15.06.2016 | Alternautas

INGOs in Haiti: Development Actors as agents for Alternatives to Development?

By Julia Schöneberg

Haiti. The “Pearl of the Caribbean”, the proud country with the only successful slave revolution in history, the first independent black republic. Usually these are not the attributes that immediately come to mind when thinking about Haiti. Quite in contrast, Haiti is known as the “Republic of NGOs”, the country with the second highest number of foreign NGOs in the world.[1]

Even before the disastrous earthquake in January 2010 Haiti was, despite of, or, as some argue, due to, decades of international intervention and development efforts, already known as the poorest country of the Western hemisphere. Continued international support for past dictatorships has led to famines, human rights violations and kleptocracy. Haiti is generally considered a failed state, with weak governmental structures, little state accountability and high vulnerability to environmental catastrophes.

NGOs, once hailed as magic bullets, have been criticized from many different perspectives, but nevertheless continue to be important actors in the development landscape of Haiti. However, five years after the disaster, the situation in Haiti has not essentially changed. The apparent failure of development approaches has, also generally, resulted in a fundamental critique of mainstream development, as proposed by Post-Development theory.

Post-Development demands the questioning of dominant discourses, representations and the power/knowledge nexus and argues that this can only be achieved by local, i.e. Southern, movements and organizations themselves. In this regard, strategies of Alternative Development and their participatory approaches are contrasted with the call for radical Alternatives to Development and the complete rejection of international development cooperation as such. Some theorists nevertheless contend that cooperation of local and international organizations within demands of Post-Development is possible. They argue that “the postdevelopment agenda is not […] anti-development. The challenge of postdevelopment is not to give up on development, nor to see all development practice – past, present and future […] as failed. The challenge is to imagine and practice development differently.”[2

NGOs, particularly those seeking to imagine and practice alternatives, are confronted with the pitfalls of this aspiration and the reality of being a part of the structured mainstream development apparatus. Very little practical research has been conducted so far, both about the consequences for their work, as well as conflicts within Post-Development theory itself.  Indeed, although Post-Development has been discussed extensively on a theoretical level and been criticized for lacking propositions of concrete and constructive alternatives, spaces for a practical Post-Development implementation have yet to be explored.

In this discussion I thus aim to investigate which practical contribution Post-Development has to offer for progressive development work. For this reason, the focus is laid on partnerships and cooperation of Haitian and international NGOs.

Field research was carried out in the Haitian capital and in four departments between 2012 and 2014. Data was collected through participant observation, narrative interviews and group discussions with INGO and HNGO staff, activists, community leaders and grassroots groups.

[1] Mark Schuller: Invasion or Infusion?

[2] Gibson-Graham: Surplus Possibilities, p. 6.