Nelson Mandela walked out of prison in 1990 after 27 years behind bars and eventually went on to become South Africa’s president in a landslide vote. At the time there were speculations whether he would go the Zimbabwe route by punishing white South Africans who had oppressed the majority black South Africans.
Instead, Africa’s most developed country chose another path. Leaders with Mandela at the helm created a truth and reconciliation commission that ultimately brought the country together as everyone agreed that peace and prosperity trump discord and division.
Few in the world would have objected had Mandela taken a hard line with white South Africans who subjected blacks to subhuman conditions for decades. But by the time he was let out of prison, the old warrior had become a wise sage and had a different perspective on life and on the best course for his country that he purposely spent his best years in prison in defiance of the Apartheid system.
At the same time, Haiti was mired in an international crisis of its own when the wildly popular Jean Bertrand Aristide was ousted during a bloody coup on September 30, 1991. The military which orchestrated the coup, maintained power and many attempts by the international community to broker a solution went nowhere. It took more than 20,000 US soldiers to restore Aristide back to power. The US forces gave way to a UN mission that left several years later.
By 2003, Haiti was back in the news. This time, Aristide was yet again deposed, not by the military because the former president had disbanded the army that was such a thorn on his sides. The culprits were former soldiers who had fled the grips of the US Drug Enforcement Agency to the Dominican Republic. They crossed the border with their ragtag soldiers and marched to the palace just before Aristide was whisked away onto a waiting private place to live in exile yet again.
Unlike in 1991, the US tacitly approved the change of power as the country went through “some things” We could not come to a compromise despite the best of intentions of the players involved. In a rinse and repeat cycle, the U.S sent soldiers (this time significantly less) and paved the way for another UN mission.