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Haiti inspires Africans - Mbeki
Posted: Friday, March 26, 2004

The victory of African slaves over French rule in Haiti in the 1800s should be used by Africans to inspire them to successfully address the challenges facing them across the world, South African president Thabo Mbeki said on Friday.

He told delegates attending the sixth African Renaissance Conference in Durban: "Today I am absolutely sure that the people of the Bahamas are inspired as we should be here to make sure that (this) great African victory be used as an inspiration... to address the challenges of the African Renaissance."

Many Africans ignorant of Haiti's history

Mbeki, a proponent of the African Renaissance concept, gave his audience a history lesson on Haiti, saying that many Africans were not taught about the struggle of the impoverished Caribbean country. Due to this many Africans did not know an important part of their history.

He said when a person read about the history of that country, he became angry because it was kept away from Africans because the powers that be knew it would inspire pride amongst all Africans and make them realise what they could accomplish.

Mbeki said he did not want to offend the people who had fought for South Africa's liberation, but it would be very difficult to find a struggle as inspiring as the one by the slaves in Haiti.

Haiti became an independent country and abolished slavery on January 1, 1804. This was after the slaves defeated French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte's army.

Mbeki said the French government of that time told Haiti it would not recognise its independence if it did not pay reparations for the loss French slave owners would suffer. This would have led to the French government blocking the exports of Haiti.

"They had no choice but to pay," he said.

The French set up a central bank through which the payments would be made, and because the Haitians could not make the first instalment, money was borrowed from a French bank, and that debt was serviced with interest.

The world's first black republic

In later years the United States took over the debt and only in 1945 did Haiti pay its last reparation.

This was a main reason why Haiti, the world's first back republic, was so impoverished.

Mbeki said there were no centenary celebrations for Haiti's independence because the French government was opposed to this because they would celebrate the defeat of Napoleon. The French government decided that this matter would be reviewed in a 100 years. The same decision was taken for this year's bicentenary celebrations.

Mbeki, who attended this year's celebrations in January, said he had been questioned by Haitian opposition parties and civil society groups about his attendance because it could have been interpreted as showing support for then president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was ousted after a military coup earlier this year.

Mbeki said he explained to them that the independence of Haiti was an important part of the history of Africans, and he was there to participate in the celebrations.

He said it was agreed by all parties that Haiti's problems should be discussed under the auspices of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). During discussions the armed uprising, by gangsters and spread by former Haitian soldiers, started.

Haiti's police service did not have any equipment

Mbeki said CARICOM and the Haitian government requested South Africa's help in the matter because its police service did not have any equipment, such as teargas, ammunition and weapons.

Mbeki agreed to help, and after a list was sent to South Africa, the equipment was sent to Jamaica.

However, before the material arrived in Haiti, Aristide was ousted and sent to the Central African Republic.

"He did not ask to leave... but others said he should leave," Mbeki said.

He told the audience that in the midst of all this turmoil, a marvellous thing had happened because the injustice concerning Haiti and Aristide's forced departure, had brought greater unity amongst Africans across the globe.

"I think we have never seen as much unity amongst Africans on a matter," Mbeki said. "All of us are saying a great injustice has happened and all of us are saying we must... help the Haitians."

Africans should address common problems together

Mbeki said Africans would have a bright future if they addressed common problems together.

"Our African people in the United States are still African and are less equal than other Americans," he said to applause.

The small Caribbean countries could only succeed if they were part of the greater African home.

Mbeki said whether Africans were living in Johannesburg or New York, they faced the same difficulties.

He called on those attending the conference to find ways of taking the African Renaissance forward, saying its success would have a positive affect on all Africans.

"What do we need to do to build a global, united movement of Africans?" Mbeki asked.

"Don't lose this opportunity to reinforce the cohesion... so that together we can fight the common problems of Africans."

DA wants answers

Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon said this week he had written another letter to Mbeki regarding a consignment of arms sent to Haiti in the dying hours of Aristide's rule.

Leon said he had to date received no answer to his previous query regarding the dispatch in late February of an SA Air Force Boeing 707 to the Caribbean island state loaded with 150 R1 assault rifles, ammunition and assorted equipment.

"This is a most extraordinary thing in a constitutional democracy. If it wasn't for a journalist and a newspaper in Jamaica, we would never have known about this deployment," Leon told a press conference in Johannesburg.

The DA leader said he had taken legal advice on the matter from an advocate in Cape Town who advised him that the flight to Haiti amounted to the employment of the Defence Force as contemplated in the constitution as well as in the new Defence Act and that government, by not reporting this deployment to parliament within the stipulated 14 days, was in breach of the law.


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