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Speech given by Ambassador Jean Pillard on the occasion of the opening of: Whelan Research Institute in Owerri, Nigeria on April 30, 2024

  • June 1, 2024
  • 13 Min
  • 9

NDEWO – Onè/Réspè is what we say in Haiti. You welcome me with an open heart, I enter with an open heart. Before addressing all of you today, I carry the heavy heart of Haitian folklore who dream of “Afrik Ginen — Lòt Bò Dlo” – our ancestral Africa – on the other side of the sea, a place, said be achieved only in death. Yet here I am, standing, living on African soil, a privilege denied to many of my people. We remember the 300,000 lives lost in the 2010 Haiti earthquake; may their spirits feel at home among us now. Our ancestors were taken from this land without their consent, and today we find ourselves having to ask permission to return. As we seek visas from distant governments and navigate the absence of direct flights, my deepest hope is that every Haitian can experience this return – not as a final rest but as a living reunion.

Excellencies, traditional leaders, all protocol observed, Ladies and Gentlemen, esteemed leaders, and my dear brothers and sisters of Africa,

Today, I stand before you in the heart of Igboland, where the pulse of our great continent beats with indomitable strength and enduring unity. Here, on this sacred ground steeped in centuries of wisdom and courage, our gathering transcends mere ceremony. We are here, under the boundless African sky, to reclaim a shared heritage, to heal the wounds of forced displacement, and to forge a future resplendent with promise.

More than four centuries have passed since the sons and daughters of Africa, torn from this vibrant continent, found themselves in the embrace of the Caribbean. It was not a gentle embrace, but one of iron chains and brutal bondage. Yet in the hills of Haiti, the spirit of Africa refused to die.

Those who were forced into slavery, treated as objects to be bought and sold, faced the guns of the world’s most fearsome armies. First it was Spain, then England and finally France. Napoleon’s army, twelve years before its defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, was defeated by an army of enslaved Africans under the leadership of two great sons of Africa, Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines. – The sons of Africa have prevailed. Africa prevailed. We prevailed.

At dawn on the first day of 1804, Haiti rose, a free nation, the world’s first black republic, marking a victory not only for its people but for Africans and oppressed peoples everywhere, a beacon of hope and a testimony to the unquenchable fire of freedom that burns in every African heart. But Haiti’s struggle has not been without cost. The audacity to be free came with a price – from the burdensome independence debt imposed on it, to foreign occupations and continued sanctions – a price we are still paying today.

In Haiti, the palm kernel stands on our flag – a towering symbol of triumph and resilience. It is a sacred echo of the palm trees that adorn this land, a symbol woven into the fabric of Igbo culture, representing victory, peace and the eternal connection between us. These trees are not simple vegetation; they are the spiritual ties that unite the Caribbean with Africa, whispering through the winds that our souls are homogeneous.

The story of Haiti, like that of Africa, has too often been dictated by those who do not know our hearts. It has been portrayed again and again by some media in the dull colors and broad strokes of rivalries. It is true that the country is going through a difficult time, especially after the cowardly assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, but today I call on you to see through this veil of distortion. See Haiti in a broader context for what it truly is – a reservoir of untapped potential, a melting pot of rich culture, a well of indomitable spirit.

We are not the impoverished nation the world thinks we are; we are a piece of Africa, resilient and vibrant, with open arms reaching across the Atlantic, with deep nostalgia for our ancestral land.

Just as South Africa broke the chains of apartheid, Rwanda transcended the scars of division, we too must recognize and resist the manipulative forces that seek to sever the ties that bind us. We must unequivocally reject these forces and reclaim our narrative. Haiti is not a story of despair but a story of immense strength, a testament to the enduring spirit of Africa itself.

Today I call on the leaders, the visionaries, the agents of change gathered here: this is our clarion call to all who will listen. We must forge partnerships that transcend the superficiality of aid. It is time to invest in sustainable futures that respect our sovereignty and celebrate our cultural heritages. May technology be our bridge and fair trade our path to mutual prosperity.

To the business tycoons present, I implore you to view Haiti not only with sympathy but with strategic interest. Bring your expertise, your resources and your respect, and together, let’s cultivate a future where the children of Haiti can stand on an equal footing with the children of Africa and with children around the world.

I know I’m not the first to say this but I just have to repeat it. I have a dream. I dream of our educators and innovators being caught together in a great alliance of learning and wisdom, with Port-au-Prince partnering with Lagos, Cap Haïtien with Cape Town, Les Cayes with Cairo, and our universities transformed into beacons of knowledge and innovation that guides the world.

And to every soul who hears my voice, embrace the spirit of Ubuntu — I am because we are. We are not dissimilar peoples; we are an Africa, powerful and intact. Let the world witness that the embrace of Africa is broad enough to bring together all its children, from the shores of the Caribbean to the peaks of Kilimanjaro.

Let us be the generation that bends the arc of history toward unity. Let us declare with one voice, “Yes, we can. » Yes, we can create a thriving Haiti in a thriving Africa. Yes, we can dispel the shadows cast by our troubled pasts. And yes, we will move forward side by side, as equals, as parents, towards the dawn of an era marked by our collective strength and our shared destiny.

Now, let’s move towards this hopeful horizon together. Let us sing a chorus that resonates from the mountains of Haiti to the plains of the Serengeti. Let us carry the torch that was lit in 1804, not only for Haiti but for all of Africa. Let us stand united and declare, once and for all, that we are one people, from the Nile to the Niger, from the Cape to the Caribbean.

Together, let’s transform the challenges we face into bridges that connect us. Let us transform the energy of our struggles into the strength of our unity. Let us not only dream of returning to the soil of our ancestors; let’s make it a reality. Let this day be remembered not as a moment of speech, but as the day that Mother Africa, in all her glory, stretched her arms across the ocean and brought her children home.

Thank you, and may our unity bring a future where every African, everywhere, can proudly say: “I am at home”.

Ambassador, Jean Pillard