Singer Wyclef Jean to seek Haitian presidency

Wyclef Jean. — Photo: AFP

Wyclef Jean. — Photo: AFP  

Wyclef Jean, a Haitian-American hip-hop artist who left his homeland for Brooklyn at the age of nine, confirmed on Wednesday that he plans to run for President of this earthquake-battered country.

Mr. Jean (40) said in a telephone interview on Wednesday night that he felt compelled by the urgency of his country's situation to interrupt his life as a musician and make a bid for the presidency.

“You can either live trying to do something or die having done nothing,” he said, adding that he did not want history to remember him as “somebody who after the devastation of the country that he claimed he loved so much just kept singing more songs.”

“I'm not running for president so much as I'm being drafted,” he continued, speaking from New Jersey. “The youth, in their mind — if I don't come and put a perspective to things, they feel there's no future for the country and I have to agree with them.”

Although Mr. Jean has not yet made any announcement here — he plans to do so on Thursday — Haiti is already abuzz with anticipation. Skeptics point to his lack of political experience and his residency in the United States for the past three decades. But even the idea of a Wyclef Jean candidacy has injected adrenaline into an election campaign season sluggishly getting under way in a disaster-weary place.

The excitement is not only because Mr. Jean is admired here, especially by young Haitians, who view with pride his success and continued allegiance. His unusual candidacy is also perceived as an intriguing phenomenon.

None of the other expected candidates to succeed President Rene Preval, a mild-mannered agronomist, has shaken hips with Shakira at the Grammy Awards; none of the others is seeking to engineer a transition from international pop star to statesman.

Revealingly, Mr. Jean, whose American residency is expected to be an issue, orchestrated a media rollout in the United States before declaring his candidacy in Haiti. He was planning to announce his candidacy on Larry King Live on CNN on Thursday evening after he flew to Haiti and filed his registration papers with the election board.

Reactions here to Mr. Jean's expected candidacy ranged from ecstatic to depressed.

Sitting on a cracked stoop in a battered neighbourhood called Bas Peu des Choses, Linda Joseph (36) clapped her hands in delight and said that she probably would not bother to vote if Mr. Jean did not run.

“Other people make promises and don't deliver, but Wyclef has heart,” she said. “If he says he'll do something, we'll trust him. And beside, he already has all the money he needs. So he won't steal from us like the others.”

Camille Chalmers, the director of the Haitian Platform to Advocate for Alternative Development, said that on the other hand Mr. Jean's candidacy showed the bankruptcy of Haitian politics.

“It's a catastrophe,” he said, groaning, when Mr. Jean's candidacy was mentioned. “It's a reflection of the weakness of the political class of Haiti that the system is at the mercy of a mediagenic person who flies in from abroad.” — New York Times News Service

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