28 May 2014
Haiti has received more than US$20 billion in aid for reconstruction and development over the past 60 years. Despite this, the country remains a failed state, and its development indicators are among the lowest in the world. Why, after so much focus from the donor community, has aid failed to catalyse development in Haiti?
An overview of Haiti's history reveals that the country has a fatal flaw--a social, historical, and cultural context that has led to domination by economic and political elites who have little interest in advancing the country. Even best efforts of donors to improve aid effectiveness will continue to fail until this fatal flaw is addressed.
A turbulent political history
Regimes in Haiti can be grouped into three distinct periods. During 1957-86, the authoritarian rule of Francois Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude, reinforced a system of corruption and intimidation that has become entrenched in subsequent Haitian political systems. Over 1987-2004, an era of political instability began after the Duvalier regime was overthrown by a military junta. During this period, Haiti experienced a number of regime changes that often sparked violence. Periodic embargoes and aid suspensions due to varying regimes further devastated the local economy. From 2006 to the present, Haiti has been transitioning to democracy under Presidents Preval and Martelly. While elections have been held, they have often been delayed and plagued by fraud. Furthermore, the current potential for violent confrontation remains.
Throughout these periods US foreign policy has played an important role in Haiti, and is a determining factor in both the characteristics of Haitian regimes as well as how aid is delivered. US policies and strategic objectives have influenced the course of local politics and aid over time, often ignoring the corruption of local leaders and causing additional turmoil within the country.
Why aid has failed: the fatal flaw
Although aid flows to Haiti have been substantial, aid has failed to catalyse a transformative development process. Poverty remains high, and governance and service delivery are poor. The country continues to depend heavily on remittances, charity, and foreign aid. In 2009, the amount of aid Haiti received from multilateral and bilateral donors exceeded its internal revenue.
Multilateral and bilateral donor assessments of aid performance have been negative for decades, continually indicating that aid is either...