Sunday, August 8, 2010

Candidate Clef?

Things are going well here with work - I have happily joined a team of professionals who support women's health in rural Haiti. I will dedicate my next post to my public health activities, but in the meantime I have to comment on this Wyclef business:

Wyclef Jean is really trying to run for president of Haiti - he submitted the necessary paperwork this past week. I still can’t believe it.

This news raises obvious questions that the international media have hastened to answer: What does an artist know about politics? What are Clef's policy goals? Some are concerned that he is not capable of doing the job while others caution that he is not as pro-people as some of his lyrics and the mission of his "embattled" NGO might suggest.

And what do Haitians think?

Well, there is no doubt that people here love the man. In my few trips to Port-au-Prince, I have more than once seen his visage pass by on a tap-tap (a local, informal “bus” that provides transport around the city and is colorfully custom painted, sometimes with religious messages and images, sometimes with rapper 50 Cent or other illustrious figures).

While he may be a beloved producer/singer/song-writer/rapper, some Haitians think his candidacy is a travesty. Of course they were the first to voice the aforementioned concerns. They complain that he is an artist, not a politician; that he does not have the requisite experience; that he cannot manage the scope of this job or the various interests at play locally and internationally; they worry that he does not have the educational background or intellectual acumen to lead a country.

On the other hand, some Haitians are excited and have even said they would vote for him – a big deal because most of the people I've met are not planning to vote in November 28's election and have never voted at all. The supporters are glad he is not a career politician; they suggest that because he is already rich, he will be less likely to steal from the country; and, very importantly, “he loves Haiti.”

For me, this presidential bid raises questions about the role of the diaspora in Haiti – a topic of personal interest for me. Wyclef was born in Haiti and went to the US when he was 9. He continues to be involved in Haitian life through Yéle Haiti, a non-profit organization he founded in 2005. He fully deserves his hyphenated Haitian-American status: while he lives a US life, he maintains strong ties to his birthplace. His supporters think his significant outside-Haiti experience offers him a wider perspective that can help the country. His opponents believe that he does not have enough knowledge of the country to run it.

What does the Haitian Constitution say? It seems to indicate that the appropriate role for diaspora is not president. This may create a roadblock for Clef’s presidential aspirations:

1) The president must have been a Haitian citizen his/her whole life. Haiti does not allow dual citizenship. If Wyclef, at any point, was a US citizen, he would be ineligible for the presidency. People I’ve talked to find it hard to believe that he has been conducting his international career while carrying a Haitian passport.
2) The president must own property in Haiti. Wyclef apparently stays in hotels whenever he comes here.
3) The president must have spent 5 full years in Haiti prior to becoming president. Wyclef lives in the US – he visits Haiti.

The Conseil Electoral Provisoire (CEP), the group that manages Haiti’s national elections, is scheduled to announce the finalized list of presidential candidates on August 17th, once they review the application materials submitted by this year’s 1­5-16 presidential hopefuls.

Wyclef’s attempt to become president of Haiti has raised a lot of controversy and discussion - and rightly so - but we are getting ahead of ourselves a bit if we get too emotional (excited or upset) about this possibility before he is given the green light to actually run.


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Jamie said...

Thanks Sybill- very helpful and insightful. Ready or not, Wyclef does have significant Constitutional roadblocks of which I was not previously aware.

(pun intended of course)

Be well!