Originally: Toute la nation est appelee

Click here to read the French original

Haiti today is like a laboratory in which civil society is in the process of experimenting with its capacity to reinvent the State, to invent the Nation and to redefine its own role within the polity.

Insofar as this Haitian experiment succeeds?and I have no doubt that it will?we will once again become an inspiring model for other countries, who will be moved by our success to resolve their own problems.

To achieve this resuscitation of the Haitian ideal, we must understand the Haitian dilemma in all of its profundity.  Let us not be tempted, yet again, by the intellectually soothing balm of superficial solutions?as has been our wont so many times in the past?solutions which in fact offer little but a temporary respite before plunging us into yet another, even more complicated, national crisis.

We must admit that today?s crisis is not simply political:  it is multi-faceted.  It is the crisis of a society that, after two hundred years of independence?and various failed attempts to organize itself economically, socially and politically?is still desperately trying to find itself.

In the face of a problem that is so acute, all solutions that do not take into account the comprehensive nature of the crisis are condemned, in advance, to failure.  That is precisely why, as I understand it, the irreversible resolution of the current crisis must be firmly grounded in the reinvention of the State; in the invention of the Nation (which, by any objective standard has never actually existed in Haiti); and in the redefinition of the role of a nonpartisan civil society in this emerging context. 

This, then, is the tripartite challenge that the organizations of civil society and the citizens of Haiti must now meet?at a moment when everything about our country must either be reworked or created anew.


It is no secret to anyone that the Haitian political system is functionally obsolete.  Whereas, in order to meet the social, economic, political, cultural and legal challenges that today confront the peoples of the world, we need a modern, open and efficient State.

Nonpartisan civil society is well placed to create the conditions for the emergence of this new State?all the while taking care to respect the role of political parties, which must themselves be transformed into normative and enduring institutions of political competition.

To reinvent the State, civil society must assiduously apply itself to helping the political parties to assume this, their appropriate, role; to putting in place the indispensable institutions and legal framework of a well-functioning democracy; and to mobilizing citizens in the noble pursuit of a unifying, national vision.


Not one of the parties today operating in the country?and this is painful to admit?function according to democratic norms.  But the responsibility for this state of affairs does not rest solely with the political leaders themselves.  Rather, it may be understood as the product of a long history of persecution of parties and their leaders, who are commonly reduced to poverty, imprisoned, exiled and even killed for their political activities.  Thus, most political organizations wind up being focused around a single man who, upon his death, essentially bequeaths the party to his children. 

Under such conditions, it becomes very difficult to nurture the dream of democracy, since political leaders function in a context where internal contradictions do not exist.  Democracy being the result of a process, it is illusory to think that any of our political leaders, once elected, should be able to eschew the cult of personality that has been the norm within their own parties in order to create an authentically democratic environment for governance.

It is necessary, therefore, that the political class metamorphasizes?under the benevolent guidance of the State and of organized civil society.  This ?taking-in-hand? of the political class should cover numerous domains:

Political Party Financing\

We will never have modern political parties until the State and the private sector determine to invest in supporting these structures.  From that moment on, however, the parties can be readily reoriented towards the adoption of modern, efficient and democratic structures.  This will also permit a bit of much-needed tidying up, since smaller or less successful parties?performing under a certain pre-established threshold percentage at the polls?would not continue to be eligible for such financing; they would thus have either to restructure or regroup, or dissolve themselves in the face of the comparative advantage of their better-funded colleagues.

Political Debate
If today we see that ad hominem attacks dominate the national political scene, it is because the political system is distorted by the cult of personality.  In the absence of any real ideological competition, politicians are naturally driven to attack each other aggressively.  This kind of fruitless exchange will only disappear in response to a profound change in our political culture, which must move from the ?cult of personality? to the ?confrontation of ideas.?  Civil society?of which the press is an essential part?must encourage the political parties to define clear platforms.  Then the electorate will no longer permit itself to become so easily wrapped up in the personalities of the political leaders, but will have to be convinced by the ideals and policies of the parties as they relate to a comprehensive social project or vision.

 Political Accountability
With the Lavalas regime, we have plumbed the very depths of political immorality and irresponsibility.  It has gone so far that we are being asked to believe that our President is, in effect, an innocent child, whose entourage must always be blamed for anything that goes awry.  Members of the entourage, in their turn, hide behind hackneyed excuses to justify their misdeeds and stupidities. 

To return morality to Haitian politics, it will be necessary to introduce the fundamental notion of accountability.  Officials and public functionaries must be held responsible for their actions while in office?both by institutions created expressly for that purpose, and by civil society itself. 

All the different organizations, working right down to the level of the communal sections and urban neighborhoods, must strive to orient voters to make choices on the basis of an objective evaluation of the accomplishments of elected officials.  This return to morality in politics, through accountability in governance, will also permit technicians, entrepreneurs and professionals once again to get responsibly involved in the public sector?as rational and results-oriented management replaces the current ?law of the jungle? in this domain, where today only might makes right.

Eventually, this will also restore citizens? confidence in political parties.  And, as a society, we must prioritize this rehabilitation of political parties in the interest of the common good; because in fact it is far easier to promote fundamental democratic values such as civic responsibility, patriotism and discipline within the framework of healthy political parties than in less well-structured venues.


It is both inconceivable and inadmissible that a society that already has in its hands the institutional and legal means to prevent?or at least to resolve?political crises has, since May 21, 2000, been mired in as absurd an impasse as the one that today threatens to suffocate the very life of our nation.  The system is simply not working anymore.  So, it will ultimately be necessary to rethink our institutions and laws entirely, so that they provide an acceptable framework for the democratic exercise of political power.

The Legal Framework
Although the 1987 Constitution mandates a strong legislative branch, relative to the executive?according it the power to bring down the government, for example, while the reverse is forbidden?Mr. Aristide has succeeded in totally subjugating the institution and its members who, instead of acting honorably, vie with each other like sheep to see who can be the most submissive to the president.  The National Police, the judicial branch, the High Administrative Court (Cour Supérieure des Comptes), the Electoral Council?all of these institutions are at the service of a single individual, who looms menacingly above them all in his Machiavellian leadership.

How could this have happened?  The answer is simple: The system is not working.  We must, therefore, recast the constitutional and legal framework so that we can have done?once and for all?with this kind of nonsense.

 Institutions of Governance: the Presidency and the Government
Government must finally come to understand that its role is to create an auspicious climate for the effective involvement of non-State actors in all domains, and to provide the basic infrastructure for the country. 

Also, there must come a time when we no longer have a president who flits from ceremony to ceremony, inaugurating public parks, under the guise of ?governing? us.

The presidency, and governance itself, must be rethought.  The principles of ?responsibility,? ?transparency? and ?openness? must come to have real meaning?no longer to be profaned as the hollow pieties of demagogues, the rhetorical window-dressing of dictatorship.

Institutions of Governance:  Control and Oversight
Here, I am referring most notably to the Parliament, the Cour Supérieure des Comptes and the judicial branch more generally, to a certain degree.  Even with the best of intentions, these institutions will never really be effective until they have financial autonomy from the executive branch.  It falls to civil society to lobby government for this autonomy.

It also seems to me that introducing a Constitutional Council into our political system would be a good idea.  Because we do not so much need more institutions as we need better ones.  Such a Constitutional Council, as I see it, could have as one of its important functions to sanction the electoral results published by the Electoral Council?an institution that currently operates like a state-within-the state, without oversight, and whose decisions in recent years have been the principal source of our current problems.


The Haitian nation has never really existed in the proper sense of the term.  On May 18, 1803, at the Congress of Arcahaïe, the slaves met to define a framework for their solidarity, which eventuated in the final phase of the struggle for independence.  The Congress of Arcahaïe was obviously successful in this way.  But unfortunately our founders apparently did not feel it was necessary to sit down with each other yet again?once independence had been achieved?to structure the new society which, in spite of its unity in battle, was still divided by enormous differences among its constituent sectors.

Thus, the epic adventure of 1804 had a serious weakness:  It suffered from an absence of serious reflection on how country could be managed, going forward into its independence.  In effect, throughout our history?and today, too?we have deluded ourselves into thinking that we can revolutionize our society without thinking seriously about it, without clearly conceptualizing that for which we are striving.  That?s what has made our ?revolutions? nothing more than mere insurrections.

It is painful to realize that today, after 200 years of independence, certain key features of the colonial order still persist in our society?most notably in our belief in the superiority of foreigners, and in our veneration of religious leaders.  But surely the most shameful survival of colonialism must be the restavèk phenomenon, for it makes it seem that that all we wanted in 1804 was to become slave masters ourselves!

According to Ernest-Renan Joseph, the concept of ?Nation? assumes that all sectors of the population, all classes, at least share the desire to live together as such.  This will to live together has never actually existed for us, because that would require that the collective good be put ahead of self-interest.  To the contrary, our history has always been marked by civil wars, violent coups, massacres?.

Ø The Social Contract
And this brings us back to the question of the Social Contract that the Group of 184 has been promoting since its emergence on December 26 of last year.  There are, of course, many approaches to the definition and articulation of a ?social contract.?  For me, given the current Haitian context, our social contract must be grounded in a common dream, shared by all sectors of the society; and in a shared understanding of what role each sector has to play in the concretization of this dream.  And the social contract should permit every citizen to nurture their own dreams of personal emancipation within the context of that larger, unifying, national dream.  In other words, the notion of a social contract acknowledges the contribution of every sector to the life of the nation, and creates a context in which all of these sectors commit themselves to work together in realizing the ideal of well-being for all, with full respect for the rights, duties?and contributions?of each.

As the time of this writing, there is an unfortunate tendency on the part of those promoting the social contract to want to turn it into a policy paper for governance.  This is the best way to spoil this unique opportunity.  The Social Contract must be above contingency, for it should provide the most basic foundation for all programs and platforms emanating from political parties and civil society. 

The promotion of such a Social Contract [I don?t call it ?New,? because God only knows if we ever had one before] by the Group of 184, which unites a good portion of the Haitian elite, betokens the recognition by this elite?be they economic, intellectual or social?of their continued failure throughout our history.  In effect, across the panorama of our history as a people, the elites have been unable to rise above their own immediate interests in order to invest?and to invest themselves?in the pursuit of a shared ideal, of the common good. 

Today, Haiti?s elites in every sector are conscious of this still-corrigible failure, and of the fact that the well-being of each depends on the well-being of all.  They have finally realized that it is inadmissible that our society remain so inequitable.  Because, upon reflection, one comes to realize that, in a society, the better the weakest fare, the better the strongest will do, as well.  Thus, the Haitian economic elite wound up realizing that the accelerated impoverishment of the lower classes threatened its own profits over time, since the continued erosion of the formers? buying power would eventually destroy the domestic market for goods and services produced by the latter.  As Henry Ford is said to have remarked, ?The first people who should be able to buy my cars are those who produce them.?  In the same vein, the intellectual elite must understand at this point that it is hardly in its interest that knowledge remain the exclusive province of a small group, because these producers of new knowledge are only currently able to share their thoughts with a minuscule percentage of their countrymen, as a result of the high levels of illiteracy; therefore, they neither succeed in transmitting their ideas nor making much money.  In other words, the specific interests of particular sectors?far from being mutually exclusive?are, curiously, interdependent:  This deceptively simple realization is the very basis of the notion of the ?social contract.?

In my humble opinion, then, the Social Contract is inseparable from a shared vision of the future, and shared national values.  We must therefore determine the values upon which our new society is to be based, and thence set our medium- to long-term objectives.  This is what will ultimately free us from our characteristic shortsightedness in planning, from the chronic improvization that has turned our public life into a daily circus. 

The Social Contract, once concluded, will provide the basis for the definition of political parties? programs and platforms.   The parties will be compelled to draw their inspiration from the broadly shared spirit of the Social Contract in order to be attractive to the electorate; otherwise they will be rejected.  What will properly distinguish the parties from each other, then, will be the specific strategies they propose in order to concretize this shared aspiration of the society at large.

From another angle?given the fundamental importance of the Social Contract, on the one hand; and the fundamentally anachronistic, illegitimate, dictatorial and exclusionary character of the current regime, on the other?it would be perfectly appropriate to provide the entire population with the opportunity to subscribe to it through the holding of a ?national convention of civil society,? to seal this historic and revolutionary pact.


When one speaks of civil society today?and this has not always been the case?one evokes a whole nation of citizens coming together in a multitude of organizations, according to their common interests and motivations.  Since the early ?90s, there is a new current of thinking internationally about the vanguard role of civil society organizations in democratic governance.  Haitian civil society, in the light of the current socioeconomic and political circumstances, is called upon to play an increasingly decisive role in the construction of this new society of which we all dream.  To do this, it must continually strengthen itself, while at the same time redefining its role in this national reconstruction. 

The strengthening of the role of civil society has many aspects; it should be pursued in function of the new leadership role that civil society must assume through its many component organizations.  But first, what is this new type of leadership?  Today, most Haitian civil society organizations still believe that the creation of the necessary conditions for national development to take place is the appropriate province of the State, strictly speaking, and that they should confine themselves to playing the role of pressure groups.  This conception of civil society is outmoded.  The theory of ?new pluralism,? developed by Peter Drucker, accords civil society organizations a full measure of responsibility as socioeconomic and political actors, with the sole exception of those limited functions that properly must remain the exclusive province of the public sector.  Drucker?s theory meshes quite well with Haitian civil society?s ongoing efforts, over the past five years or so, to promote the emergence of responsible citizenship across a broad range of actors, including the private sector, political leaders and opinion-makers; and, indeed, among all concerned and capable citizens.  Based on this new perspective, all organized structures of the country will have to change.

Ø The Private Sector
Alongside their economic pursuits, businessmen and -women of goodwill will have to apply their leadership, their skills and their resources in the pursuit of the common good?according to the notion of ?leadership beyond the walls,? or the formula of American president Woodrow Wilson, of ?leaders in service to the nation.?  Thus, they must assume some measure of communal responsibility?proportionate to their success?beyond the walls of their individual enterprises.

Ø The (Next, and Subsequent,) Government(s)
Government, also, must finance community-oriented and community-based organizations, with the objective of helping them to achieve their social objectives.  Successive governments must be willing to acknowledge their own limitations in being able to resolve all the diverse problems that confront the community.  This is precisely why it is good for any government to encourage citizens to form associations, and to consolidate its own leadership by recognizing the efficacy of citizen action and drawing upon the skills that citizens from all walks of life can bring to bear in a wide range of technical domains.

Ø The Associative Sector
This broad, nongovernmental sector plays a principal role in the integrated development of the citizen and society in many countries.  In Haiti, we have a great deal to gain in the reinforcement of this sector, insofar as its development entails:

· Solidarity:  The associative movement is grounded in solidarity among citizens.  Today, one German in three spends between three and five hours a week in activities devoted to this solidarity?helping orphans, assisting the handicapped, protecting the environment, etc.

· Volunteerism:  Recognizing the fact that virtually every domain of our national life demands urgent attention, it is apparent that the country will never dispose of sufficient conventional resources to resolve all of its problems.  We must, therefore, institutionalize civic service?providing a coherent framework within which citizens who would like to contribute to national reconstruction will be able to do so.  Reforestation, literacy, and many of the other great challenges that confront us can benefit greatly from the generous support of simple citizens.

· Strengthened Human Resources:  Turning to these kinds of approaches will also permit us to strengthen the human resource base across the country.  For, in the context of this ?new pluralism,? it is increasingly apparent that the collaboration of different kinds of organizations?and among citizens from all walks of life, addressing specific community problems, together?not only builds upon and shares complementary skills, but also supports the emergence of that mutual understanding and respect that are essential to national integration and social harmony.

In conclusion, let us draw inspiration from the work of Daniel Gérard Rouzier, Le pouvoir des idées: 

?The only kind of leadership that will ever be capable of bringing us out of our profound crisis is that which clearly recognizes and fully subscribes to the power of ideas.?

13 August 2003