In the 1700s Haiti was France’s most valuable colony, with highly efficient slave trade and a thriving agro based economy. At one point, it was supplying two-thirds of all of Europe’s tropical produce.
While the French were fighting to free themselves from monarchy, Haitian slaves revolted, contributing to the end of slavery and their birth as a republic. Gaining independence would prove to be the easy part over the following centuries!
In 1991, Jean-Bertrand Aristide became Haiti's first democratically elected president. A year later, Zimbabwe enacted the Land Acquisition Act to speed up the land reform process by removing the "willing seller, willing buyer" requirement. 1992 is a very significant year as it proves to all that ZANU PF took its time and went through due process to implement equitable land redistribution and reverse a century of injustice. Land reform was never about populism; it was to keep a promise to all who sacrificed their lives for it. Nothing to do with the MDC that conveniently sprouted when white interests were threatened! Some of us seem to forget that basic fact.
Fast forward to recent times and we learn through WikiLeaks cables that high-level US and UN officials allegedly once worked to prevent former President Aristide from "gaining more traction with the Haitian population and returning to Haiti from exile in South Africa." The cables give an impression that they poured tens of millions of dollars into unsuccessful efforts to slander Aristide as a drug trafficker, human rights violator. The former Jesuit priest was even labelled as a follower of voodoo!
Aristide remained a potent symbol for the impoverished population of Haiti while in exile for almost a decade. Our own President Mugabe was in prison for 11 years.
In 2003, President Aristide demanded that France refund over $21 billion U.S. dollars, of the (modern equivalent of 90 million gold francs, adjusted for interest and inflation) Haiti was forced to pay Paris after gaining independence. France put in place mechanism to force Haiti to pay them for the privilege of being colonised! These payments had gone on until just after the 2nd world war. The actual conditions for this this “thievery” are quite complex and for another day.
On February 26, 2004, the UN Security Council rejects an appeal from the Caribbean Community for international peacekeeping forces to be sent into Haiti. Three days later Aristide “resigns” and Surprise, Surprise, within a few hours the UN had grows a pair! As the U.N. ships in, Aristide ships out to South Africa (supposedly against his will via some military base in a central African state). A US based former U.N. staffer got installed in Aristide's place and one of his first actions as leader of a "liberated" Haiti was to rescind the reparations demand, calling it "foolish" and "illegal".
Way to go France! Well played indeed.
The "U.N", the US, Canada and The EU swiftly recognised Interim Prime Minister. Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, Venezuela and Cuba, as well as the African Union refused to recognise the puppet government. Parties that have desires for regime change take note. Africa said Non!
Myrtha Desulme, chairperson of the Haiti-Jamaica Exchange Committee, was quoted saying,
"I believe that the call for reparations could have something to do with it, because France were definitely not happy about it, and made some very hostile comments. I believe that he did have grounds for that demand, because that is what started the downfall of Haiti".
In 2013 Haiti again calls for European nations to pay reparations for slavery and the establishment of an official commission for the settlement of past wrong-doings. In 2016, we learn that the US is dumping enough peanuts to destroy the livelihoods of thousands of Haitian farmers. When citizens are hungry and angry, they often blame their own government! The parallels between Zimbabwe and Haiti don't end there. Haiti is still recovering from a cholera outbreak that infected 7% of the 10 million locals and killed over eight thousand. Haiti, we know your pain.
To conclude on the numerous mirrored struggles our countries have gone through, it’s worth going further back in history. On his death bed after being captured by the colonisers, Toussaint L’Ouverture the slave general who led the triumphant revolution said,
“In overthrowing me, you have cut down in only the trunk of the tree of black liberty. It will spring up again by the roots for they are numerous and deep.”
A century later, Mbuya Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana, Zimbabwe’s most revered heroine's last words were,
"My bones will rise again."
Today as the revolutionary heirs of Nehanda and L’Ouverture’s legacies, not only seek restitution but a struggle to maintain our hard won sovereignty.