Rolls-Royces on dirt roads
There is a piece of journalism from Haiti that should be of interest to the world. Just two almost innocent looking unimportant paragraphs wondering if it was possible for a rich person in Haiti to live a life that his riches could afford him. The piece is accompanied by a photograph of a wooden hut in the bush. No electricity. No pipe delivered water in sight. There is no motor-able road anywhere. And there are no neighbours either.
There are sights all over the world showing the terrible contradictions of poverty and affluence in predominantly poor environments. There is the common existence of cockroaches on marble floors. How did they get there? How were they allowed to get there? Like that Haitian hut in the forest, there are magnificent palaces of marble floors built in the middle of nowhere where nobody lives. So they become homes to cockroaches and places and spaces abode for rats.
The reason for this type of situation is the inability of the political leadership to build two sets of structures. The first structure they fail to build is the physical infrastructures for the benefit of the people of the country. Some of these infrastructures would be hospitals and health centres for the health wealth of the people. There would be educational buildings for nursery, primary, secondary, technical and tertiary training of the young of the country. There would be continuing education structures for lifelong learning for all. There would be roads and railway lines and airports and landing strips for the easy movement across the country for everybody. In addition, there would be places of relaxation and amusement for the physical health of young and old. These structures would be constructed and arrangements would be made to maintain them against the ravages of use and time. The effect of rain and shine would not be allowed to ruin their looks and they would be enjoyed for long and for sure. In addition, there would be, for citizens who need them, places of worship and contemplation for troubled as well as the minds that are at ease.
The second type of infrastructure that leaders build are institutions that, like guard rails, lead the leaders and their people to the right way up and away in a happy celebration of wellbeing. These institutions would guard and guide those who make laws for the country. They would guard and guide those who enforce the laws. They would show those who are coming behind how things are done so that outcomes are the way they should be. Institutions would stand as sentinels in support of the body politic. Institutions would guarantee to old and young, rich and not so rich, native and stranger Justice day and night.
The world today boasts of only one way of getting things done in terms of getting and spending money: capitalism. Anything else is self-indulgent escapism. You have to sow in order to reap a harvest. You have to invest in order to receive shares. And as the legend on some passenger lorries proclaim: no food for lazy man. Everybody must labour in one factory or farm or laboratory or another. Everybody must deliver a service to get rewarded at the time of harvest.
And because the work of man on earth is not finished, hardly begun, everyone must strive to bring something new, something grand and something fun into this world to ease the mind and the muscle of human beings.
Places and spaces where these infrastructures have been built and maintained are the places and spaces that the leaders of Haiti and Nigeria and Mexico, to name are a few, love to go when they are tired of their countries that they refuse to build. It is to their banks that they carry money from their countries to save and spend. It is to their hospitals they go to repair their ravaged minds and bodies after their self-indulgent existence in their countries. It is their cars and jets that they buy to show of on the dirt roads of their lands, and the ill-equipped landing-strips of their land.
It must be difficult not to be able to be rich in your country. To have to go some else’s country to play rich must be a harrowing experience. This is because the people around you, seeing you buying up Harrods and other fancy shops of Europe and North America are not impressed. If anything they dis-respect you knowing that the iconic images of poverty, disease and squalor come from your neighbourhood. War and want and worry are the lot of your people. How is it that you do not learn to build your own place and space for your own comfort and the comfort of your people?
Haiti became independent in 1804. Haiti fought and won its independence from France defeating the army sent by Napoleon to restore slavery on the island. Two hundred years and all that people see are these miserable huts that no one is happy to live in. Leaders dressed by the best tailors of Paris, jealously corseting titles that have no meaning to their people seeking the acceptance of other nations! It was a path that led to Haiti’s foreign debt and economic ruin. And the economic ruin led to the American occupation of Haiti in 1915. One woe after another and your country becomes the charity of others around the world!
Two hundred years of the past of Haiti should not be the mirror image of the future of African countries! Never! We reject such a future with present sense of what we need to do to get our young from walking the Sahara bare-footed, trekking to the see to drown in skiffs and rudderless tin baths. We reject such a future with the energy of our brain and the power of our brawn. We reject such a future in the name of our imagination and the mighty possibilities of our challenging situation. The past of Haiti is never the future of Africa.