Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Diaspora Reaches Out to Haiti

Watching television, listening to radio or reading the Internet or publications report on Haiti relief, you would undoubtedly get the idea that only non-African people and Haitians are helping meet the needs of Haiti’s suffering people. We’ve seen governments such as the United States, China and even Iceland respond to the post-earthquake emergency in Haiti. Celebrities such as George Clooney are organizing benefit concerts, and actors such as Brad Pitt and Angelina Joie and Sandra Bullock have announced the donation of a million dollars to Haiti relief. Meanwhile, African Diaspora stars other than Haitian immigrant Wyclef Jean have been slow to announce their pledges. That begs the question: what are non-Haitian members of the African Diaspora doing to help Haiti?

In the midst of all the giving channels for Haiti relief, the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation decided to devote its current humanitarian donation texting system for Haiti relief (text “Summit” to 90999) not just to join in the effort to help Haiti, but also to demonstrate that the African Diaspora will help itself. Giving money directly through relief organizations such as the Red Cross is certainly a good thing, but who will know the role played by African descendants? Notice of the efforts of the African Diaspora is not only a demonstration to non-African people, but also to members of the African Diaspora that self-help does happen and that we don’t always look to others for our help. Self-help was the main theme of Reverend Sullivan’s life.

The Foundation’s sister organization – Opportunities Industrializations Centers International – is not only collecting money and goods for Haiti, but is investigating other means of being part of the recovery during is visit to Haiti. Through the African Scientific Institute, a team of companies and experts with years of experience in emergency relief are being brought to Haiti’s service. In fact, the Africa Diaspora is playing a much bigger role in Haiti relief than what is generally reported.

Immediately following news of the earthquake in Haiti, His Excellency Jean Ping, Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union, sent a message of condolence and solidarity to the Haitian government and people and called on all nations, including AU member states, to provide needed assistance to Haiti. South Africa quickly announced a three-phase assistance plan consisting of doctors to join a search and rescue team led by Rescue South Africa, deployment of forensic pathologists to help identify bodies and provision of unspecified humanitarian aid in partnership with South African civil society organizations. Rwanda announced a US$100,000 donation for Haiti relief, while Liberia pledged US$50,000 to the cause.

Senegal made a distinctly unique offer of help. Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, describing Haitians as “sons and daughters” of Africa, offered to provide voluntary repatriation to any Haitian who wanted to return to the land of their origin. Depending on the number of Haitians who take Senegal up on this offer, that could mean housing or small pieces of land for a small number of individuals or as much as a region should there be an en masse response. Senegal promises that a region would be in a fertile part of the country and not in a desert or semi-arid region of the country. Trinidad and Tobago’s Emancipation Support Committee has offered to assist in the development and enabling of a process to allow the movement of people from Haiti to Senegal.

Senegal’s generous offer could be the wedge to open up the process of dual citizenship since it acknowledges the heritage of people in the African Diaspora without requiring proof and offers a stake in the country. Over the next few weeks, it will be interesting to see how many other African nations make similar offers to repatriate Haitians.

Meanwhile, some assistance for Haiti from Africa has been on the ground for some time in the form of 16 African countries contributing police or civilian personnel to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti: Benin (32), Burkina Faso (26), Cameroon (8), Central African Republic (7), Chad (3), Côte d’Ivoire (60), the Democratic Republic of Congo (2), Egypt (22), Guinea (55), Madagascar (2), Mali (55), Niger (62), Nigeria (128), Rwanda (14), Senegal (131) and Togo (5). You may notice that some of these countries have their own serious issues with which they are dealing, yet they sent personnel to the stabilization force in Haiti anyway long before this current crisis. Caribbean African Diaspora nations Grenada (3) and Jamaica (5) also have personnel in Haiti as part of that stabilization mission.

So while white celebrities do what they often do to help those in need in Haiti, and Haitians such as Wyclef Jean do what their heart tells them to for their homeland, non-Haitian elements of African Diaspora will do their part to help the people of Haiti now and into the future. It may not all be public, and it may not all have been developed as of yet, but we will eventually see how much members of the African Diaspora care for one another through Haiti’s plight.

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