Kudos, Serge, on a well-reasoned post! I would only add that Mandela was (and still is) a great visionary, not a saint. Ditto for Toussaint. I can't comment about Mandela in this respect, but I can say that when Toussaint felt the need to kill to eradicate obstacles to his vision for his people, he did. He did not even stop at killing his own nephew, Moise, for disobeying his orders. Moise, too, had his own vision and he too was acting in the interest of his people (the same people as Toussaint, weren't they?). History is not as generous towards Moise as it has been towards Toussaint, because historians tend to favor the victors (not the losers, not the victims, not those whose vision was more easily trampled upon by the more powerful leaders of an era).
Napoleon Bonaparte was a thousand times more sanguinary than our Dessaline, and no matter how I phrase it, that would be an understatement. Le petit caporal or le Premier des Blancs in fact was responsible for the deaths of MILLIONS of people throughout Europe as he engaged his own people again and again in his misadventures, as they turned out to be great victories at times and ignominious defeats on occasion. As he tried to conquer Russia and other states, empires and kingdoms, he sacrificed his own people to his megalomania and exterminated millions of others.
Napoleon also ordered the massacre of MILLIONS of slaves in Guadeloupe and in Saint-Domingue, without even going to confession I suppose. Indeed, his orders were executed in Guadeloupe and his officers were ready to do the same in Haiti after the initial strategic pacification. After some vain assurances, Toussaint laid down his arms, and ordered Dessaline, Christophe and his other generals to do so as well. Dessaline and Christophe were very suspicious of the French's motives. Once Toussaint was dishonorably trapped by the (lying sons of bitches) representatives of Napoleon Bonaparte, Dessaline's suspicions were confirmed as to the French's real intentions: the full re-establishment of chattel slavery throughout the colony of Saint Domingue, the total destruction of Toussaint's magnificent, nevertheless extremely impertinent, dream of autonomy (which could lead some day in the distant future to - gosh! - independence for the most strategically important French colony at that time). Toussaint's vision was to be crushed, if millions of black people had to pay the price. Bonaparte had NEVER envisioned sharing any sort of power with Toussaint, as Toussaint perhaps naively thought that he could convince Napoleon to do in his famous correspondence to him ("du Premier des Noirs au Premier des Blancs"). Late in life and in exile, Napoleon is said to have regretted his ignominious treatment of the famous Haitian (actually Black and French, but not yet Haitian) General which he had ordered to be imprisoned in one of the most unforgiving mountain ranges in wintry conditions. There Napoleon had Toussaint questioned for where he had hidden his supposedly vast treasures, the better to loot them. Toussaint always had the same answer: he had no need to stash his fortune if any, as he always lived frugally (and certainly had no intention to retire to the French Riviera in his golden days). And each time, Bonaparte ordered Toussaint's food ration to be cut in half. In the end, Toussaint died of a broken heart as he was refused communication with his family members and enduring friends, but also let's face it of TORTURE (perhaps not waterboarding, but certainly starvation, quite intentional, quite deliberate). He died miserably, a French prisoner, for having trusted in (mistakenly, as it turned out) the intentions and humanity of his colonial master. If today, we consider Toussaint a Haitian (and one of the greatest), this is due only to the actions of another French General (who would have nothing of the French identity), and yes we are talking about Jean-Jacques Dessaline, who understood much more accurately than Toussaint the nature of the beast.
Di djab bonjou li manje w! Pa di li bonjou li manje w! In Dessaline's case, he decided strategically that his people would not suffer the same fate as the slaves from Guadeloupe. There was no deal to be struck with the French. Dessaline did not want mere autonomy but full independence. He would not make the same mistakes as Toussaint. And furthermore, he also called for the systematic elimination of any threat to the survival of the newborn Haiti. Live free or die, that was his motto. He was keenly aware of the presence of numerous French people in the island who would dutifully serve as spies and assist in Napoleon's grandiose plan to: a) re-establish slavery in Saint Domingue by all means necessary; b) use Saint Domingue as a standout military base from which to reinforce the French troops in Louisiana; 3) stage a determined assault on the other American colonies, with the objective of extending the far reaches of the empire and servicing all of its needs. Needless to say, the lives and happiness of former slaves did not weigh much in that balance. Dessaline understood that, Toussaint did not seem to (but I certainly cannot claim to be privy to his long term goals, as Toussaint did not always telegraph his intentions).
All that I have related here is backed up by historical documents, that have been hardly accessed by Haitians and that have come to light (declassified?) from France, England, and the U.S. over time. Haitians have been taught to either revere Dessaline or to HATE him, as it suited certain political objectives, but not truly to study the heroic leader, as has been done with the likes of Napoleon Bonaparte and Thomas Jefferson or even Toussaint Louverture. The hatred is instilled early. When I was 10 years old and learning Haitian HIStory as the F.I.C. (Frères de l'Instruction Chrétienne) in Cap-Haitien, I remember how Frère Gérard left the class red-faced after some glorious passage of the Battle of Independence. He came back a couple of minutes later to tell us with a smile that our Haitian heroes were likely burning in Hell for their depravity, for their "koupe tèt, boule kay" mentality. I was troubled, but I must have reluctantly agreed with him, because there must surely be a price to pay for killing a few thousands (who knows, perhaps tens of thousands?) of French men. Yet Dessaline is judged by some to be the worst of the lot.
I am minded of the general massacre in Guadeloupe. I am minded of the extermination of Indian people in Haiti, Canada, the U.S., Central, and South America. I am minded of the tens of millions (a conservative estimate) of Africans that were killed during the Middle Transatlantic Passage, 300 years of slavery extending through the post-colonial period in Africa. I am minded today of the U.S.-led massacres in Iraq (see Fallujah) and their terrorist methods of inhuman torture (see Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and secret "black" prisons throughout the world). I am minded of the School of the Americas in Georgia that has trained South American (Haitian too!) leaders to torture their own people. I am minded of King Leopold of Belgium and the untold millions of people that he dismembered and killed in Congo. I am minded of today's leaders, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Tony Blair as they led their nations to war against the sovereign state of Iraq, through bold lies and outright deception. Then I think of Dessaline and his order to massacre the French in Haiti and his tabula rasa campaign for independence. Surely, Dessaline was the worst of the lot... or so we have been led illogically to believe.
Who holds Dessaline and Napoleon Bonaparte to the same level of contempt? Let's see what's in the balance. Napoleon destroyed Toussaint Louverure's dream of freedom and political autonomy for Haiti. As far as Napoleon's own narcissistic dream of an ever-expanding empire, Dessaline stopped it cold. In doing so, he eventually helped secure the United States' own independence and paved the way for independence wars throughout Latin America.
Today, for any reason whatsoever, even on the occasion of Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday, we find it convenient to continue to diminish the true measure of our own heroes. Would Mandela have acted like Dessaline given the exact set of circumstances that Dessaline faced in implementing freedom from chattel slavery in Haiti? I don't know, to tell you the truth, I would prefer to ask him in person. But one thing that I do know is that Dessaline survived the French onslaught, Toussaint did not. Which outcome would Mandela, given the choice, have settled for? It's impossible to say, except that he could not possibly have survived and be revered today like someone who supposedly always opted for the peaceful option.
One final point: on the eve of his order to massacre the remaining French (but not all of them, to be sure!), Dessaline took pains to explain to HIS people the necessity of that action. You may read his justification here: http://haitiforever.com/windowsonhaiti/act2.shtml
. It strikes me that he had the fortitude to state exactly why he was about to engage in massacre. George W. Bush never explained to this day the reality or reasons behind his engagement in massacres in Iraq, and particularly in a city named Fallujah.
Toussaint Louverture or Jean-Jacques Dessaline? I will have both, imperfect men as they surely were, but without either I surely would not exist today (a French colonist would have likely killed some of my forefathers along the way, in 1804 or thereafter!)