Sunday, November 7, 2010

Refugee For Prez

The Source Magazine was supposed to run this, but you know how fast the news changes so just posting it somewhere...

Refugee For Prez
By Sidik Fofana

On February 6, 2004, rebels stormed into Gonaives, Haiti’s fourth largest city setting the police station ablaze and demanding Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s resignation citing corruption and his general failure of the people. Two weeks later Wyclef Jean publicly supported the coup d’etat in progress urging Aristide to step down so that there could be “some form of negotiation with the opposition force.” Stern words from Haiti’s most famous musician to Haiti’s first democratically elected president.
Six years later, after Aristide has been successfully deposed and his successor Rene Preval has completed a full term, after an earthquake of 7.0 magnitude ravaged the country’s capital city Port-au-Prince causing over 250,000 casualties, Wyclef invokes the same spirit of democracy that allowed Aristide to lead as he campaigns for the presidency of Haiti. “We suffered for over 200 years,” Wyclef told CNN. “Now that our country has toppled, it’s a chance to rebuild from the bottom on up,”
Wyclef’s road to presidency is as duplicitous as they come. On one end, it’s a heartwarming story of the Haitian born mogul’s maturing patriotic love. Over Jean’s nearly two decades as a public figure, he has transformed from Haitian griot to philanthropist to now political hopeful. Wyclef himself would attest that these changes were born more from necessity than personal growth. “He said ‘Na, man, you know what kind of responsibility, what kind of problem that is?’” says Brooklyn native, Allah Smalls, who did EMT work at the general hospital in Haiti and playfully suggested that he run for office. “He was basically saying I don’t want those kind of problems because then I can’t help the people the way that I want to help the people.”
When it comes to Haitian pride, very few can question Wyclef’s authenticity. Ever since Jean moved from Haiti to Brooklyn, New York at the age of nine and went on to a become three-time Grammy winning member of the Fugees, he has arguably fulfilled the role of the world’s greatest spokesman for the impoverished nation. Songs like “Hold On” beam and Yele Haiti, his non-profit organization, has raised over 9.1 million in relief funds for the struggling nation, including over two million dollars to aid the victims of the 2010 earthquake. By 2007, Wyclef had become such a devotee to the Haitian cause as well as a shining example of success to the youth of Haiti, that president Rene Preval appointed to the high office of roving ambassador. “The young people support him,” says Akbar Muhammad, Minister Farrakhan’s former internal representative and acquaintance of Jean’s. “He went through the streets when I was there and asked the young people. They say he represents their new Haiti.”
With overwhelming popularity among young people, Wyclef sees his bid for presidency with the Vive Ansanm party as the best way to stabilize Haiti’s future. “"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," Wyclef told Larry King early August. "My decision is a draft. I've been drafted by the youth."
Although Jean believes that he can boost Haiti’s dismal literacy rate and serve as liaison between the citizens of Haiti and the Haitian diaspora, who currently account for approximately 2 billion dollars in contributions to Haiti’s economy, the transition from beloved entertainer to reputable politician has been a rough one. Hours after Wyclef announced his presidential bid, several high profile celebrities stepped forward to voice their disapproval. The decriers included Wyclef’s former crewmate Pras who supports Haitian bred musician Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, Miss Haiti, and actor Sean Penn who called Jean’s run for office “very suspicious”.
In addition to opprobrium from his peers who take issue with his vague political platform, Wyclef has had other setbacks to overcome. For one, he still holds the high ranking office of goodwill ambassador, a title for which he must obtain a discharge before he can run for any other office. Also, even more crucially, he hasn’t lived in Haiti for over three decades. The Haitian constitution mandates that presidential candidates must have at five years of residence in the country, a technicality that Jean hopes to have waived or dismissed with his electoral card from last election.
But the thing about politics is that everything in the past now becomes public record. Jean’s past support of the Aristide coup, his shaky Creole, the fact that he dropped out of college, and even the lyrics to his well-known song “If I Was President” where Wyclef sings, “Instead of spending billions on the war/ I can use some of that money to feed the poor” become political fodder.
Naturally, Wyclef's finances have also been under heavy scrutiny. Besides owing 2.1 million in taxes to the IRS, records implicated Wyclef has pocketed over $400,000 dollars in relief funds from Yele Haiti. "I freely admit that missteps were made when Yele was in its infancy as a grassroot movement, before the earthquake," Wyclef wrote in an email. "The administration of the group was a bit naive, but once we started getting donations from around the world, the first decision I made was to reform management."
$400,000 may not even be 0.5% of Yele’s net revenue, but when discussing an election and government that has been historically wrought with corruption and embezzlement, this mismanagement becomes that much more salient. Add to that skepticism about the legitimacy of the election itself (98% of eligible voters boycotted the recent senatorial race because the country’s most popular party Lavalas has been banned from running in all elections) and more clouds swarm over Wyclef’s leadership abilities. “The first thing any president would have to address is that the country is being militarily occupied by United Nations,” says Kim Ives, editor of Haiti Liberte and frequent commentator on Democracy Now. “Not only does Wyclef have no inkling of changing that, but in fact, supports that and seems to feel that Haiti should become Puerto Rico or a colony some sorts.”
Wyclef also has to worry about the 33 other candidates, of which Leslie Voltaire, former prime ministers Yvon Neptune and Jacques Edouard Alexis, as well as Wyclef’s own uncle Haitian Ambassador Raymond Joseph pose serious competition. Not to mention the potential violence that can stem from a controversial election. Days after Minister Farrakhan warned Wyclef of “the tiny group of people who study you”, Jean received several death threats from dissenters who demand that he “get out of Haiti”.
Later in August, he received even more stunting news. Of the 34 candidates names in the election, Wyclef’s name appeared on the ineligible list. As of press time, Wyclef and his lawyer has publicized their intent to challenge the decision.
Still, despite the encumbering critical eye on his campaign, Wyclef continues to sharpen his agenda for a better Haiti. He’s drafting a plan to restore the export trade of cocoa and sugar. Though some analysts fear that the big time sponsorship Wyclef would most likely attract will mold into a puppet for corporate interests, many see him as the household name that can broadcast Haiti’s plight to the rest of the world, especially the ones who haven’t yet made good on their pledge to aid Haiti after the earthquake. “I still feel like he can do it. I think he should do it,” Smalls says. “That’s the most popular Haitian in the world right now and he’s an intelligent guy. He’s a get-it-done type of person.”
Wyclef may not be Haiti’s next Toussaint L’Overture, but he is not surely powerless to affect political change as an entertainer. If an actor can govern California and a wrestler can govern Minnesota, who’s to say a rapper can’t govern Haiti?
Still, things are not as sunny in Haiti as they are in California.

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