Caribbean pearl’s descent to disaster

JOHANNESBURG – Haiti is a country located on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola off the Dominican Republic. It has a surface area of 27750km2 with an estimated population of 11 million (2018), 95 percent of whom are of African descent.

The country represents the greatest symbol of Africanness outside the African continent. Native Haitians were pre-Columbian Amerindians called Taíno, “the good people”. The Taíno named their land “Ayiti”, meaning “Land of Mountains” – a term that evolved into “Haiti”.

Haiti proclaimed its independence on January 1, 1804, after a prolonged armed struggle against French colonial rule.

It was a prosperous colony that supplied France with threequarters of its wealth.

It was the only successful slave revolution in the world and made an immense contribution to humanity, since it modified the geopolitical order of slavery worldwide.

As a result of the proclamation of independence, France imposed a debt of more than $20 billion (R305bn) and the development of Haiti was very limited.

Haiti’s future is conditioned by its vast public debt, which in 2017, was $2 666m and in 2018 it reached 33.02 percent of the gross domestic product.

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A Haitian woman walks on the beach in Titanyen, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince

This debt comes in large part from the agreement that has provided Haiti privileged access to Venezuelan oil through Petrocaribe.

In the 18th century, St Dominique (Haiti) was the richest colony in the French Empire and was known as the “Pearl of the Antilles”. Today Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with a GDP per capita of $870 in 2018.

The country operates under a semi-presidential political regime, following the constitution approved in 1987, after the long dictatorship (30 years) of the Duvaliers.

Haití and Canada are the only two independent nations in the Americas that have French as an official language.

The problems of political instability, low productive capacity, corruption, foreign interventionism and poverty have negatively marked the history of this fighting people. To all this we must add the frequent natural disasters.

In 2010, an earthquake killed hundreds of thousands of people and left the country even more devastated, without infrastructure or supplies. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew created a new humanitarian crisis. The combination of external and endogenous factors has made this country one of the poorest in the world.

The country has also been affected by lack of strategic infrastructure which can improve the welfare of its people.

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Haitians enjoy at a beach in Titanyen, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince

There is no national grid and electricity is provided by a small number of independent companies which has allowed its provision to be limited only to the more privileged part of the society making the vicious cycle of poverty continue.

Recently, alleged acts of corruption have appeared regarding the management of the funds coming from this programme.

The case came to light as a result of an investigation by Haiti’s Superior Court of Accounts and could involve members of the current government who allegedly appropriated millions of dollars for projects not executed.

As a result, violence has returned to the streets, especially in the capital of Port-au-Prince, with vast protests that were escalated on February 7, the day that President Jovenel Moise completed two years in office.

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Haitians play at a beach in Titanyen, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince

Neil de Beer is president of Investment Fund Africa (, and advises numerous African states on economic development.


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