Haitian-born, New York-raised hip hop star Wyclef Jean is considering running in Haiti's Nov. 28 presidential election, according to an official statement the singer’s family distributed to the media. The 37-year-old former Fugee has filed all necessary papers and has until Aug. 7 to formally declare his intention to run.
Mr. Jean is expected to travel to Haiti later this week and may answer questions about his candidacy. Until then, the devastated nation of 10 million will be buzzing with speculation. But while the singer is very popular in Haiti, especially among the young, many on Tuesday reacted to the news of his possible candidacy with the same skepticism and indifference they expressed for other political candidates.
“It’s difficult for Haitians to have any faith in the election, we are so used to politicians taking advantage of us,” says Anise Ulysse, a 27-year-old who shrugged at the prospect of the singer running. She said she will not vote for anyone. “The people living on the streets have other things to think about.”
Ms. Ulysse, who says she likes Wyclef’s music but prefers Celine Dion, also raised doubts about his understanding of Haiti. “I don’t really think he knows the country,” she said. “He’s like an American.”
Jean should stick to music, but his popularity may successfully get him to a seat for which he has no experience, says 26 year-old Marie Lacrete.
“I don’t have a problem with Wyclef, but he’s not the right person to be president. He’s a musician, not a politician,” says Ms. Lacrete, adding that the singer didn't graduate from college.
Lacrete, who has a degree in agronomy but works as a secretary, said that Haiti’s problem is that the right person is never in the right place. “Still, people will vote for him, because he has money and he’s popular and because they don’t know what they are doing.”
Splitting time between US and Haiti
Many in Haiti had expected the announcement. Jean had previously denied an intention to seek office, though he played with the idea in his 2006 hit “If I Was President.” The song’s video – set in the US – shows the artist singing “Election time is coming, who you gonna vote for?” as fans hold signs saying “Wyclef for President.”
In the 24 hours after the Jan. 12 earthquake that devastated the country’s capital, killing over 230,000 and displacing some 2 million, Jean’s foundation, Yele Haiti, raised over $1 million in text-message donations, though the organization subsequently came under fire for mismanagement of funds and corruption.
Jean was born in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Croix-des-Bouquets, but moved to the US at age 9 and grew up between New York City and New Jersey. Though he holds a Haitian passport, often travels back to Haiti, and has long been an advocate of dual citizenship and greater diaspora involvement, the artist has not permanently resided in the country since he left.
“How is Haiti going to move forward if the Haitians that came to live in America can’t go back and help the Haitians in Haiti?” Jean said last spring, at a fundraising event he held at Queens College, in New York City.
A daunting task ahead
The next Haitian president will have to take on the daunting task of reconstructing a capital city still covered in rubble and tent cities, rescuing the country’s moribund economy, and providing shelter and employment to the growing masses of poor and displaced.
He or she will also have to deal with rising insecurity and the possible return to the riots and violence that have marked many of Haiti’s elections in the past two decades.
Then there's the $10 billion in reconstruction aid that Haiti is supposed to get over the next few years. Administering that correctly won't be easy.
“He can’t even manage an enterprise properly,” Lacrete shuddered, talking about the Haitian TV company Telemax, which she charges has been “going down” since the singer became a shareholder. “How is he going to manage Haiti?”
'An authentic heart'
Others, however, are enthusiastic at the idea of having a music star for president and think the singer’s motivations are genuine. His supporters say he is already wealthy enough not to seek power for personal gain, as local politicians regularly do.
“He is not like the others, he has an authentic heart,” says Dominique Lapierre, a salesperson at a Port-au-Prince music store.
“Wyclef has done so much for this country, especially for the youth,” says Lapierre, who added he will not vote because he lost his ID while fleeing Port-au-Prince in January. “But I would vote for him. I believe he can really change this country.”