Wyclef Jean (real name Nel Wyclef Jean) is arguably Haiti's most famous son. After weeks of speculation, he has announced that he will, in fact, run for president of Haiti.
"If not for the earthquake, I probably would have waited another 10 years before doing this," Wycelf tells Time magazine. "The quake drove home to me that Haiti can't wait another 10 years for us to bring it into the 21st century....If I can't take five years out to serve my country as President....then everything I've been singing about, like equal rights, doesn't mean anything."
The 37-year-old hopes his fame and relationship with former US president Bill Clinton will drive voters to the polls.
Jean insists he's not playing "the naive idealist." He gets much of his platform, he says, "right out of the playbook" of former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the U.N.'s special envoy to Haiti, whose pragmatic vision of bringing business, government and civil society together for development ventures was bearing fruit on the island before the earthquake hit. "I'm the only man who can stand in the middle and get the diaspora and Haiti's elite families to cooperate that same way," says Jean. (It's not a ridiculous claim: If Ivory Coast soccer phenom Didier Drogba could bring his country's warring factions together a few years ago, who's to say Jean can't use his renown to succeed in Haiti?) Jean's priority — one he shares with Haiti's Prime Minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, who is one of Haiti's few respected pols but is unlikely to run for President — is to disperse both power and population from overcrowded Port-au-Prince and revive Haiti's fallow agricultural sector with new rural communities tied to schools, clinics and businesses.Wycelf could face several hurdles, however. According to the Haitian constitution, presidential candidates must have retained permanent residency in the country for at least five years, owns property in the country and has never been a citizen of any country other than Haiti. Wyclef has lived in the United States since he was 9, still holds a Haitian passport and has a Green Card. Wyclef has never held any public office, although he heads a shady not-profit foundation. He personally owes the IRS more than $2.1 million in unpaid taxes from 2006 to 2008. (The agency has since levied three tax liens on the would-be politician.) To complicate his candidacy even further, this afternoon Haiti's outgoing president Rene Preval (term limits prevent him from running) backed ousted ex-Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis. (Jacques-Edouard was ousted by the Senate in April 2008 after a week of food riots erupted in; seven people were killed including a U.N. police officer.) Plus, earlier this year Wyclef was suspected of cheating on his wife with his manager. Then again, most politicians do that sort of stuff.
His secret weapon, Jean says, is that Haiti's "enormous youth population doesn't believe in [its] politicians anymore." On one Port-au-Prince street corner, an unemployed tough, Sydney Meristal, 23, says he will vote for the first time in November because of Jean. "Wyclef loves Haiti. He has ideas for Haiti," says Meristal, idling away the time on his motorcycle. "He'll win." But Steve Burr-Renauld, 23, who hails from an affluent family in the capital, doesn't think a hip-hop star has the credentials to run. "What if [American rapper] Jay-Z became President of the U.S.?" he asks. "That would never happen." If Jean were elected President of Haiti, Burr-Renauld warns, it would be like another earthquake aftershock.
Jean admits that "it's a hard thing for people to take artists seriously" in the political arena. In the chorus of "President" — "I'd get elected on Friday, assassinated on Saturday, buried on Sunday and back to work on Monday" — Jean makes you wonder if he takes politics all that seriously himself. But the verses remind you that he's in Old Testament earnestness about it: "The radio won't play this song/ They call this rebel music/ But how can you refuse it, children of Moses?"
Wyclef has until Saturday to register and the election is slated for Nov. 28.
What will happen to his forthcoming -- and last -- album for Sony/Columbia, “The Haiti Experience”? According to The Hollywood Reporter, Wyclef has finished recording “The Haiti Experience" for some time now and it's ready to be released. So, how will he juggle being president of a country and promoting an album? Only time will tell.
Update: Wyclef has resigned from the shady charity he founded.
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