PETER YOUNG: Danger to Bahamas as Haiti on the brink


Peter Young

FOR some years, commentators have been saying that Haiti has reached rock bottom as a failed state. It has not been functioning properly because of chronic political instability and poverty in conditions of extreme violence. Its latest troubles seem to have stemmed from the assassination of its president in 2021 that fuelled further violence, after which the country was said to have reached a nadir and was on the verge of civil war, with armed groups filling a power vacuum and causing mayhem both in the cities and rural areas.

A little over a year ago, a seasoned British journalist wrote, following a visit, that the violence and killing in Haiti and the complete breakdown of law and order were some of the worst she had seen in 30 years of reporting from trouble spots around the world. At the same time, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned that Haiti was on the verge of an abyss as unremitting armed violence had created a humanitarian crisis as bad as anything the country had experienced for decades.

After what then appears to have been a temporary lull in news about this former French colony that is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, it is now back at the top of the world’s media agenda as the situation there has reportedly become even worse.

According to the latest reports, heavily armed gangs that are apparently unstoppable are committing indiscriminate violence and atrocities in conditions of lawlessness. These gangs are now dominating huge swathes of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and elsewhere. Police stations have been fire bombed, prisons have been raided and the inmates released and the airport as well as the main seaport have been shut down. With gang leaders challenging the authority of the prime minister, Ariel Henry, the nation has become rudderless as governmental institutions have apparently broken down, schools and businesses have closed and its health infrastructure is said to be on the brink of collapse while a state of emergency has been extended to one month.

As thousands of people have been displaced and been forced to leave their homes, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Volker Turk, has called the current situation “beyond untenable”. Insecurity throughout the land has spiralled and the gang leaders have taken over. The UN also says that, in the renewed violence since the beginning of the year that has included kidnapping for ransom, over a thousand people have been killed and hundreds injured.

In reaction to all this, according to international press reports it is clear to most observers that the point has been reached where urgent action is needed to bring an end to such violence and lawlessness; and that means foreign intervention since it is beyond the capacity of CARICOM to resolve the problem. Indeed, Volker Turk himself has urged the international community to “act swiftly and decisively to prevent Haiti’s further descent into chaos”.

Most recently, Prime Minister Ariel Henry has been visiting Nairobi to try to salvage the deal for Kenya to lead a multi-national force to quell the violence in his country and to help restore order after the Kenyan courts had ruled against it. But, with the airport closed, he has been unable to return home where his personal security can anyway hardly be guaranteed because the main gang leader has threatened that, if he does not step down from office, there will be civil war.

In such circumstances, many find it a stretch of reality for the US to tell Haiti’s prime minister that he “needs to expedite the transition to empowered and inclusive governance” and to start “the process of bringing normalcy back to the people of Haiti” – even though that is demonstrably desirable -- when he himself cannot even return to his own country. The same applies to the call by the UN for all parties to set aside their differences and agree on “a common path towards restoration of democratic institutions”.

During its long period since independence from French colonial rule in 1804, Haiti has suffered considerable adversity. It has a chequered history of US and UN intervention in helping to keep the peace and maintain order. Most recently, a UN peacekeeping mission was withdrawn in 2017 and a much smaller replacement mission was itself also withdrawn in 2019. The question now is surely whether it has reached such a low point in its fortunes that the only possible solution is outside intervention once again. Since this is beyond the scope of CARICOM, it must be at a higher and more influential international level -- and that surely means the US which likewise has an interest in dealing with this problem in its own backyard.

It has been reported that The Bahamas will contribute to a substantial multi-national peacekeeping force to Haiti. As the Minister of National Security has said, helping to stabilise that country is in The Bahamas’ own security interest. Turmoil in Haiti – a country of more than 11 million just to the south of our archipelago – will inevitably result in more illegal immigration by sea as more and more people flee poverty and violence in their homeland. It is self-evident that a sudden large influx of migrants could quickly overwhelm the southern family islands in particular and destabilize the whole country.

Uncontrolled migration from Haiti has always constituted a threat to The Bahamas as desperate people seek sanctuary in what is seen as a desirable destination that can also be used as a springboard to the US and Canada. But the area of sea concerned is so extensive that it is surely unrealistic to expect the RBDF, even with the assistance of the US Coastguard, to be able to intercept every boat carrying illegal migrants if there were to be a sudden major increase.

So, returning peace, security and representative government to Haiti is indeed in the interests of The Bahamas. I gather that many people locally are now looking to the government to keep them informed about such a serious issue and what it is doing officially to help bring about the international action that is so desperately needed.


THE mass abduction of 300 girls in a place called Chibok in the north of Nigeria in 2014 captured international headlines at the time, not least because this atrocity was condemned publicly by Michelle Obama who said that she and the then US president could see their own daughters in the girls kidnapped. The militant Islamic group, Boko Haram, described in the US press as Nigeria’s terrorist network, claimed responsibility. Many of the girls are still missing.

However, under President Buhari, Nigeria’a head of state who came to power the following year, the security situation was considered to have improved; in particular, in the struggle against Boko Haram in the north. Nonetheless, most recently security has deteriorated again and the country has been rocked once more by mass abductions. Last week, some 280 children were taken from a school in the northern state of Kaduna and dozens of women and children were kidnapped by Boko Haram in the northeast – and over the weekend there was another spate of abductions.

The new Nigerian president elected last year, Bola Tinubu, has condemned all this and promised urgent action – with boots on the ground -- to find those kidnapped and punish the perpetrators. It seems that, as well as being the responsibility of Boko Haram, the most recent incidents have been partly the work of criminal gangs trying to secure ransom money; with ‘kidnap-for ransom’ now spreading almost countrywide after having started many years ago with the kidnapping of oil workers in the Niger Delta. Reportedly, criminals see such kidnapping as a low-risk, high-reward activity when the money is invariably handed over and the perpetrators are rarely arrested. However, this may change after a controversial local law in 2022 making it a crime to pay ransom money.

It is also significant because it is seen as a reflection of the growing strength and influence of militant Islam in West Africa as groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIS have taken root in the region.

Boko Haram is categorised as an Islamist jihadist organisation. Founded twenty years ago and based in northeastern Nigeria, it poses a rising threat to political stability and international peace - not only to Nigeria itself but also to security in the wider region as Islamist violence spreads and these militant groups seek to exploit economic weakness in order to extend their reach and influence.

With the surge of such militant Islamist extremism, the West African country of Burkina Faso is said now to be the new epicentre of such violence in the region, though nations like Benin and Togo are also affected as well as Mali now that French troops have withdrawn from there. But the presence of traditional rather than militant Islam can be traced back to north African traders who, through using regular connecting trade routes, contributed to introducing Islam to sub-Saharan Africa and its coastal towns.

Nigeria is, of course, the giant of Africa, with a population of more than 220 million in a diverse nation of some 250 different ethnic groups and numerous different languages. As a major oil producer, it is Africa’s second largest economy and, geographically, it is nearly twice the size of France. It is divided religiously between a predominantly Muslim north and Christian south. The vastness of its northern areas - south of the country of Niger and on the edge of the Sahara - make it difficult for the federal government in the capital of Abuja situated in the centre of the country to impose its writ through the effective deployment of security forces.

The deterioration of the security situation makes all this a far cry from conditions in the early 1990s when it was possible to move freely around the whole country by road with a relatively low risk of encountering trouble. During the course of a diplomatic posting at that time based in the then capital city of Lagos on the southern coast, my wife and I were fortunate enough at one point to be able to join a small expedition by road to the Sahara. This involved driving through the north of the country in order to reach the desert. Presumably, such a trip nowadays would be off limits because of Boko Haram – and that is surely a sign of the times in an increasingly troubled and unstable world.


WITH the clocks going forward at the weekend and the return of long summer evenings in prospect, it is hard to resist writing a few words today about the joys of spring, a time of year that is particularly significant for those countries to our north who suffer from harsh winters.

As I wrote this time last year, winter in the Caribbean – with, more likely than not, fine and stable warm weather and cool nights – is the high season for tourism, and many living locally consider it is the best and most comfortable time of year. But how different it is for those living further north.

Spring heralds new beginnings as it brings a resurgence of Nature with the revival of plants and wildlife emerging from its winter hibernation.

As I have recorded in previous years and would like to repeat today, for people in England spring flowers in the shape of daffodils are recognized and much appreciated as a symbol of the change of seasons. These colourful flowers were made famous by one of England’s best known poets, William Wordsworth, in his work “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”. This poem is loved by many because of the picture it portrays of Nature’s renewal in the shape of early spring daffodils and because of the message of hope it brings for the future. What is more, some people have got to know the poem so well that they can readily recite it – and they love doing so, at the drop of a hat.


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