Peut-Wyclef parler en français sans avoir à rechercher les mots? (Comme j’ai eu à faire)
On Thursday, August 5, singer and entertainer Wyclef Jean filed the necessary paperwork and officially announced his foray into seeking the Haitian presidency on CNN’s Larry King Live hosted by Wolf Blitzer. The Haitian Constitution enumerates the following for a presidential candidate:
- Must be Haitian-born, never have renounced Haitian nationality (including the inability to hold dual citizenship)
- 35 years of age or older by election day
- Be a law-abiding citizen
- Own property in Haiti
- Hold residence in the country for 5 years before the date of the elections
While Mr. Jean may meet the first four requirements quite handily, that last one poses a problem. Mr. Jean, born in Haiti, moved to Brooklyn, NY at age 9 and has been a regular resident of the United States ever since. As I understand it, Mr. Jean may have maintained more frequent residency in Haiti during the past 3 years but he’s got 2 more years go if he wants to abide by the Haitian constitution. (And how reckless would it be to skirt around this set of laws then swear to uphold it afterward?)
But the big question on everyone’s minds, however, especially Haitians is: Is Wyclef Jean qualified, apart from what’s outlined in the Haitian constitution, to lead the Haitian nation?
The resounding answer is no. But then again, neither was Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president and former Roman Catholic priest. The difference between Jean and Aristide, however, is that Aristide was a political activist during his priesthood.
Mr. Jean has recently come under fire for the misuse of funding for Yele Haiti, a nonprofit organization he set up to help the impoverished third-world nation, and has also been called out for owing the IRS over $2 million in back taxes. Not to mention that Mr. Jean doesn’t even have the backing of his cousin and former bandmate, Pras Michel (who is, for the record, U.S.-born and raised).
On the same program in which Mr. Jean declared his candidacy, actor-turned-philanthropist Sean Penn (who has been active in Haiti with his organization J/P HRO for the past 6 months) raised questions and doubts about Mr. Jean’s ability to lead Haiti. When discussion turned to Mr. Jean’s alleged mishandling of Yele Haiti funds, Penn cynically expressed, “He claims he didn’t do it. That has to be looked into.” Penn continued by saying:
“What the Haitian people need now is a leader who is genuinely willing to sacrifice. I haven’t seen or heard anything of him in these last six months that I’ve been in Haiti. I think he’s an important voice. I hope he doesn’t sacrifice that voice by taking the eye off the very devastating realities on the ground.
So, I want to see someone who is really, really willing to sacrifice for their country and not just someone who I personally saw with a vulgar entourage of vehicles that demonstrated a wealth in Haiti that — in context, I felt a very obscene demonstration.”
Penn makes a good point—something I couldn’t help notice myself as CNN replayed the same clip of Mr. Jean in an expensive dark suit standing on top of a pricey SUV (photo above) while his reps disseminated matte color posters of Mr. Jean’s likeness and white and red “Fas-A-Fas (Face-to-Face)” campaign slogan shirts to a crowd of young people and motorcycles for Mr. Jean’s supporters to ride on.
And his continued statements on representing the youth of Haiti, which he repeatedly stressed comprise about 50% of the country, are actually somewhat disturbing to me:
“After January 12 … being out here with my wife and picking up dead bodies from the ground, I felt that because of the youth of Haiti and the population that this is not even Wyclef saying that ‘I want to be the president of Haiti.’ I feel like I’m being drafted by the population right now to give them a different face, a different voice.”
I want the next president of Haiti to not just represent the youth but to represent all various populations of Haiti. Young people, while doe-eyed and hopeful, tend to latch on to the popular sensation sweeping the nation. Older people, veterans if you will, are more pragmatic and possess wisdom about past issues and likely future problems. These are the kind of people Mr. Jean should be talking to. Being “drafted” by a certain sect of the population does’t make anyone fit to lead a country.
Not to mention that while Mr. Jean is fluent in English and Kreyol, the Haitian vernacular, it is known that he does not have a mastery of the official language widely spoken in Haitian government: French. But Mr. Jean insists that he is qualified regardless:
“What qualifies me to be president of Haiti, when I look at the past 200 years, with what our people have suffered, Wolf — political instability, coup after coup d’état — I feel that me running, it brings a neutral situation, meaning that Wyclef Jean can sit with any political party and have a conversation. I’m coming in neutral,” he said.
Mr. Jean spoke of including the Haitian diaspora in affairs regarding the Republic of Haiti, exposing his naivete in political matters. Despite retaining his Haitian citizenship and Haitian passport, Mr. Jean is American through and through. Proof of this rests in his $18 million annual income—“more than 13,000 times what the average Haitian sees in a year” provided the Haitian has a job. Mr. Jean contends his earnings are a way of bringing the American Dream to Haiti, but they also have the potential to make him seem as a wealthy, out-of-touch candidate. Mr. Jean also hopes to raise his funding through the same kind of Internet viral campaign inspired by Barack Obama in his 2008 bid for the U.S. presidency. Haitians who have heard of the Internet are lucky (or rich). The Internet is a pipe dream to most citizens of a country that has yet to move beyond 19th-century technology.
Those who are Haitian-born or are descendent of Haitian blood want the best for a country that has been ravaged by centuries of bloody war, brutal corruption, and lack of food, clean water, and health care. The prevailing concern is that Mr. Jean is not the best. Se pa kounye, ak petet, pa deja (not now, and maybe, not yet).