Originally: Towards a Successful Transition in Haiti

Ira Lowenthal, founding board member of the Haiti Democracy Project; Haiti country director, America’s Development Foundation; exclusive to the Haiti Democracy Project

The recently completed Interim Cooperation Framework (ICF) for Haiti’s transition provides a strong technical basis for the ongoing donors’ conference in Washington, where multilateral and bilateral donors are expected to pledge close to $1 billion over the next two years to support its ambitious programs and objectives.  Put together at near-breakneck speed over the past three months—under the combined auspices of the government of Haiti , the United Nations Development Program and the World Bank—the ICF deserves be applauded as an important first step in defining Haiti’s most pressing needs in the wake of a national political crisis that took a massive toll on the country’s economic and social infrastructure.  It also lays the groundwork for addressing those needs through a better coordinated and more inclusive program of international assistance and government initiative than that which characterized the last such effort of comparable scope, between 1994 and 2000. 

The ICF is intended to guide Haiti’s critical transition from what was the increasingly autocratic and corrupt rule of the Lavalas regime, and the chaos that engulfed its collapse, to a duly elected democratic government expected to be fully installed by February 7, 2006, with the inauguration of the next president.  Nonetheless, in spite of its apparent comprehensiveness, the ICF leaves some serious gaps in terms of planning and resource allocation.  Of its four strategic priorities, the first and arguably most important—“Improved political governance and the promotion of national dialogue”—receives the sketchiest, and spottiest, treatment.  While critical “hot-button” issues such as public security, disarmament, justice and human rights are covered extensively, other matters of political governance that may prove equally crucial to the success of the transition are treated only cursorily, if at all.  

Of the areas accorded only relatively slight attention, the elaboration of a detailed plan to guarantee the integrity and success of the electoral process itself has perhaps properly been deferred until the complete results of a recent UN/OAS/Caricom assessment mission become available, and until the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) is fully constituted and minimally operational. 

On the other hand, the Framework’s professed commitment to civil society and political party participation in the process—while laudable in principle—is belied by the fact that literally no resources at all are directly allocated to strengthening the capacities of either of these critical national partners to actually get involved in shaping the transition itself. Echoing this glaring oversight is the ICF’s similarly cursory treatment of “national dialogue” which, again, is summarily endorsed but not materially supported in the current version.

How can it be expected that the diverse voices of Haiti’s increasingly capable and committed nongovernmental sectors will be raised—responsibly and constructively—absent such support?  Under the current Framework, the government and the international community together will clearly have access to all the technical and financial resources they might require to develop and pursue whatever policies and programs they see fit.  Are civil society and the political parties expected to articulate and promote their own positions on the major issues confronting the transition strictly on an own-account and volunteer basis?  Or are they simply to be left either to concur or to complain after the fact, as has so often been the case in the past?

 Of course, the extent to which these omissions are a source of real concern probably depends rather heavily on the degree to which one sees the success of the current transition as fundamentally linked to an inclusive national political process, rather than as simply a matter of improved technical and procedural efficiency, this time around.  Yet even such efficiency is bound to be improved, to the extent that both the government of Haiti and the international community actively seek to engage and to support Haitian civil society and political parties as full partners in meeting the many daunting challenges that lie ahead.  In fact, the stores of creativity and commitment to democratic progress within these sectors must not be left untapped; they may well prove to be critical elements in the overall success of the transition.

Haiti’s provisional government has thus far proven to be relatively receptive to such a partnership, but has not yet been sufficiently pro active in encouraging its growth and intensification.  The international community’s major bilateral and multilateral donors should now actively take up this cause—by broadening the ICF to include significant technical and material assistance to Haiti’s non governmental sectors, so that they too may find their voice in what should be an ongoing national dialogue on the transition, and fully assume their appropriate responsibilities in contributing to its decisive—and absolutely necessary—success.  After their staunchly principled resistance finally catalyzed the nation’s three-year struggle against yet another emerging dictatorship, they richly deserve to be supported in just such a role.

 Indeed, Haiti’s political governance over the coming months and years must finally become a matter in which all sectors, and every citizen of goodwill, are implicated.  Haiti’s democratic future demands no less.

Ira Lowenthal is a founding board member of the Haiti Democracy Project; he is also a longtime observer of Haiti’s political scene and is currently serving as the country director there for America’s Development Foundation (ADF), a U.S.-based private voluntary organization working worldwide to assisit the international development of democracy.

ADF was established in 1980. Its overall approach is based on the belief that a strong civil society, comprising a diversity of autonomous economic, political, social and cultural institutions, provides the indispensable foundation of a sustainable democracy. ADF has a successful record helping thousands of civil society organizations (CSOs) strengthen democratic values, institutions and processes in their countries and develop their communities.