Haiti’s Youth: The country’s greatest promise and . . . its greatest challenge

In the intersecting complexities that underline the importance of the upcoming Haitian election, recurring themes are centered around new beginnings and the country’s youth.

Like the lyrics from the Whitney Houston song which proclaim “I believe the children are our future,” there is certainly a great degree of both truth and promise associated with this view.  In the case of Haiti however, there is also an equally high potential for disaster.

Specifically, and referring to the Executive Summary “The Effects of a Very Young Age Structure on Haiti,” which was released as part of the 2010 The Shape of Things To Come Series, youth, or perhaps the mismanagement of the opportunity a younger populace represents, is a very real and daunting issue.

To start research shows that in countries in which 60% or more of the population is under the age of 30, there is an elevated risk for outbreaks of “civil conflict” or unrest and, autocratic governance.  Approximately 70% of Haiti’s population it should be noted, is under the age of 30.

In a country that has until recent years fallen prey to violence and dictatorships such as the repressive generational regimes of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, it would of course be unwise to ignore this historic tendency and the many factors that can influence a possible return to this former state.

This includes growing urbanization in which some predict that Haiti’s urban population will exceed its rural population by 2015.  The inherent problems this presents are directly tied to the concerns surrounding rising unemployment which within the confines of a major city can lead to what the report called a rise of violent street gangs in the slums of Port-au-Prince.”

Add into this equation the undercurrent of a strong criminal element – a CIA report indicates that Haiti is for example favored by Colombian narcotics traffickers for illicit financial transactions, and you have the makings for a potentially devastating set of circumstance that could significantly if not irreparably undermine any promise for meaningful progress.

This is one of the reasons why the Wyclef Jean candidacy is being met with a certain degree of skepticism, because what Haiti requires is strong leadership to navigate these complex waters of progressive change.

So what are the possible answers?

Education is certainly a critical component for effective change and creating opportunity, especially amongst the younger generation.  However, and unlike Jean’s somewhat vague references to “teaching a population how to read and write, where kids can get a degree, and actually do something with the degree right now,” education without a discernible link to an emerging industry or sector rings hollow especially as it relates to the “doing something with it now” comment.

Referencing as I often have, the Clark and Fourastie three (now four) sector hypothesis for the progression of a wealthy nation’s economy, one cannot help but wonder as to what the Haitian economic engine is (or will be) in terms of enabling the newly educated to put their degrees to use domestically.

For those unfamiliar with the four sector hypothesis, Clark and Fourastie believed that to maintain its status as a wealthy nation, including the associated societal benefits, a country’s economy must progress through the Primary (raw materials) and secondary (manufacturing) sectors, and develop a global competency in the Tertiary (services) and Quaternary (R&D and high tech) sectors.

While many pundits in the U.S. and Canada fear that these countries are at risk of falling to a third-world status in these key industries, nations such as India which has embraced the emerging sectors and have therefore become the country of choice for outsourcing and off-shoring, have received billions of dollars in foreign investment.  The result of this boom is that India has seen double-digit wage growth for much of the past decade.

Focusing our attention back on Haiti, even though reports indicate that GDP composition is broken down as 28% agriculture, 20% industry and, a 2004 estimate of 52% services, according the to CIA report “Two-thirds of all Haitians depend on the agricultural sector, mainly small-scale subsistence farming,” which unfortunately is “vulnerable to damage from frequent natural disasters.”

What this means is that without a clearly defined tertiary or quaternary strategy such as the one in India, or according to IACCM’s Tim Cummins South Africa, the likely outcome of improved education if achievable with only a 1.4% GDP education investment, is the continuing outflow of Haiti’s best and brightest minds.  A brain drain if you will that is reflected at least in principle, by the existing problem of illegal migration.

At the end of the day, these are questions that inevitably must be answered by the Haitian people for the Haitian people.  An essential first step is the emergence of true leadership with a well-defined strategy, which is why the 2011 Presidential elections are so very important.

Remember to use the following link (Haiti: The Aftershock For Change) to access both the Live and On-Demand broadcast of my interview with Presidential candidate Dr. Eddy Delaleu which airs on Sunday, August 8th at 1:00 PM EST on the Blog Talk Radio Network.

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