For more than a decade it has been rumored that Wyclef Jean aspired to one day be president of his native Haiti. But he has steadfastly denied having such ambitions.
So it was surprising to some and alarming to many when the hip-hop star decided to throw his bling into the political ring by submitting his petition for the presidency of Haiti.
As expected Jean’s candidacy was rejected by the Provisional Electoral Council or CEP last Friday because he hasn’t lived in Haiti for five consecutive years. And as expected Jean has entered what can be a protracted challenge to his rejection, even though under electoral laws, a rejection cannot be appealed.
Jean’s exhaustive use of his lawyers is purely for show and unlike the late American president who promised that “you won’t have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore.” Jean should stick around, but for the right reasons.
Like most Haitian-Americans, I cringed at the idea of a Jean’s presidency, knowing the challenges ahead for the country. We wondered publicly and privately whether he has the skills and temperament to handle the most impossible job in the world.
After a recent reporting trip to Haiti, I came away convinced that Jean would be a shoo-in, if he could get on the ballot. A big if as it turned out. His candidacy was galvanizing the 20-something generation and many others living in the urban slums where their future is as bright as a coal mine. And the inevitability of his candidacy would bring detractors into the fold, even if for self-serving purposes.
Now that he has suffered this setback, Jean should seize the time as a golden opportunity to educate himself and appease his critics who wondered about his fitness for the dream job of every Haitian, even with the gleaming white palace a mere shell of its old self, brought on by the wicked earthquake in January.
Jean’s first priority is to establish residency in Haiti, even if he doesn’t spend 24 hours there. After all, his job takes him across the globe and he has to earn a living.
I urge Jean to stick around and not just for publicity stake, if he’s serious about becoming president. Five years is not a long time to wait. He must first remain active and immerse himself in Haitian politics and have his friend Bill Clinton mentor him in the arts and science of politics and governing. I can’t think of a better teacher, frankly.
Jean needs to also become part of a constructive opposition, criticizing the next president’s faux pas and applauding his or her achievements. He should rescind his
decision to leave Yele Haiti and make that non-profit organization a model of how he would run Haiti if he’s elected in 2015 when the next elections are scheduled. That would be the first step.
The lesson learned from this electoral campaign so far is that the power that the diaspora thought it has is largely imaginary. All of the 14 candidates from overseas were rejected. There is a widely held sentiment among Haitians living outside of that with billions in reconstruction funds expected to flow through the impoverished Caribbean nation, their compatriots want to manage the money and enrich themselves.
First of all, I doubt it that these billions will be invested any time soon and I know that they will not go through Haitian hands. American dollars will go to American firms and European contractors will receive European Euros. So the Haitians will receive Gourdes, which has no value outside Haiti. So if that’s what this is all about, we’re already lost.
Jean, as Haiti’s most popular son and a Diaspora, should built upon his stature to lead and organize a passionate, if not a disparate community that seems to make the wrong move when it comes to Haiti at every turn. The next five years should be spent working with doctors, lawyers, bankers, realtors, engineers and other professionals with Haitian heritage. He must convince them of their need to organize and manage strong organizations from which his cadre of advisers and workers will come from.
It boggles my mind that there are no Haitian-American lawyers association when there are nearly hundreds of them working here. I don’t know of a Haitian-American bankers association, although in my family alone there must be at least a score.
When they do exist, the organizations are for the most part ceremonial or on paper. Capacity of Haitian-American groups must be strengthened for Haiti to move forward, despite the suspicion of the country’s ruling class.
Two weeks ago during a drive to the Dominican border, I struck up a conversation with the driver who was articulating Haiti’s myriad problems. He knew them well: the lack of quality education, health care, electricity, running water. I told him that while his analysis of the situation was quite evident, what is the solution. Without hesitation, he said there can’t be none as long as the political and economic class remains in charge.
I thought long and hard about his response and whether or not, if he didn’t know I was a diaspora would his answer be different. I don’t know the answer, but what is clear is that Haiti needs fresh and competent leaders. It is also clear that no one is going to be calling on the Diaspora to do anything more than continue sending remittances to relatives which is now up to $2 billion a year. To me that mindset was captured indelibly in a bumper sticker that was popular during the early 1990s. “No electricity, no running water, no roads…Haiti love it or leave it.”
Changing that is Jean’s biggest job and he needs his Diaspora posse to help. Are you up to the task? It may be easier and can make the job you want now easier to do when you get it. There is no other way.