Post-Imperial Entropy

Published 10:22 am Friday, April 5, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...


According to a recent United Nations report there are more armed conflicts throughout the world today than during the 2nd World War. These hostilities don’t always concern opposing nations or coalitions of them as in the past but are in the main being fought against insurgencies and even heavily armed criminal groups. 

In other words, civil wars, at times stoked by other states or foreign interests, are the most common form of warfare and there are more countries suffering from some form of war than even during “World Wars.”

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Despite this, for the last few years, most of the developed world’s attention has been focused on just two main conflicts. The first, more conventional one in Ukraine, has lost a lot of the spotlight since October 7th of last year and is now at best a bloody stalemate with no end in sight. The second, Israel’s continuing siege of Gaza, has launched an impassioned international protest movement the likes of which the world hasn’t seen since the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

North Americans are now also quite focused on Haiti (our “backyard”), where criminal gangs are showing the capability to control vital territory like the country’s main port, prompt the resignation of Prime Minister/President Ariel Henry, and perhaps even bring down a weakened state. 

What is happening in Haiti offers some proof that colonialism continues to impact those countries that suffered through it despite the unwillingness of Western foreign policy experts and the press to acknowledge this. As is so often the case, history is mostly absent from a discourse that seems to live in an eternal present, conveniently erasing uncomfortable facts about the past.

When we think of the great revolutions of the late 18th century, we remember those in the United States and France but neglect the third one in Haiti in 1791, in which an enslaved population rose up and overthrew its colonial masters. That they succeeded was an almost unimaginable victory that wouldn’t be repeated very often in the Global South until the middle of the last century.

In Haiti, as opposed to many other places where chattel slavery was used to build vast fortunes, reparations were actually paid – but, uniquely, not by the slavers and those profiting from the practice in France but by the freed slaves and their descendants. Essentially, the French colonizers forced an entire country to purchase its freedom – a debt from which it would take more than a century for Haiti to even begin to recover. 

Fast forward to our millennium, and the liberation theologist and then president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a champion of his country’s poor, had demanded that France return the money extorted as the price of the country’s freedom. He was attacked by Western governments, not just in France but in Canada and the United States as well, slandered by the press and finally hounded into exile in 2004. 

At least one of those involved in the gangs that now control much of Haiti’s capital is a former police officer named Guy Philippe, who was involved in Aristide’s ouster. Philippe, who later served time for narcotics trafficking in US prison, has been very public about his desire to be the country’s president, showing a hubris matched by other gangster insurgents like Jimmy ‘Barbecue’ Cherizier, another former police officer, who has become the outspoken face of the G9 gang alliance in the western press.

The definition of entropy according the Merriam Webster dictionary is, “a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder,” a good description of post-colonial history not only in Haiti but in Sudan, Ethiopia, Myanmar, and many other places in the Global South dealing with violent conflict today. In a real sense, the disintegration of these countries and others is the end product of the rapacious theft of resources (human and natural) at gunpoint – literally. 

If we truly seek a rules-based world order with one of its main goals being the nonviolent management of conflict, a reckoning that begins with truth and reconciliation could lead us to a world in which inevitable conflicts are dealt with constructively on the basis of empathy and understanding. Until then, expect more tragic entropy.

(Derek Royden is a Canadian journalist)