Wyclef Jean: Haiti needs a 'global' leader

Wyclef Jean, who has jumped into politics to run for president, said he could be an international spokesman for the country. "I think you're going to need a president that is not just a local president of the country," Wyclef Jean said.

Ramon Espinosa/AP/File
Angelina Jean (l.) daughter of Haitian-born singer Wyclef Jean reaches out to her father as he arrives to the electoral office to subbmitt the paperwork to run for president of Haiti in the next elections in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Aug. 5.

Haitian hip-hop star Wyclef Jean, who has jumped into politics to run for president, said on Thursday he could be an international spokesman seeking aid and allies for his poor, earthquake-shattered homeland.

"As we navigate into the 21st century, I think you're going to need a president that is not just a local president of the country," the singer-songwriter said at his rural family home near Croix-des-Bouquets, outside Port-au-Prince.

Responding to critics who have questioned his lack of leadership experience and even his commitment to Haiti, Jean told Reuters his international fame and contacts as a music star would be an asset for the Nov. 28 presidential election.

He said Haiti, which is struggling to recover from a Jan. 12 quake that killed up to 300,000 people and shattered the capital city, desperately needed foreign aid and investment.

"You're going need a global president and that means not just staying in Haiti but going outside of Haiti and speaking to donors and creating more allies and letting them know Haiti is ready for the transformation," he said in an interview.

Sitting beside his 74-year-old aunt, Jean rejected doubts voiced by some critics, such as film star turned aid worker Sean Penn, who have questioned if having a hip-hop musician as president is really what Haiti needs.

Penn, who has helped run a Haitian quake survivors camp since the disaster, wondered in comments to CNN whether Jean was ready to make the kind of sacrifice the poorest state in the Americas required after living most of his life in comfort in the United States.

"I am a true Haitian and I know the hardships my people have been through. I can live their life and feel their pain," Jean said. He has said reported problems with U.S. tax authorities over his personal income are being dealt with.

Jean is one of more than 30 presidential contenders, including two former prime ministers and at least one former minister, who have filed their candidacies with the country's electoral authority. This body is due to publish by Aug. 17 an approved candidate list for the November election.

The ballot will elect a successor for President Rene Preval, who cannot run for re-election after two terms.


What Jean may lack in political experience he may make up for in popularity. Despite having left to live in New York at age 9, he is admired by many Haitians, especially the young, who see him as a world celebrity who never forgot his roots.

Several Haitian youth organizations and Creole music groups have undertaken to support his national campaign as a candidate for the Viv Ansan-m party.

But the three-time Grammy award-winner said he would put his musical career on hold if his candidacy was approved.

"So we are actually wrapping up the very last Wyclef album, as sad as it sounds right now," Jean said. The album was called "Wyclef Jean, the Haitian Experience".

Haiti's political establishment, which is viewed with suspicion by ordinary Haitians after years of turmoil, dictatorship, poverty and corruption, has already moved to confront Jean's youth-backed candidacy.

After initially selecting as its candidate a veteran politician, former two-time Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis, Preval's ruling presidential movement Inite ditched him last weekend in favor of a younger engineer, Jude Celestin, who like Jean has no experience in public office.

Celestin, also in his 40s, heads the state-run National Equipment Center, known by its French acronym CNE, the largest infrastructure company in the country which builds roads, clears canals and carries out other public works.

The shunned Alexis has registered to run for a lesser-known party, the Movement for the Progress of Haiti.

Other prominent presidential contenders include Leslie Voltaire, a U.S.-educated urban planner and former minister who has been heavily involved in Haiti's post-quake reconstruction plans and Yvon Neptune, another former prime minister who served under former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

A well-known opposition leader and former First Lady, Mirlande Manigat, has also presented her candidacy.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of 5 free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.