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As the international response to Haiti’s earthquake shifts from emergency rescue to longer term reconstruction, things are inevitably going to get harder. There are some very good ideas floating out there, not least Michael Clemens’ golden door visa proposal and Jeff Sachs’ urging for a recovery trust fund (It’s too bad he couldn’t resist swathing the idea in jabs at the donors and the United States). But as the donor community starts making that shift and planning projects, Joshua Nadel, a professor of Caribbean history, has this very good reminder:

A top-down, donor-driven reconstruction that excludes Haitians will be seen as paternalistic and will likely join the litany of failed development projects in the country; in order to get it right, Haitians need to sit at the table.

This seems obvious: “participation” and “ownership” are standard buzzwords of the development planning set. But making this dynamic work in practice is challenging in the best of situations. In Haiti, this is even trickier since many of the institutions of the Haitian state have been destroyed and many officials, police, and other leaders have died. Yet if the donors take the shortcut of just doing their own thing, I suspect Nadel’s prediction will, sadly, turn out to be right.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.