Wyclef Jean at The Huffington Post:
My four-year-old daughter, Angelina, and my wife, Claudinette, are the angels of my life — and I know this year has been especially trying for them, as my efforts for Haiti have taken so much more of my time since January, when the devastating earthquake nearly destroyed my home country. In fact, my concern for my family was my primary thought as I was being urged by others to seek the presidency of Haiti.
But then I came to realize that I have to make this decision for them, and especially for my daughter, as much as for myself and my country. At age four, my daughter has already seen so much suffering in Haiti, but we’ve done our best to have her also witness the beauty of the country and the beautiful spirits of its people. I have always believed in the need to parent her by example, to show her that her dad is a man of action and a man of his word. I’ve told her throughout her life that Haiti’s future lies in our hands — including hers, as one of the young people of the country — and I want to show her by example what I’m willing to do to make Haiti a better place. I believe that to move Haiti forward, it’s going to be necessary to embrace the energy of its people, to unite around a common goal of moving ahead together. Taking all of these factors into consideration over the last few weeks, I have decided to run for president of Haiti.
I’m happy to have my family as my biggest supporters. They’ve been right there with me, helping with the programs of my NGO, Yele Haiti, over the years. Angelina and Claudinette and I were all in Haiti a few weeks before the earthquake, in fact. We went to Cite Soleil, one of the country’s most dangerous neighborhoods, to give toys and backpacks to the kids. The hotel where we had stayed was destroyed by the earthquake, crumbled to the ground. We escaped death by only a few weeks — my daughter, wife and I would have been under the rubble.
Once, I told Angelina she was going to perform with me on Nickelodeon, and she asked me if she was going to get paid. I asked her, “What are you gonna do with the money?” When she said she needed it to send to the kids of Haiti, I cried tears of joy! And when some people attacked my involvement with Yéle Haiti and tears rolled down my cheeks on Oprah, she said, “Daddy, you are too tough to cry. I’ve never seen you cry.” I said to her, “I’m not crying for myself; I’m crying for the people of Haiti.”
Some negative stories continue to be written about me. People might question my motives. Because our daughter is so young, we have shielded her from the negative stories, but when she is a little older, we will talk about those (and there might be many more to come in the next few months — or years, even, depending on how things go in my campaign to make a brighter future for Angelina and the rest of the youth of Haiti).
Christopher John Farley at The Wall Street Journal:
Jean called The Wall Street Journal today to talk about his decision to run for president of his homeland.
The Wall Street Journal: You have decided to run for president of Haiti.
Wyclef Jean: Yes, the decision is made.
Why did you decide that Haiti would be best served by you running?
Well, my whole country, my whole life since I was a kid, the country has had political turmoil. The reason why is that there’s never been one person who can unite all parties and get them to work together. And Haiti has a history of coup d’états. And after Jan. 12, I felt there would be a new beginning and the international would be more involved, America would be more involved, and I call myself more connected. I’m someone who can connect the parties together and basically be a leader for the youth for what they’ve been crying for for years. If you have a population that can’t read and write that’s been around 200 years and the majority of the population is a youth population, it’s basically modern slavery. And for me to just sit back, and if you’ve watched my career, I’ve been singing about this my entire life, not just the Haitian cause whether it’s Tibet or human rights, the idea is to not just shame but to turn it into policy and to really engage in another manner. I always say that Wyclef Jean is not running for the presidency of Haiti, I’m being drafted by the people of Haiti.
Haiti has so many problems. What are your plans to try and overcome some of them?
Well, I think the reality of it, to rebuild Haiti is going to take 25-30 years. But I think there are issues we can start tackling—the education, the literacy problem, the job creation problem, the agricultural component. The idea that if everything is being imported how do we get our export back. National production. These are some of the things that I feel we can start tackling. And when I say job creation, the infrastructure, the reconstruction of Haiti, should not only [involve] international contractors, but there should be local Haitian contractors too.
“ELECTION time is coming,” begins a song entitled “President” by Wyclef Jean, the Haitian hip-hop star. Election time is indeed coming in Haiti, with the presidential vote scheduled for November 28th, and Mr Jean’s vision may very well come true. He will formally announce his candidacy this Thursday night during an appearance on Larry King Live, a television programme.
Mr Jean might seem a longshot. He has no prior experience in politics, and he may have trouble speaking to voters, given that his French is dicey and his Creole is heavily accented. (He left the country when he was nine, before it became a democracy). However, as Leslie Voltaire, Haiti’s envoy to the UN, puts it, the world’s most famous Haitian “speaks rap”. In a country where 65 percent of the population is under the age of 30, and where voters have long been disgruntled with la classe politique—the cadre of politicos that has kept a chokehold on electoral politics for more than 20 years—that may be enough to win.
Mr Jean’s candidacy would be a mixed blessing for Haitian democracy. Undoubtedly, it would boost turnout: less than ten percent of eligible voters showed up for the last Haitian elections, in April 2009. And his love for his native country seems heartfelt. In 2005, he set up a charity called Yéle Haiti, which supports schools, street cleaning, and culture programs. It took in some $9 million in donations following the earthquake that devastated the country on January 12th.
Charles Blow at NYT:
It is a fascinating bit of celebrity news. But it’s also a very serious pursuit by an utterly untested and unqualified candidate who has a strong chance of actually becoming the president of that crippled nation.
Jean, a Haitian citizen who grew up in Brooklyn and New Jersey and who many simply call Clef, enters a crowded field. It includes his own uncle, Raymond Joseph, the distinguished silver-haired Haitian ambassador to the United States, whom Jean himself had encouraged to run.
But Jean has been catapulted to the front of that field because celebrity trumps solemnity. If he can prove that he meets the residency requirements, which some doubt, he has a serious chance.
So we must take his candidacy seriously. The question for Wyclef becomes: “Why, Clef?”
It’s a pressing question because whoever wins takes over what many considered a failed state even before the devastating January earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and worsened an already desperate situation.
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer put the question to Jean on Thursday on “Larry King Live.” Here is the sum total of Jean’s rambling, somewhat incoherent, answer: “Well, after Jan. 12th, I would say over 50 percent of the population is a youth population. And we suffered for over 200 years. Now that our country has a problem, it’s a chance to rebuild from the bottom on up. And I don’t even say I’m trying to be president. I’m being drafted by the youth of Haiti. Right now is a chance for to us bring real education into the school, infrastructure, security and proper jobs. So this is some of the reasons that I’m running.”
Wow! Let’s just say that he’s no Demosthenes.
Here is one response:
A sad day for Haiti. No experience. No plan. No education. Can’t speak the language let alone proper English plus a history of not being able manage his own personal affairs based on foreclosures, IRS tax liens and his nonprofit scandal.
Here is another:
Wyclef Jean owes the IRS 2.1 million dollars, had his house sold at auction and stole money from his own Haiti ‘charity’.
Those points would appear to be well-taken, but as an economist so often does, I would rephrase the question in terms of “how much” rather than “whether.” What is the probability that the “added media scrutiny and international attention” effect will create benefits which outweigh his other deficiencies for the job? I say about ten percent.
Marjorie Valbrun at The Root:
It pains me to have to tell you this — especially in public. Particularly because it goes to the heart of someplace and something we both care deeply about. But I have to, because as much as I love you, I love Haiti more — so much so that I’m unwilling to put her fate in your hands.
So here goes. Wyclef, you’re making a big mistake. Running for president of Haiti is a bad idea. Bad for you and bad for Haiti.
Yes, over the years, your words and deeds on behalf of our beloved little island have been commendable. You’ve inspired legions of young Haitian people both here and back home. You’ve done the Lord’s work with a zealot’s commitment and a salesman’s enthusiasm. We love you for it; we really do.
Who can forget the television images of you on the ground in Haiti just days after the earthquake, helping to carry and bury battered bodies, going on the evening news to call for faster and better organized relief efforts?
I, for one, thank you on behalf of other Haitian-Americans who didn’t have the means, the connections, the public platform or the gumption to do what you did.
Now, more than ever, Haiti needs a highly educated and experienced technocrat who understands the intricacies of governing and diplomacy. Someone who can wage a successful civic-education campaign and get different sectors of civil society all working on the same page and tamp down the country’s cyclical social unrest. Someone who knows how to get things done and knows how to build schools, hospitals and neighborhoods, as well as sewer systems, electric grids and roads. Someone who can feed the people and give them jobs. Someone schooled in international affairs and who will be respected by the international community. Someone who can rebuild Haiti and ultimately restore its dignity.
Frankly, Wyclef, that someone is not you.
You’re just not qualified. You’re fame and hype, but Haiti needs sure and steady. You have an entourage of “yes” men, but Haiti needs an army of yeomen. You’re a uniquely talented music man, but Haiti desperately needs a credible statesman. And then there are your messy financial problems and the questionable accounting practices at your charitable foundation. It’s too complicated to get into here, but it doesn’t look good and will be a distraction throughout the campaign. Had you not built up so much goodwill over the years, your finances — both personal and professional — would have totally undermined your standing.
John Nolte at Big Hollywood:
As usual, Sean Penn just can’t say enough bad things about America — and could he be more humorless? The real story here, however, is Penn’s relentlessly brutal trashing of the Fugee’s Wyclef Jean as some kind of stooge for American corporate interests. In-between a ton of innuendo and phrases like “I don’t know,” and “allegedly,” Penn’s obviously attempting to strangle the rapper’s bid to be the next Haitian president in the cradle.
If Jean, who was born in Haiti, is smart, he’ll rip a page from the Barack Obama playbook, not answer any of Penn’s charges and simply write the actor off as a racist.
Oh, wait, maybe that’s not so smart.
Who knows, Penn might be right about Jean. Then again, Penn might just be an elitist, socialist, narcissist, busybody who sees himself as the Great White Liberal Hope of Haiti which somehow makes it okay for him to poke his ignorant movie star nose into the domestic politics of a country other than his own (not that he’s a whole lot of help here).
I think you all know where my money is.
My initial reaction — not that I’ve been able to summon enough interest to study up on it — was to cynically assume Jean was a celebrity opportunist looking to burnish his ego with an attention-getting political bid. Now that I discover Penn agreeing with me, it’s time to completely rethink that position. And from the looks of that earthquake ravaged country, a little American corporate interest is exactly what they need. So…
Wyclef Jean — Yes Haiti Can!
Regardless, I’m sure we can all agree that there’s no better way to enter the promise of a new weekend than with a couple of Hollywoodists ripping one another apart.
David Itzkoff at NYT:
The people of Haiti will not officially make their presidential preference known at the polls until the election scheduled for Nov. 28. But Wyclef Jean, the hip-hop artist who declared this week that he would run as a potential successor to President René Préval, has already lost one-third of the crucial Fugees vote. Pras, a cousin of Mr. Jean and a fellow Haitian-American performer who worked with him in that influential rap group, told The Daily News of New York that he backed one of his former bandmate’s rivals. In a statement, Pras, whose name is Prakazrel Michel, told The Daily News that he supported Michel Martelly “as the next president of Haiti because he is the most competent candidate for the job,” and wrote on his Twitter feed, “I support and believe in my heart that Michel Martelly is prez for Haiti!” Like Pras and Mr. Jean, Mr. Martelly is also a Haitian musician, and performs under the stage name Sweet Micky
UPDATE: Wyclef Jean at Huffington Post