Luxin Malande (Marvin Anderson)

Luxin Malande says he does the only thing he can do while in his tent city. Wait.

He sits outside his shanty in Port-au-Prince not far from the historic national palace, its collapsed dome-shaped roof still visible among the rubble. 

People lie nearby on the ground, muddy-faced and in tattered clothes. Others hide behind broken pillars of a collapsed cathedral as they gather runoff water from the streets for showering, cooking and cleaning. They bathe as cars, buses and people pass through the formerly grand Champs De Mars Square, where native Haitians can hardly recognize their home. 

Malande, who is unemployed, reminisces with his neighbors about the years before the earthquake, when the downtown area, now home to thousands of displaced Haitians, was the center for culture, festivals and Sunday drag races for thrill seekers. They hope that recently elected President Michel Martelly will help Haiti return to normalcy. "I'm waiting for the government," Malande says.

But there is no government. Four months have passed since Martelly, a celebrity musician, won a landslide victory for the presidency and exchanged his outrageous stage acts and skirts for suits and diplomacy. While traveling around the world galvanizing support for international aid and investors, he operates without a prime minister, making him unable to form his administration.


People are protesting the delay with graffiti around the city calling for the removal of politicians and with posters at Parliament demanding a speedy resolution.

After debates, delays and failed negotiations, this week Martelly selected his third nominee for prime minister, Garry Conille, a former aide to President Bill Clinton. "Martelly falls behind every day that passes without a government," says Burnice Robertson, a senior analyst and researcher with the International Crisis Group. "This political uncertainty harms the population."

Haitian Sen. Steven Benoit, who pledged to give Martelly six months of full support, also says fellow politicians must focus on the country and not politics. He is encouraging more senators to be more supportive. "I'll give him anything he needs," Benoit says about the president.


Robertson, who is currently conducting research on governance in Haiti, says the most critical needs for the government's response are health and the vast spread of cholera, justice reform and better public services. And one of the greatest challenges Martelly will face is housing for residents like Malande. "The government needs a strategy to close camps and move people into communities," she says. "Focus on infrastructure."

Martelly had focused on developing a solution for housing before he was elected president, says Patrick Rouzier, an adviser to the president. While Martelly campaigned, a team of staff drafted ideas for recovery.

It became evident that his administration would need to address a series of social issues to solve the housing crisis. "The main problem isn't housing," says Rouzier. "It's poverty. If you create jobs and education, people would leave the slums and go to a better place."


Rouzier, who has a background in economics, says the administration is focused on creating better economic conditions outside of camps to help facilitate a return to communities. Martelly found some success in August when the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission approved and partially funded his $70 million housing plan to return nearly 30,000 people from six tent cities to their original neighborhoods.

The IHRC, a committee that approves and allocates relief funds, also said the project will create more than 4,000 jobs. The project is only a small percentage of recovery initiatives, Martelly said after he and former President Clinton, a co-chair of IHRC, unveiled the plan.

Robertson says that she spoke with camp residents who met with Martelly and filled out information surveys. It was the only strong grassroots campaign she witnessed since the earthquake that actively included all Haitians in the recovery plans. "That needs to be kept up by the president himself," Robertson says. "Some mechanism to make sure the people in tent cities and slums have a voice."


Martelly has also made strides on campaign pledges to create a nationwide system for free education while also becoming a strong advocate for economic growth through foreign investments. During his term, he has also advocated for agricultural preservation, human rights and Haitian independence.

But investors, government officials and activists must wait for a prime minister to be approved before any change can occur. "He can't pass legislation without a ministry," says Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. "And he can't have a ministry without ministers."

Weisbrot says that nobody can fully assess Martelly's administration or tenure now because his Cabinet does not yet exist. But he says that Martelly made an error with his second prime minister nominee, Bernard Gousse, a former justice minister who imprisoned legislators after a coup d' état in 1984. "That was a wrong move," he says. "You can't have a prime minister who wrongly incarcerated legislators."


Gousse's nomination faced immediate criticism from the 30 senators in Parliament who vote to approve the prime minister, who will also help Martelly appoint ministers to his Cabinet. "The priority at this moment is to enter into sustainable negotiations with parliamentarians so that a prime minister can be successfully appointed," says Chantalle Verna, a Haiti expert at Florida International University. "In order for President Martelly to establish his own credibility as a leader and faith in his administration, he must identify a way to overcome this political impasse."

As Parliament prepares to question Martelly's third nominee, the country waits. Malande remains in his shanty awaiting aid from the government, more than 20 months after the earthquake, as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) slowly leave. A large hose that once provided fresh water to the tent-city residents lies dry on the ground near his dwelling as he walks around with his children and his neighbors, drawing on strength as a community.  

"We stay connected," he says. "That's how we stay strong."

Marvin Anderson is a freelance reporter based in Port-au-Prince.