By Ray Killick
June 21, 2002
“To improve is to change, to be perfect is to have changed a lot.” (Winston Churchill)
The proponents of positive change in organizations and societies have always faced an uphill battle against the well-entrenched forces of the status quo. Even in societies that pride themselves in their culture of change, new ways and techniques do not easily permeate the social strata. Battles must be fought and won, invariably and always, for change to ensue. Even a delta of change is unsettling in nature. Often, new values need to be exemplified and enforced; new techniques must be mastered; new language learned; and new behavior promoted.
In spite of all the pain individuals and collectivities must endure, the climate of change fuels a powerful current of novel ideas; its impetus rejuvenates, its absence imperils. Modern societies thrive on change to further and defend their ways and vision of life. The most competitive organizations in the world have embraced a culture of change to ensure an edge over their opponents and ultimately their survival in the marketplace.
But closer to our heart is a nation that has resisted change for nearly two hundred years following its birth. The momentous elections of December 16, 1990 delivered a mandate for massive change to a priest-candidate ill-prepared to understand and handle the challenge. Why have we consistently failed as a nation?
This article focuses exclusively on our contributions to our own failure as a nation and constitutes the first part of a set of two. The second piece will be “Proposal for a Paradigm Shift” outlining concrete steps for a paradigm shift in political behavior and approach.
Often, Haitian coalitions and organizations are undermined by selfish hidden agendas. In 1990, when the most dreaded archangel of Duvalierism threatened to bring it back into the open (Duvalierism still lingers in the mind and in practice), a coalition of disparate political forces was put together to thwart his attempt. The sense of urgency had been understood and the call of the hour answered in a magnificent way. Potential presidential candidates purposely committed political hara-kiri for a greater good, that of an entire nation. They bet the farm on one candidate that had the clout and the appeal to woo the masses and charm the elites.
(It is beyond the scope of this article to determine whether Duvalerism was, in retrospect, the lesser of two evils. I?ll leave this exercise to those that have cycles to spare.)
However, one thing remains clear; the ennobling act of coalescing forces under the banner of opposing a resurgence of backwardness was in and of itself a rare occurrence in Haitian political life, a singular example of leadership. Unfortunately, it was later rewarded by betrayal. President Aristide had his own agenda and couldn?t care less about a commendable act of altruism on the part of leaders of the front. He reneged the cause.
More recently, the KID of Evans Paul denounced elements of the “Convergence Démocratique” for playing solo dissonant notes in spite of a common purpose by meeting last June 18 with chief-supreme for the well-heralded negotiations about the stolen elections of 2000. Would that be another manifestation of hidden agendas of elements ready to straddle the fence at the right time? Is the “Convergence Démocratique” a convergence to nil? A coalition of façade rooted in hypocrisy and political backstabbing?
Are most Haitian organizations a microcosm of the greater unnerving reality of destruction and irresponsibility exemplified so devilishly vividly by the Lavalas establishment? I don?t think so. If selfish hidden agendas continually preempt the agreed-upon-timetables of organizations, then positive change will never have a chance. Meanwhile, younger generations learn to synchronize quickly with the ongoing practice. At this rate, we?re well on our way to start another century of shame.
A scanning of the Haitian political spectrum reveals a slew of organizations engaged apparently in the same fight for democracy. Why is the camp of democracy so fragmented? The nature of the change needed in Haiti is so basic and fundamental that it dictates unity and clarity of vision.
After all, it is question of establishing a state of law, guaranteeing stability and security so that the nation can finally unleash its huge potential. The vision is simple; making it happen is complex. It?s pretty much like building a house with five bedrooms and five bathrooms, two stories and a basement. Knowing where you?re going, what you want, that?s the vision. Making it happen will take skills, time, and money. How many engineers do you need? Certainly not a legion!
Ideally, when a nation is facing a period of reckoning, it is better served by few leading voices. Consolidation of groups under a common umbrella becomes paramount to hammer over and over the same vision and values on the collective mind of the masses. Ultimately, the masses are less confused while the champions of darkness are put on notice.
As we?ve seen earlier, positive change manifests itself by way of new values and behavior. Persons in positions of leadership must live the values and behavior of the change they envision. One cannot be an agent of change if one is conducting business as usual. For example, short of a miracle or a conscious effort to understand his role, Mr. Aristide cannot be an agent of change because he has clearly compromised the values and behavior that brought him to power in 1991.
Any organization from the tinyest to the largest cannot be a vector of change if its leading directors continue to uphold the values and behavior of the status quo under the pseudo rationale of the uniqueness of Haitian realities. We cannot behave like the people we?re fighting to replace. Organizations that do not define a vision and establish and live their values are destined to fail. And even when their cohort grabs power, it simply amounts to a changing of the guard. For example, the divergence within the “Convergence Démocratique” is tantamount to a lack of vision and values. It is consequently a coalition doomed to fail sooner or later.
Our founding father, the great Jean-Jacques Dessalines set the tone for future generations of administrators. He condoned the siphoning of funds from the public treasury for personal selfish aims instead of establishing preemptive and decisive deterrents and guidelines to build solid and accountable institutions. Our young nation needed fiscal discipline besides constructive leadership to continue and maintain the legacy of grandeur that culminated so heroically splendidly in 1804.
If it took a Dessalines to win our freedom from colonialist France, building a nation required a man of a different caliber, the like of a Toussaint Louverture or a Henri Christophe who possessed superior administrative leadership. Our first institutions started crooked and deteriorated even more over time.
Immediate gratification had been born with the first Haitian administration. Duvalier refined it. Aristide perfected it. Membership in the Duvalier and Aristide misadministrations has yielded instant change in social status. The “Don?t work hard, work smart” paradigm so telling and guiding in societies on the fast track, has taken on an entirely different meaning with Duvalier and Aristide, two administrations in the same continuum of incompetence and squandering of public funds.
Immediate gratification has unfortunately become an inherent part of our political culture and must be eradicated for change to take hold.
In Haiti, power is knowledge. Once you emerge as chief-supreme you suddenly have the wherewithal and wisdom to lead. You are the state; the law; you are il supremo. Il supremo Aristido!
Life is a ceaseless act of improving through learning. The people and organizations that hold an edge on this planet are the very ones that treasure learning the most. They never stop learning, for they realize that knowledge is power. They have their antennas directed toward all sources of information.
Haitians go around the world and establish themselves as avid learners and outstanding contributors. There?s no question about it that we are as capable as any other people on this planet. In spite of that, when some of us behave in Haitian society, all hell breaks loose; they become entrenched in their positions and conclusions and lose the openmindedness that they practiced for so long on foreign soil. This kind of attitude exacerbates and compounds an already critical impediment to change that has always been present in Haiti: Omniscience.
When we know it all, we can?t negotiate among ourselves. But the day we?ll start listening to one another and knowing our respective limits, we?ll be rewarded with surprising effectiveness and we?ll be able to mend our differences in record time without a foreign broker.
Hidden agendas, fragmentation of the camp of democracy, the resistance to learning and adopting new ways, immediate gratification, and the sudden awareness of our omniscience are all negative attitudes that mine the way to positive change. Together they form the paradigm of obsolescence. They are the major problems any Haitian leader or organization will have to face. They are by no means the only culprits of our national distress, but I believe most of the other problems ? of our own doing — that I have not mentioned here for the sake of being briefer can be linked to them.
A paradigm shift is in order before Haiti can truly enjoy stability and start a new day.