Should Haiti bring back the Monarchy?

The recent wave of protests in Haiti is rooted in corruption at the highest levels, a sign of mistrust between the elected and the electorate. Though the experiment with democracy and free elections is relatively new, is it time for Haiti to consider blending it with older practices? Monarchy – or, more precise, constitutional monarchy – may sound like an anachronistic institution, however, it could possibly solve the ongoing political crises in the country.

It would certainly not be the first time Haiti experiment with a royalist government. Nine months after Haiti’s birth, the revolutionary leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines proclaimed himself Emperor of Haiti. He was followed by Henry Christophe who, in 1811, proclaimed himself King. Though history has often made him a tyrannical ruler, new research into his life and reign shows a ruler who was influenced by the Age of Enlightenment. He desired to prove the capability of black nationhood to the world, with his Sans-Souci Palace a fine example of architecture by black hands. The “Wakanda of the Western Hemisphere,” as one Haitian historian aptly refers to Christophe’s reign. The Kingdom lasted for only nine years, a series of complications due in part to the king’s own crippling policies and health. This was followed two decades later, when Faustin Soulouque proclaimed himself Emperor of Haiti in 1849. He invited Afro-Creoles from Louisiana to his country, and was one of the few Haitian leaders who tolerated Vodou. Along his consort, Adélina, the coronation was illustrated in the Imperial Album, with similar versions created for newspapers in Europe and the Americas. His reign included a failed attempt to retake the Dominican Republic, as well as a confrontation with the United States over Navassa Island and its valuable guano. He was forced to abdicate in January 1859, boarding a ship to Jamaica.

Members of the Imperial House of Soulouque, from the  Album Imperiale d’Hayti  (mid 19th century).

Members of the Imperial House of Soulouque, from the Album Imperiale d’Hayti (mid 19th century).

To date, 44 sovereign states have a monarch as Head of state, with most of them in a constitutional monarchy. And not all are treated equal: some legally grants their rulers a wide range of powers (Lichtenstein), while others place them as mere figureheads with no authority (Japan). The most well known is the British Monarchy. A constitutional monarchy without a formal or written constitution, their system follows centuries of customs, conventions and practices. Queen Elizabeth may not take part in the daily governance of the country, and remains neutral in political powers, but legal authority of the state is vested in her via The Crown. The Queen may use her authority through royal prerogative to appoint and dismiss a prime minister who cannot command the confidence of the legislature – or the people; command the national armed forces; make and ratify treaties; grant royal assent before they become law; and much more. This is in addition to her symbolic role as the embodiment of the nation, carrying out a variety of initiatives and engagements. Those ribbon-cutting ceremonies may seem trivial, but it is nevertheless a reminder of the Monarchy’s role in serving and representing all aspects of society.

In an ideal situation, a Haitian monarch would adopt similar practices. Always being above politics, their duties would be first and foremost to the country rather than to their pockets. They would summon an elected prime minister to form a government in his or her name who, while governing the daily affairs of state, would still be accountable to serving Crown and Country. The King or Queen of Haiti would visit cities throughout the country and speak with community members, leaders on initiatives and gain insight into public opinion on how best to provide help. They would be front and center for leading cultural festivals and events throughout the country. And, of course, their foreign visits could highlight Haitian businesses and industries to bring opportunities from foreign investments – without profiting from them!

There are some aspects of a monarchy that would be problematic. Financing a monarchy is often written as a sticking point. It cost the British taxpayer 69 pence in 2018 to maintain their monarchy – though it is argued the cost is made up from tourism to royal sites and for royal events. Given the current economic situation in the country, people may question more the effectiveness of a monarchy as they already do under a presidential democracy. But what is even more important: who should sit on the Haitian throne? There are many descendants of the former crowned rulers, both in Haiti and its diaspora, most of whom claim royal lineage from either a princess or an illegitimate child (most of the monarchs favored salic law, which favored only legitimate or adopted male heirs). But royal bastardy has not prevented accession to the crown, as William I of Normandy proved to England in 1066. Centuries later, his descendant sits on the British throne today. 

This article does not set out to show how constitutional monarchy is the solution to Haiti’s political problems. There are other factors that are unique to Haiti’s sociopolitical culture and history. Rather, this article presents the form of government as a possibility. And the possibilities are endless.

After all - 200 years ago, no one thought it possible for a country born from the ambitions of freed slaves.

M.A.F.