By Christopher Reardon.
In October 2010, I sat down with Prof. Mzobanzi "Mzobz" Mboya, a member of the Africa for Haiti campaign's steering committee, at NEPAD's headquarters in Midrand, South Africa. Here are some excerpts from the conversation:
My name is Mzobz Mboya. I'm the head of Education and Training at NEPAD, the New Partnership for Africa's Development. NEPAD and the African Union are looking at the African Diaspora as the sixth region, and Haiti being one of the constituencies of the African Diaspora. So it was important for NEPAD to play a key role in the Africa for Haiti campaign.
Tell us more about why Haiti matters to Africa, both historically and at the present.
There is a kind of a historic relationship between Africa and Haiti. In fact, Haiti was the first independent African country — before Ghana. And that we saw as an important milestone in the history of development in the continent. Now, when the crisis happened, we saw it as being important and fundamental as Africans to begin to assist the people of Haiti in the restoration and the rebuilding of their country. Now that relationship, it's not going to be a one-off relationship. It's going to be a long journey that we will travel together as Africans in the continent as well as Africans in the Diaspora, with specific reference to Haiti.
Why is the campaign focusing largely on rural areas, when the destruction from the earthquake itself was concentrated in Port-au-Prince?
Our intervention is a long-term involvement in Haiti, and what we have realized is that the rural communities have been the last to be considered in areas of development. The intervention then should start from there and move into the urban areas. Not necessarily forgetting about what is happening in the urban areas, but the focus is let us look at the historically disadvantaged communities and assist them in the areas of development.
You spoke of long-term development and long-term engagement. What form will this engagement take?
We are looking at the intervention as a gateway to engage in issues of policy, to engage in issues of dialogue, and to engage in issues of engagement — the concrete engagement — with government institutions. And this is going to be a learning experience. It's not going to be Africans getting into Haiti to tell Haitians how they should do their job. But it's going to be a kind of an engagement and a learning experience that will bring out this new relationship we want to build with the Diaspora. It's an unfortunate situation, but I think out of that there will come a new thinking on the relationship between Africans in Africa and Africans in the Diaspora. This is the beginning. This is the beginning of that relationship, and what is fortunate about this is that it is concretized. We know what we want to do, and the people of Haiti know what they would like Africans to assist in development.
Why should Africans give to a cause that's far away, when there are many urgent needs closer to home?
This has been a fundamental challenge to the Africa for Haiti campaign, that in Africa we are experiencing major problems. But why Haiti? In each and very country that you go to they will say, but we have these problems; why should we think about Haiti? But we are saying, let us try and build now a common humanity, which will ultimately bring in the new thinking on areas of development.
You described the campaign's involvement with Haiti as strategic. Can you say more about that strategy?
That strategy, it is now to begin to say, in Nkrumah's terms, that we have one Africa, and that Africa is spread across the world. And Africans should realize that they have a home.
The agenda that Africa for Haiti is pursuing is a long-term agenda. It's not about having money, taking money to Haiti. No, it's about the reconstruction of the country through engagement, understanding and building the level of patience and tolerance along the wayside. In the journey, we will be able to develop a kind of a model that we can clearly look at on intervention in a country, the role of government in a country, the role of civil society in the country. And I think Africa for Haiti has that potential of bringing all the players together.
This is going to be a long road that we are going to travel together, and in that journey we will learn from each other. It's not just putting resources to Haiti. It is for Haiti to learn from us and we learn from the Haitian experience. And as I say, this can be a way of saying if we want to deal with the Diaspora, this is the model we should be looking at.
Click here to listen to the interview
Visit www.africaforhaiti.com for more information on the Africa for Haiti Campaign