Doing “good” in Haiti: our response to the Oxfam scandal


A Statement from Antony Stewart, Chair of the Haiti Support Group

This week, as Chair of the Haiti Support Group, I was interviewed on Newsnight in response to the recent Oxfam sex scandal.

In post-earthquake Haiti, the international NGO’s Director of Operations Roland van Hauwermeiren hosted sex parties at his Oxfam-funded villa. The incident allegedly included underage girls.

While deeply saddened by this abuse of power, I am certainly not surprised. For years, the Haiti Support Group has been vocal in its criticism of the NGO sector and in particular its contempt for Haitians.

Many aid organisations go into Haiti believing that “doing good” means they can do no wrong. Van Hauwermeiren acted the way he did because he could get away with it. This is wholly unacceptable.

But the problem is much bigger than just one NGO. It is larger than the aid sector as a whole.

The Oxfam scandal fits a long pattern of unabated profiteering by foreign actors in Haiti. This includes international aid organisations, NGOs, UN ‘peacekeepers’ and businesses alike.

We need to contest this global power dynamic.

Haiti: the “Republic of NGOs”

Not for nothing is Haiti known as the Republic of NGOs. Even prior to the 2010 earthquake, there were already close to 10,000 aid agencies in the country. This was the second highest number per capita anywhere in the world (see Haiti Briefing 65 – Plus ça change – the Republic of NGOs, but which ones?).

Why does this matter? Well, for one thing, the NGO world is an echo chamber. Aid workers regularly liaise among themselves, they hold meetings in their own language, they fly in their own people. All of this systematically excludes Haitians from any serious involvement in their own development.

Worse still, when problems happen (and regularly they do), Haitians are usually blamed, or their concerns ignored.

Just this week, the mainstream media sought comment from foreign aid workers, predictably bypassing Haitians and the victims of this scandal. Most are yet to hear their voices.

Kreyòl pale, Kreyòl konprann

If we want to start breaking down the culture of impunity within the aid sector, we need to ensure local populations are not only part of the conversation, but are leading it.

Throughout its history, Haitians have fought hard to evict those who abused their power over the people – be it the French who enslaved them, the Americans who occupied their country or the Duvalier dynasty that stole, tortured and murdered them.

So, what can we do?

We need to listen to Haitian responses to this story, and their criticisms of aid workers.

We must engage with Haitian civil society organisations and community leaders about the problems they face.

We should also support international activists and campaigners in their fight to give a platform to Haitian grassroots organisations.

Enough’s enough in the NGO sector. It’s time for change.


For information on this story and/or to learn more about the work of the Haiti Support Group, please email our Programmes Coordinator Eve Hayes de Kalaf[email protected]

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. John Olson

    Thank you to the Haiti Support Group for commenting on this important story!

  2. Andy Leak

    NGOs, and organisations like the UN, create economic distortions in the local economy wherever they go. Pétion-Ville, the suburb of Port-au-Prince where they are all based, is one of the most expensive places I’ve ever been to – and that in a country where 80% of the populatiom live on $2 or less a day. The immediate effect of the arrival of these dollar-rich foreigners is massive inflation: food, drink, transport, accommodation. They don’t care: they have their generous per diems; the local elites are delighted: they can rent out villas for high rents, sell or hire the 4x4s that are apparently de rigueur for these hardy aid-workers, open obscenely expensive restaurants to cater for ‘Western’ tastes, push up the prices of basic foodstuffs and other commodities. It’s a vicious circle: their very presence makes daily subsistence expensive, so their expenses reflect that; and the more money they have in their pockets, the more prices become inflated etc. etc. Meanwhile, the people they are supposedly there to help remain in poverty. The economics of exploitation are simple: too many (mainly) men with bulging wallets and too many poor, vulnerable people. I don’t think that talk of sexual predators targeting jobs in NGOs is helpful: it implies that the problem can be solved by better vetting, more thorough background checks… It can’t. The problem is structural

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