Power or Leadership?

Susan Ward defines leadership as: ” the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal”.  This is certainly a concise, precise and to the point approach of a concept which has been debated throughout our recorded human history.  Our aim here is neither to redefine nor discuss the meaning of Leadership rather than it is to underline the differences that exist between that concept and the one of Power and how confusing both has hurt Haiti tremendously.

If we go back for a minute to Susan Ward’s definition, the responsibility of the individual who aspires to lead rests in his/her ability to direct others.  Therefore it would be fair to add that those who are meant to be led determine whether or not the leader is successful.  If the common goal isn’t reached and if people are not motivated to work toward that said objective, then the leader has failed.  On the other hand, those who have power don’t depend on those they rule or direct to succeed.  They depend on the tools available (legal system, army, money) and on their ability to use those tools effectively to get what they want.

What is Power? The dictionary offers an array of definitions depending on the context.  We’ve retained three:

1. The ability or capacity to perform or act effectively.

2The ability or official capacity to exercise control; authority.

3A person, group, or nation having great influence or control over others.

Power! When limited to the political realm, it simply means having within the hands of the individual, social class or political party the legal means to exert authority over the rest of society.  Those who run for office usually do so in order to gain power but, in order to succeed, they must possess those qualities needed to become a good leader.  One who has leadership qualities will sooner or later gain power; however, most who have power don’t necessarily lead because they are too concerned with controlling.  Throughout human history, the less fortunate, who happen to be in greater numbers, have been kept in line because of power and because of a realistic fear of what it can do.  There have been times when leadership was born out of grave injustices to right the wrongs of our world.

Having just spent 16 days in Haiti, one cannot help but ponder those two concepts.  Before the magnitude of the work to be done, one has to ask whether or not our collective illness isn’t simply due to a terrible deficiency in quality leadership.  Oh, there is plenty amount of power in Haiti and countless numbers of Haitians who vie to hold it for as long as they can and by all means necessary.  Since 1804, and because of national and international conspiracies, the Haitian people has not been properly led.  We’ve had our fair share of powerful and authoritarian heads of state.  A small group of families, whose interests do not align with those of the rest of society, has been very successful at holding and keeping power and all means of production; they have yet to lead a society desperate to find itself.

There is an infrastructure that needs rebuilding and modernizing, construction codes to be updated, an educational system in desperate need of restructuring, jobs to be created, a legal system that needs a facelift and our collective dignity to be regained.  Power only begets more power and it has the uncanny ability to quickly corrupt the foolish.  But honest and effective leadership begets true vision and wisdom to lead a people onto the path of human progress.  Haiti today needs builders of nation and makers of dreams to rise once more out of the ashes of destruction.  Two fundamental questions remain:  Can a society that is deep in crisis recognize those qualities that make a good leader?  Is Haiti forever condemned to having as heads of state those power seeking individuals who never concern themselves with leading?  The answers, I leave to you.

Cassandra Honorat

February 2, 2012

HAPPY HOLIDAY!

I often wonder what it is about wishing a “happy holiday” that seems to be so offensive to some Christians. It is true that when I was growing up, this time of year was associated with the most famous Christian holiday of all, Christmas; well, so it seemed to me but the reality is that I was always in locations where there was a predominance of the christian faith.  I like to believe that my view of the world has widened since childhood…  People of my generation are certainly more accustomed to hearing the cheerful “Merry Christmas” and they wish it to all as it has become, for many, an end of the year “mantra”; that’s fine, as long as we remember that the world is made of an interesting array of colors, shapes and sizes and we all have our share in it.  Noel/Christmas/Navidad is after all the celebration of the most miraculous birth of all, God who humbled Himself enough to walk among mortals for the salvation of their sins.  It is a wonderful feast and a day for rejoicing because it symbolizes the gift of life and love…nothing can top that if you are a Christian.  Therefore it will always be right to wish to Christians the world over a very Merry Christmas!

Other religions  have holidays which are equally important to them and to which they dedicate a special period of the year and their celebration, if they don’t include a manger or a tree, must certainly have their own endearing rituals. To the rest of the world therefore we must wish a Happy Holiday!

It seems to be a need we humans have to want to dedicate a day (or two, or three) to bow before what we know to be greater than ourselves.  There is nothing wrong with that and if faith brings us nothing, it certainly affords us the opportunity for humility…we could all use a healthy dose of that.

Happy Holiday!  Simply put (at least for me) it means that whatever you are celebrating this time of year I wish it to be happy.  Whether you are Jewish or Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist, Atheist or Agnostic, Spiritual or “still searching” you are a member of my race (the human race) and an adept of my faith (Love).  To all of us who are part of this ever so large family I wish Love of self and of others, Peace on earth and in our hearts, Wealth and Abundance to be enjoyed by all and Serenity of mind, body and soul.

The end of the year gives a chance for a new beginning, a possibility for renewal and the time to mend and fix and hope while looking to the future.  Jews celebrate the Rededication while Christians look to an innocent baby boy for Salvation and Redemption.  Take the time this Holiday season to appreciate the Universe and the Creator, be grateful for what you have, seize the moment and hold it close to your heart as if it were your last…Live not a life of details but one of true meaning and pursue your purpose until your last breath.

Those are my wishes for this time and for the year to come.

HAPPY HOLIDAY TO YOU!

Cassandra Honorat

December 24, 2011

The Relentless Pursuit of Justice

After watching “The Fourth Angel”, I have resolved that both Hollywood and Humanity have a fascination with the concept of Justice.  “The Fourth Angel” is a 2001 movie starring Jeremy Irons, whose intensity on screen is rarely matched, and Forrest Whitaker, a favorite for his ability to slide into any character and make it believable.  That being said, the movie has earned a 5 (in my book) on a scale of 1 to 10.  Why a 5, you might ask?  Well, although I was graced with the performances of two talented actors, the plot was ordinary, the outcome was predictable and the shooting was on the heavy side (too heavy for my taste).

It is the story of a British magazine editor (Jeremy Irons) turned vigilante in order to find JUSTICE for his wife and daughters killed during a plane hijack while the terrorists walked free.  Mr. Whitaker plays the American FBI agent who will figure it all out when he discovers that none other than an American diplomat was the brain behind the whole hijack…UGH!! (I should have given it a 4).  Nonetheless, not the worse movie ever made and worth seeing if there is nothing better to do; but I digress.

It made me think about the ideal that Justice, or the pursuit of it, is usually the dominant propaganda of every society that deems itself civilized.  Playwrights and writers have been writing about it for centuries and the film making industries have given it to us ad nauseam.  Who doesn’t like to see the “bad guy” getting caught or brought to justice after committing a vile crime against peaceful citizens?  We all feel that in this world every wrong must be rectified and we understand that in order to live in society, rules  must be abided by and boundaries must not be crossed at the risk of running head first against the wall we call the law.  I have concluded that if the Law guarantees societal order, it has not really concerned itself much with Justice.

After all, what is Justice?  I believe that in this Universe, there are numbers of natural laws.  In the Animal Kingdom, all species are really concerned with three rules:

1-      Eat, to guarantee the survival of the individual

2-      Procreate, to guarantee the survival of the species

3-      And, whatever you do, don’t get eaten

So, I have often wondered, this fascination for Justice in our human species, where does it come from?  I haven’t yet found the answer.  Perhaps it is this propensity we have to want to constantly elevate ourselves beyond our means and capabilities.  For to want Justice and to truly believe in it, one has to agree that its ever reaching powerful Arms will fall upon our heads when we are in the wrong regardless of our socioeconomic position in this world.  Good luck!

I searched and searched; thought, thought some more and ended up getting a headache for lack of finding an answer to my query.  I decided that Justice is Divine.  In this Universe when you violate one of the most sacred laws which is “never proceed with malice for personal gain”, the Creator will “take care of you”, “even the score” sooner or later.  To parody a most beloved cliché, in this great big circle of life, what goes around comes around…

AHHHHH! Justice, as we become more and more technological, more and more “advanced” it seems to elude us more and more.  The great Human victories were not won because of the obsession with Justice.  Rather, they happened because we focused on Injustice.  This is why former French slaves bought/brought from the African west coast challenged the Colonial system and slavery in 1804 and created a country called Haiti.  This is why an entire Jewish nation crossed the desert to get away from Egyptian domination.  This is why in 1789, a new class of men and women calling themselves Bourgeois said no to the notion of Blue Blood which limited their upward social mobility in the land they called their own…You get the point.  In other words, when we take notice of the grave injustices in our world, we fight to correct them.  In so doing we don’t always arrive at securing justice for all those who have suffered but what we do instead is rid ourselves of systems and beliefs that are potentially dangerous for the survival of a community and sometimes of humanity.   Although hundreds of Nazis responsible for war crimes were able to get away and continued living undisturbed in other parts of the world, one of the positive outcomes of the War remains the recognition that Human Rights must be enjoyed by all regardless of ethnicity, religion or gender.  The pursuit of Justice has often the flair of vengeance but fighting to rid the world of injustice has bore sweeter fruits.

Cassandra Honorat

December 13, 2011

Advising the President but Serving a Nation

Those who have the very delicate task of advising Heads of State carry the heavy burdens of responsibility and accountability.  They have to advise and counsel on matters not only important for the survival of the nation but also crucial for the survival and career of the President or Prime Minister.  When expressing oneself on the  way affairs of the State should be run, is there a protocol defining what is opinion, constructive criticism or just senseless bashing?  In other words, should one tiptoe around the President or is it wiser to be knowledgeable of the issue, informed, forceful, direct and honest?

It is possible that the situation dictates the tone and those advisors or cabinet members choose their battles, so to speak.  In other words, one can ignore a press conference gone bad but stand their ground on issues of national security.  Is timing important?  Should the advisor define the modus operandi from the get go or, perhaps, should he/she allow the Head of State to take the lead in all matters and to impose his/her will at will?  That would certainly be devastating for not only the working environment but also for the entire nation that has entrusted its destiny into the hands of an individual perceived to be able and capable.

The reality is that each country presents its own set of rules and historical circumstances.  However one thing can be said to be universal, in each country there are forces that collide on a regular basis and there are social groups that manage (sometimes for very long historical periods) to impose their will and to safeguard their interests at all costs and by any means necessary.  The Head of State is seldom if ever his/her own person.  The realm of influence afforded him/her is quite limited; and, the more advanced the socioeconomic developement of the country, the more limited are his/her powers.

Now, back to my earlier conundrum; what is the proper course of action when one has the most difficult and arduous task of being the President’s advisor?  I have narrowed it down to this: there are two kinds of advisors/cabinet members.  There are those who have an allegiance to their career and there are those who have an allegiance to their country.  Those who belong to the first group follow a logical pattern, they will not say anything to the President that will potentially damage their influence, will eventually cause them to lose ground and subsequently their position.  For them, country and national interests are secondary to their own survival.  Those who belong to the second group have a sense of duty.  Duty to country, a respect for the rule of law and a strict adherence to procedures and policies.  They are guided by what they perceive or by what they know to be national interests (perceptions are often wrong, knowledge is not static) and by a noble feeling of patriotism.

Is there an ideal type, you will ask? Who knows? I have been asking myself that question for years?  I will say this, I will vote for the type 2 anytime.  I will always go with one who is guided and influenced by the greater good, one whose life is dedicated to bettering his/her community and society at large.  One who is not blinded by petty personal issues but who takes a long look at the broader picture and makes a difference because when he/she looked carefully, saw him/herself in that picture.  Of course, it would not hurt to have a certain level of ambition and to want to advance one’s career.  After all, if you are not in office, how will you ever influence policy-making?

Allow me to sum it all up in a very short and sweet advice: When advising the President, know when you’ve said enough and, be mindful of when saying too little might be dangerous.  Tell the truth to the president even if it’s going to cost you your job.  Better one job lost than a nation endangered.

May all self-serving/power-hungry/money grabbing politicians perish from this earth now and forever.

AMEN!

Cassandra Honorat 12/02/2011

The Haitian Armed Forces (FAD’H); to Be or not to Be?

A distant cousin to the Indigenous army which secured freedom and independence in 1804, the FAD’H (Forces Armées d’Haiti) has been at the forefront of the political life in a country where Coup d’états are as famous as they are numerous.  After one century of regional rivalries and military confrontations the U.S., concerned with the presence of an increasingly influential German community in Haiti and taking advantage of a volatile political situation, intervened and occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934.  A ruthless and repressive occupation that left very little including the first version of a professional military institution, the Gardes d’Haiti which became in 1958 the FAD’H.

From 1804 to present day, never have the armed forces been truly subordinate to the civilian power for the benefit of society.  They have always been either directly in power, a tool in the hand of the government and the elite to repress the people or, even worse, a tool at the mercy of the international community.  Those are the things we debated during the show on radio Mega (radiomega.net) where I was a guest of Mr. Alex St Surin who hosts a rather popular daily show called “Carrefour”.

You see, the FAD’H were disbanded in 1994 at the request of then President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and with the diligent “assistance” of the U.S. Armed Forces.  180 years after we defeated the almighty Napoleon army and 50 years after the U.S. marines bid farewell, foreign boots were once again on our soil.  Their objective this time was to render the FAD’H useless.  In so doing, soldiers and officers, guilty or otherwise were humiliated as was an entire nation.  Those who remember celebrating the departure of the americans in 1934 wept profusely and so did I.

The new administration has expressed on several occasions their commitment to returning the FAD’H to its rightful place as prescribed by the Constitution of 1987.  This has provoked countless reactions from Haitians in Haiti and abroad, as it should.

In a country where an entire geographical department still resembles a post-war zone after 1 year and 10 months since the devastating earthquake, there are priorities of priorities. There is an institutional reform to be had, infrastructure to be repaired, jobs to be created, schools to be built, Cholera to be eradicated, gang violence to be dealt with and a Police force in desperate need of a facelift.  Many feel that bringing back the military should be the least of our worries. Perhaps…

If we are to be once again independent and sovereign, we will have to do without the services of the MINUSTAH sooner or later (I’d prefer sooner).  We must be able to protect our territory and defend it against all enemies both domestic and foreign; it is after all our prerogative as a free nation.  Across the border in the neighboring Dominican Republic, nearly 45,000 men, well-trained and well-equipped.  Who decides that one is not entitled to its own army on one’s own territory?

Well, if your survival as a country depends on foreign aid, if you are home to 9,000 UN soldiers, if your elections have to be paid for by the international community, if you run to the DR at the first sight of internal conflict to seek “counsel” from the neighbor president, then indeed those “friends” that feed you will tell you loud and clear what they don’t want and, most importantly, you will most likely have to do what they want.  It’s called survival.

Looking forward to better days, looking forward to days of nation building where the notion of sovereignty and freedom mean just that, and where the children of that said nation will do the utmost to defend, protect and care for this land gained in so much sweat and in so much bloodshed.  We dare to dream…

Cassandra Honorat