This article seeks to explore the post-disaster politics of NGOs in Haiti following the January 12, 2010 earthquake that killed about 250 thousand people. I argue that instead of implementing a post-disaster politics that would empower the Haitians and create a sustainable development of Haiti, the NGOs apply a politics of resilience consisting in short- term goals that consequently hamper the reconstruction project of Haiti. This ‘band-aid’ politics is engrained in a post-colonial strategy of that fails to take into account the real needs of the Haitians people in the elaboration and application of the NGOs projects. Thus, first I examine the politics of NGOs in Haiti following the earthquake. Second, I stress how this politic is intertwined with a postcolonial strategy that undermines the real needs of the Haitian people. Finally, building Fluri’s application of Agamben’s bare life concept, I articulate the politics of NGOs in term of a biopolitics strategy that reduces their actions to bare life.
Post disaster politics and NGOs in Haiti
The Haitian government, regularly accused of corruption by the international community has been marginalized in the rebuilding effort and the post-earthquake recovery. Less than one cent of the each dollar of US earthquake relief is going to the Haitian government. As reported by the wall street journal, NGOs who are working on disaster assistance receive 43 cents, while 33 cents of the same dollar ends up with the military. This post disaster politics results of a pattern that began in the 1990s that links peace building with the building of the state institutions while the role of the state as an agent of development has been completely undermined (Zanotti, 2010).
International organizations as strategy of state building inscribe in a neoliberal logic that international assistance should focus on the democratic form and cost effectiveness of institutional arrangement rather than building state capacity to provide service to populations. In this context, NGOs become increasingly relevant stakeholders as alternative recipients of funds and as providers of emergency relief and providers of long term services to populations as well (Zanotti, 2010). This model makes the Haitian economy even more vulnerable, creates a superficial and flexible Haitian middle class, undermines the capacity of the Haitian state to rebuild the country, and hampers the development process of Haiti.
Nevertheless, understanding the emergence of NGOs as agents of development requires analyzing it through a geopolitical lens. Although Domosh (2015) stresses development as a technique of governance began at home within the realm of domestic and radicalized gaze, International development discourse is a post war construction rooted in the US hegemony and the geopolitics of post colonialism (Peet and watts, 1993, Escobar, 1995). More directly, Escobar (1995) situates that the origin of development discourse in the Point Four program of President Truman that prescribed the application to the poor areas of the world that were considered to be two vital forces: modernity and capital.
The conception of poor areas of the world in the way the western discourse have conceptualized has been severely criticized by Shrestha (1995). Analyzing how the concept development and underdevelopment has been produced and reproduced. Shrestha rejects the tendency that shows poor as lack of dignity, uncivilized, and undeveloped. Drawing from his own experience and witnessing the Point Four program project of Truman that was implemented in his country, Nepal, Shrestha (1995) points out although development project brought changes in the infrastructure levels in Nepal, structural poverty has remained and rendered the country more dependent than never before. Because of the failure of the development project to bring sustainable development, Latin American dependency theory argued for a new model of development that emphasizes on the state as agent of development.
However, the debt crisis of the 1980s oriented the discourse of development to a short- term management. The literature was dominated by questions of stabilization and adjustment driven increasingly by a neoliberal orthodoxy that sought to reaffirm the necessity of reintegration into global market and emphasize a ‘back-to-the-future’ strategy (i.e.), a return to the colonial model of comparative advantage and export-oriented commodity production.” (Peet and watts, 1993).
Along with this new dialogue, a neoliberal discourse emerged in the 1990s. This neoliberal discourse advertised individual agency in the marketplace which helped to sustain a development populism reflected in uncritical promotion of nongovernmental institution NGOs.
NGOs and Post Colonialism
Post colonialism is often criticized for being a very ambivalent term. Taken sometimes in a literal sense, post colonialism tends to refer to the condition after colonialism. However, many scholars (Spivack, 1995; Bhabha, 1995; Willems-Brauns; 1997, Mohanty, 1997) limit themselves to this temporal perspective of post colonialism to demonstrate how the past is still infuse in the present. They argue the past continues to organize experience in the present through discussion, practices, and uneven relations between the west and the rest of the world.
Spivak (1988) for instance sees post colonialism as a space where the subaltern has no voice as he poses the question: Can the subaltern speak? Spivak argues that the subaltern is a victim of an epistemic violence that silences him. This silence is supported by imperialism that subjugates the knowledge of the other and imposes its own logic as knowledge and norms. Mohanty (1997) makes similar claims. In Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourse, she recounts how the experiences of third world feminists are overwhelmingly silent by feminist scholarships that offer a universal patriarchal frame work to which third world feminist should subscribe to. Mohanty (1997) rejects this form of epistemic violence of western feminism and attributes as she attributes it to a form of imperialism that intents to silence third world women.
Imposing silence on the others is closely associated to making decision for them. In Willems-Baun’s (1997) studies on the fate of the rainforest in British Columbia, Canada, the colonialist practice and rhetoric remain present in many of the categories, identities, and representational practices that are deployed in public debate and scientific management of landscape. He backs up his argumentation on the fact that while discussing the fate of the rainforest, the indigenous people who live there were marginalized. Their voices were never been heard while decisions were made on their behalf for a land on which they constitute the primary stake holder. Seemingly, Fluri’s study (2012) on aid/development in Afghanistan points out that aid/development projects in Afghanistan were designed by experts outside the country while the Afghan view point was rarely considered.
Concurrently some NGOs’ success stories have also been noted. Zonoti on research aid and NGOs in Haiti after reports that some local but internationally funded NGOs have been made a tremendous impact on the life of the population. Analyzing the modality and the experiences of those NGOs, Zanotti relates their success stories to their knowledge of the local community, their focus on the need of the poor, and their holistic approach to providing financial opportunities to the most vulnerable instead of applying the prescriptions of international headquarters.
NGOs in Haiti : the politics of bare life
In Killing with Kindness: Haiti, International Aid, and NGO’s Mark Fuller and Paul Farmer (2012) question why socio -economic conditions of Haiti and the Haitian people have not been improved despites abundant foreign aid dollars. Fuller and Farmer see in the NGOs a ‘trickle-down’ imperialism but not contributors of development. Far from alleviating suffering or strengthening governmental and citizen agency in the areas which impact their lives, the NGOs industry instead serve as an intermediary in spreading and sustaining US, and to a lesser extent, Canadian and European power ideology and markets.
The problem of NGOs in Haiti did not occur until after the 2010 earthquake that struck Haiti. Before the earthquake the number of GNOs in Haiti was estimated to be at 10,000 (Horton, 2012). After the earthquake the number of NGO operating in Haiti has increased. Haitians ironically call their country the republic of NGOs.
What I argue here is not that NGOs are not important in helping the people of Haiti while providing post disaster relief. Definitely, their role is critical in providing essential services in health care, education and job creation. However, funneling aid through NGOs has perpetuated a situation of limited government capacity and weak institutions. Haitians look to NGOs rather than their government for basic public services. In addition NGOs is not in business to produce long and sustainable development, instead they limit their actions to bare life (Fluri, 2012).
Building on Fluri’s application of the bare life concept, I see bare life in a way that implicates in a gendered, racist, and colonial application of biopolitics. Biopolitics here is not limited to the Foucauldian way as object of security and development of individual and collective life but as a an assemblage of institutions, knowledge , practices that structures life around the imperative of self-preservation (Fluri, 2012), self-reproduction and resilience (Grove, 2014). My argument is that the earthquake of 2010 in Haiti facilitates the conditions for NGOs to implicitly declare a state of exception (Agamben,2005) where NGOs as the international extension of the local state impose their own biopolitics rules consisting in the enhancement of the capacity of Haitians to cope with poverty and uncertainty.
This paper explored the problems of NGOs in Haiti, critiqued their post disaster relief politics, and assessed their impact on the State. Although I am very critical of the NGOs politics in Haiti, I argue they have brought short term help to Haitians, specifically in the domain of health food, and housing in the post disaster rebuilding. This politics may render Haiti more vulnerable on the long run. The NGOs politics could be more efficient and more successful in reconstructing Haiti if they were to take into account the real needs of Haitians and work in a partnership with the state to channel the money effectively to building and rebuilding the infrastructure of the country severely damage by the earthquake.
By failing to create the politics of partnership with the state, the NGOs engage themselves in implementing multiple short term projects not sustainable enough to contribute to a durable development of Haiti and empower the population that they’re serving. Instead, they are out-recruiting the government by offering large salary to educated Haitians. These situations ‘fragilize’ a bureaucracy that was already broken. Large NGOs salaries attract educated Haitians from the Diasporas and creates a “reverse brain drain”. As a result, graduate Haitians have massively been leaving Canada and US to work in Haiti while living their family abroad. They work in Haiti but most of their salaries have been transferred to Canada and US to take care of their family. They stay in Haiti but don’t live in Haiti. Thus their contribution to the Haitian economy is very little. This flexible citizenship life and its impact on the Haiti’s political economy has yet to be studied.