While Haiti weeps, whither black solidarity?
“The Problem of the Twentieth Century is the Problem of the Color-line” W.E.B. DuBois in
The Souls of Black Folk
In the Christmas month of December 2010, when most Africans were homeward bound, I met Louise in the sprawling township of Ajegunle after searching without luck for a cousin who was no longer sending money home and for ten years failed to make the annual return trip back East to Umuahia.
At twenty-nine, Louise had the clairvoyance of a seventy-five years old sage, having experienced the devastating earthquake in Haiti in January of the same year which killed over two hundred thousand people with several hundred thousands injured leaving more than one million people homeless for a small water-locked peninsula of the Americas crammed with twelve million black people.
Haitians were among those rebellious Black people whose mutinous challenges and resistance in the slave ships forced the European slave dealers to abandon them in various islands and Peninsulas, to enable them to continue the long voyage to the lucrative North American colonies, slave markets and cotton plantations. In San Domingo Island, these cantankerous Black people were forced by the most brutal means to feed France, as the most profitable colony from its coffee, cotton and sugarcane plantations, generating the resources for over two-thirds of its world trade under the occasional envious incursion of the British and Spanish empires.
But with a burning desire for their freedom, these Black people revolted against their white slave masters and organized a successful insurrection against the white supremacist, slave-owners which lasted from 1794 to 1804 when they secured their independence and renamed San Domingo Haiti. Led by the great General, Toussaint L’Ouverture, a self-liberated black man, up from slavery, the Haitian people lit the candle of liberty that not only added its hue to the raging bourgeois-led French Revolution of the time but has continued to illuminate the path to freedom for black, oppressed and all the colored people of the world.
Yet, despite its greatness in History, Haiti has witnessed immeasurable catastrophes from natural disasters. A people who once fed the European Empires of France, Britain and Spain from commodities generated from their sweat have been forced by adversity to migrate to different countries including the guarded frontiers of the United States, manned by cowboys and clansmen and dismissed as undocumented aliens. In 1751 and 1770, there were heavy earthquakes in Haiti with epicenters near its Capital of Port-au-Prince, followed by another earthquake in Capitatien in 1842. Haiti has also been visited by costly hurricanes – Allen in 1980, Gilbert in 1988, Hamsa and Ike in 2008, which claimed more than 800 lives, and more recently Hurricane Henri accompanying the latest devastating earthquake in August 2021.
Despite the effect on human life, the eco-catastrophic consequence of these natural disasters includes deforestation and the elimination of wildlife, the reduction of fertile farmlands in the plains and its occupation by Haitians fleeing from the towns to the Bourges or villages. Besides the massive migration of Haitians to other countries, the economic impact included the loss of jobs and increasing unemployment; net importation of food due to over-cultivation of fertile lands and insufficient yield of crops from agriculture and poor roads due to increased erosion in various parts of the country.
One irony of history is the forceful turning away of Haitians by the government of the United States in sending white state troopers and clansmen on horseback, faithful descendants of slave owners to storm and lash at the struggling Haitian men, women and children in danger of drowning in the Rio Grande river, in their desperate stampede to reach the Mexican – US border and the border town of Del Rio, Texas. The U.S. government had forgotten that as migrants from Britain who formed the thirteen original colonies, they did not present any documents to the native Indigenous Indians, but confronted them at that time with swords and firearms; that between 1915 and 1934 these descendants of slave owners, clansmen and White Nationalists from the United States occupied Haiti under the subterfuge of civilizing them as Mormons, Presbyterians and Seven Days Adventist. Which documents did they use to invade and live in Haiti?
Like many other Haitians in Lagos, Accra, Monrovia, Necocli, Panama, Mexico and more recently Del Rio Texas, Louise has jumped boats, trekked through jungles and shores; trekked across the national, inter-continental and intra-continental boundaries and their forest grooves; ghettoes, deserts, highlands and plains for self-preservation in search again for freedom and the right to settle and pursue happiness that was denied to him in the slave ships and the cotton and sugarcane plantations of San Domingo liberated by his Black ancestors to become Haiti. To him, the clansmen with their Homeland Security colleagues and state troopers were not different from the brutal but defeated slave drivers of San Domingo, regardless of their new modern implements of torture and did not scare him.
The state troopers and ex-slave owners on horseback equally expressed greater hostility reflecting their awareness of the past defeat meted out to their fathers by these bellicose black people. The first deportation of Haitians and subsequent ones with several flights from the US to Port-au-Prince did not move Louise and did not prevent him once more from boarding another ship across the Atlantic to find his way to Guinea. Louise is determined and knows no cage and fence, and no boundary has stood between him and his ancestors in their quest for freedom and the right to pursue happiness.
In his first ten months in Lagos, Louise regularly sent money to Haiti sometimes with an accompanying small parcel for his Port-au-Prince relatives except for the first two months when he had to settle on the job of loading and unloading bags of Dangote cement at the Lagos harbor and save enough for his present taxi – an old Peugeot Station wagon —- that tilted to one side as it waded through the potholes of Ajegunle and other Lagos roads.
To be continued tomorrow
Onwubiko, is Professor and Head, Department of Biochemistry, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.