Illustration: Shaking hands, banknotes change hands under the table

Where It’s Not Just the Earth Which Quakes

Crime, natural disasters, assassinations of presidents: Haiti is in a never-ending political crisis. What is Germany undertaking to support this country politically? Ambassador Jens Kraus-Massé has reason for hope despite difficult general conditions.

Ambassador Kraus-Massé, you have been stationed in Haiti since July 2020, in one of the poorest countries in the world which is repeatedly shaken by severe natural disasters. What was your personal impression the first time you arrived in Haiti?

Jens Kraus-Massé: I was in Haiti for the first time in January 2020 on the occasion of the jazz festival in Port-au-Prince, which Germany has been involved in for the past 15 years. Haiti is a very exceptional country. Even the route from the airport to the embassy was unconventional for me, not least because I was being driven in an armoured vehicle with a bodyguard. It’s actually a distance of just seven kilometres, but it takes a good hour through the mountains. The roads are very narrow and winding, and we drove past houses with corrugated iron roofs, impressive villas, small groves and huge landfills on which goats play.

A year after you assumed office, the country’s president at that time, Jovenel Moïse, was murdered. But even before that, violent protests had been going on for months. Moïse had been governing by decree; presidential and parliamentary elections were postponed several times. What is the current political situation?

Jens Kraus-Massé: Haiti no longer has any functioning state institutions. There is neither a parliament with a quorum nor a president or a functioning Supreme Court because there is a lack of judges. So impunity is a very big problem. There is a transitional government, but it has little constitutional legitimacy. Furthermore, there is no electoral commission which could organise elections. Arguments have been going on for months about how such a commission should be staffed. And a constitutional court which is enshrined in the 1987 Constitution was never established.


The diplomatic attempt to square the circle

How should we picture your responsibilities as an ambassador under these conditions?

Jens Kraus-Massé: Discussions with representatives of the transitional government take place on a daily basis. Our goal is to hold elections as quickly as possible, based on a process managed by Haitians. However, that is not so easy, if only because of the security situation. There is a great deal of gang crime. In 2021, Haiti was the country with the highest rate of kidnapping worldwide. And this can happen to anyone at all, from a street-market trader to the head of a multinational company or a politician. Consequently, freedom of movement within the country is severely restricted.

After almost 30 years of dictatorship under Duvalier, free elections took place in 1986. A new constitution was adopted by referendum, laying the foundation for a democratic system. Why has it not been possible to establish a constitutional state since then?


In this photo, from 12 February 2020, a mural shows a child with a sign that says in Creole: "We are tired of the shaved head," and "Justice," painted under a bridge that was built with money from the now-defunct Venezuelan PetroCaribe program, in Port-au-Prince. The slogan is used against Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, who has a shaved head. The bridge became a meeting point for deadly anti-government protests. © picture alliance / ASSOCIATED PRESS / Dieu Nalio Chery

Jens Kraus-Massé: Actually, it is difficult to separate this question from various exogenous factors. In addition, there are forces within the country which have always been oriented to allow those in power to profit from their power. The interest in a constitutional structure is only pronounced among those who suffer from the absence of the rule of law. After the end of Duvalier’s dictatorship, it was especially the victims who worked to ensure that this would never happen again. And, to a great extent, they have been very successful. But apart from well-trained civil servants and judges, constitutional structures also require a society which is willing to accept decisions to its disadvantage. Democracy thrives on the fact that the minority accepts the decisions of the majority. A constitutional state thrives on the fact that those who are subject to the law accept the judgement. Neither form of acceptance is very popular in Haiti.

You must realise that the police are not armed as well as the criminals who, in turn, control entire parts of the city.

The targets of the current United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH*) include the promotion and strengthening of political stability and good governance, in which Germany is involved as it sent five police officers to train and advise the Haitian police. How do you evaluate the success of this mission to date?

Jens Kraus-Massé: It’s true that the German Federal Cabinet decided to send the police officers but, unfortunately, this has not yet happened. Those responsible in Haiti have not yet succeeded in defining their training and consultancy requirements. The police are neither materially nor personally equipped to determine such requirements at all. The demands are simply enormous. You must realise that the police are not armed as well as the criminals who, in turn, control entire parts of the city. And the number of police officers available to deal with kidnappings is lower than the number of people who are kidnapped.

What else is the German Federal Government doing to support Haiti in establishing constitutional structures?

Jens Kraus-Massé: Our interest lies in breaking up the thought structure which is shaped so strongly by the country’s political framework. We do this, for example, by holding a series of events on the topic of good governance, which we were first able to carry out in February 2021 during the German government’s lecture programme. The response was enormous. More than 30,000 people watched the event which, in a country with a population of 11 million, is very impressive. The topic on that occasion was how constitutional structures could be established after dictatorships. We discussed this, using Germany’s experience after the end of the Nazi dictatorship and the GDR as examples. Although a constitution was set up after the dictatorship in Haiti, it is not appropriate for the structures in this country because, among other things, important factors such as trust in the state and parliamentary experience are missing.

The online discussion was mainly aimed at an intellectual audience. What can events such as these actually achieve?

Jens Kraus-Massé: In particular, they can provide food for thought and open up new perspectives for solutions which, until now, may not have been considered. In this sense, it is important that they are there, because they provide a significant contribution to political education; they strengthen the dialogue with civil society and include those people who think about their country in one way or another


Permeated by corruption

You mentioned the dialogue with civil society. What are the hopes and desires of Haitian civil society?

Jens Kraus-Massé: First of all, this is a rather vague concept in Haiti, because in principle it includes everyone who states they are a part of civil society, even if until yesterday they were a minister of state. Generally speaking, civil society is part of the elite and this is also due to the fact that education in Haiti is a matter of money. On the one hand, there are the few grass roots movements which would like to see a society which is more decentrally organised, with decisions taken closer to the ground and fewer discussions about national politics. The political civil society, on the other hand, would like to create functioning structures and fight corruption. The latter is certainly an enormous challenge, because the urge at all levels to access the state’s “honey pots” – and thus the possibility of corruptly obtaining funds by means of decisions – is huge.

Corruption is also one of the reasons why reconstruction after the severe earthquake of 2010 has been rather slow, despite billions of dollars in donations. But criticism is also aimed at international society. It is accused of assisting in financing these corrupt structures and establishing a kind of state within the state.


Jens Kraus-Massé: After the earthquake, there was an extreme proliferation of aid organisations whose actual purpose was not always to help people help themselves. One must also note, however, that the capital city was greatly damaged by the earthquake. Almost all of the ministry buildings collapsed; 25 per cent of all civil servants lost their lives. This means that the state which could have been supported had practically ceased to exist at that time. It was necessary to act quickly and help the people, and that’s what happened. But a lot of the difficulties were also home-made. A large amount of the money provided to the country after 2010 could not be used at all, because the responsible actors either made no suggestions for projects or because the projects suggested did not fulfil the requirements for transparency.

Haiti – 20 months after the earthquake in 2010: A woman is sweeping the pavement in front of a destroyed government building in Port-au-Prince. © picture alliance / Marco Becher

What, despite all the problems and difficulties you’ve described, gives you hope?

Jens Kraus-Massé: That there are people who are fighting for a democratic and constitutional society and who are prepared to invest in their country, economically as well: not just in trade which brings a quick profit, but also in production. There is also a very flourishing art and cultural scene. And the people here are optimistic and creative, so that I am convinced that these artistic engineering skills will help the Haitians to put their country back on a better path.

*The United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) is a so-called special political mission established by the Security Council in its resolution 2476 of 25 June 2019. It followed upon the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti, MINUJUSTH, a follow-up mission to the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, which was established in 2004.

About Jens Kraus-Massé
Jens Kraus-Massé
Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany

Jens Kraus-Massé was appointed Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Sierra Leone in August 2022. Previously, he was Ambassador to Haiti from 2020 to 2022 and Consul General at the German Embassy in Kiev from 2016 to 2020. From 2013 to 2016, he served as Deputy Consul General at the Consulate General in Chengdu. He studied law at the Freie Universität Berlin and joined the Foreign Service in 1991.

Lecture Programme of the German Federal Government

Experts from politics, academia, culture and the media provide up-to-date and multi-faceted information about Germany in lectures and panel discussions. The ifa organises the Federal Government's lecture programme together with the German embassies and consulates abroad. It is aimed at multipliers from civil society in these countries. Find out more on the ifa website.