, intellectual capacity and technological exchange that would occur would lead to meaningful advancement.
Public Radio International (PRI), a weekly one-hour radio program, posted on its Web site on Oct. 17 that Haiti is set to become the latest member of the African Union in January, if all goes as planned. AU has 54 member states, all of them on the African continent. Haiti’s communication minister Ady Jean-Gardy made the formal application in July at an African Union summit in Addis Ababa, the blog post reported.
“We are practically connected by umbilical cord to Haiti,” said Mian Georges, of Benin who has actively been involved in missions based in Haiti, according to PRI.
George’s symbolism reinforces a broader idea, though. In essence, the idea that Haiti joining the African Union is viewed as such an avant-garde idea because it displays the understanding of the inherent connectedness that these two cultures share. Haiti joining the AU would allow Africa to breathe life into Haiti with the same umbilical cord that was forcedly cut centuries ago.
Haiti and Africa have always had an intimate relationship. From West Africans being sold and shipped to Haiti during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, to Toussaint L’ouverture — a Beninois slave who drove Napoleon out of Haiti in the 18th century and led the first Black country to independence. For a long time, Haiti was the only Black member of the United Nations and used that platform to advocate for Africa’s break from colonial rule. After the devastating earthquake in 2010, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Senegal — though financially burdened themselves — were among the first countries that donated millions of dollars and resources for Haitian students to complete their studies for free in Africa.
Cham attributes this special relationship between Haiti and Africa to a few things, one of which being the direct impact that the Haitian Revolution had on Africa’s own independence movement and other cultural and political movements such as The Negritude Movement. He explains that the influence and intellect of the Haitian Revolution laid the foundation for figures such as Leopold Senghor and Leon Damas to emerge within the Diaspora.
“If we apply the notion of cultural geography, Haiti should be part of the African Union,” said Naglaa Mahmoud, a Ph.D. student from Egypt. “We share the same culture, same history, and many situations as Haiti. Haiti stood up for Africa’s independence. I think it is a powerful idea and it is also inspirational for those who dream of melting barriers of historical memories of slavery.”
There is modest debate surrounding the symbolic significance that would be rendered should Haiti in fact become a member of the African Union; however, the larger question then becomes what tangible and concrete benefits would Haiti and African countries reap in the process? This joining of states would force people to look past the ethereal bond that Africa and Haiti often claim and move the African Diaspora in a direction of substantially being involved and concerned with one another.
“Ways that would benefit the people of both constituencies should be viewed as incremental steps,” Hailu says. “The significance lies both in the symbolic as well as substantive value of affirming commonalities of culture and history. Furthermore, Haiti’s membership to the AU can assist in strengthening structures of policy, research and partnership.”
Hailu encourages both Haiti and The African Union to look to other political models. “Examples from other world experiences that have found value in regional co-operations include America’s with ASEAN, the commonwealth organization; (and) New Zealand’s, Australia’s and Japan’s membership in regional organizations,” he says. “Haiti’s as the latest case, therefore, can only be viewed as a similar step in unifying the dreams, experiences and pragmatic stride toward building a strong international structure of interdependence and mutual reinforcement.”
Essentially, the ideal of the African Union is to promote a united continental Africa — a broad continental Africa that includes the Diaspora. An aim of the AU is to promote better corporations in different regions of Africa. With that being said, Cham concluded, “Haiti joining the AU makes perfect sense. I just hope people are serious about it and invest the necessary creative and intellectual work to make it viable.”