By now everyone has heard the big news about singer/humanitarian Wyclef Jean running for President of Haiti. It’s got everyone talking including many within the Hip Hop generation. For them the thought of a Hip Hop artist of Wyclef’s stature becoming President of Haiti on the heels of Barack Obama becoming president of the United States is beyond exciting. People are already speculating what it would be like to have the pair as Presidents sit down and interact. People have already started talking about theme songs and perhaps new national anthems that Clef might pen. Others who have come to know about Haiti primarily through the songs, videos, stories and activism put forth by Clef, feel that him becoming President or even running is exactly what this impoverished nation needs. They feel Wyclef’s presence will put the country on the map in a good way and allow it to be seen in a new light.
Needless to say, when we let our imaginations run wild, the possibilities of what Haiti can become with Wyclef at the helm are endless. Here’s what Pittsburgh based Professor and artists Kimberely Ellis aka artist Dr Goddess penned in her essay ‘If I Ruled the World (Imagine That) where she lays out ten reason why Wyclef should run for President. Here’s a couple of them:
I have read and heard the criticism about Wyclef running and, while some of it is most certainly valid, like @FreedomTweet’s insistence that Haiti needs experienced leadership and can’t afford a gaffe at the Presidency, I am not sure that experience, alone, is necessary and it seems as though something more along the lines of a miracle is needed for Haiti. Divine intervention. I believe that, having seen these dead bodies and the extent of the destruction in Haiti up close and personal, Wycelf’s spirit was shaken to its core, his humanity was touched in a manner unparalleled and he feels “called” to do something much bigger than bringing in $10 million into Haiti via his foundation, Yele Haiti. I have no proof. It’s simply what I believe. There’s a reason why Wyclef was crying on television and that level of shamelessness in a hypermasculine culture is only brought about through divine intervention.
Dr Goddess also raises up the question of what it would be like to have both Wyclef and Obama as president at the same time. These are two men who have captured the imagination of urban America’s Hip Hop generation.
It will be interesting to see what it will be like if Wyclef is the President of Haiti while Barack Obama is the President of the United States. After all, the U.S. offered temporary status swiftly, and humanely, I might add, after the earthquake. These are new and trying times. They are also times for new possibilities. I have read criticism that Bill Clinton wants to turn Haiti into a new colony (as if, in its tremendous poverty and need, it isn’t already), working in factories and engaging in tourism. Well, if I recall correctly, that’s exactly what drew Americans (especially African Americans during the Great Migration) to the North. We came for new opportunities, to work in factories, to have jobs and to make new dreams. Let the Haitian people grow and if they want those jobs, let them take them. Generally speaking, there is nothing wrong with working in factories and it’s 99% better than what they have now—which is next to nothing! As for the tourism, Royal Caribbean was still docking on Haitian water during the immediate post-earthquake period but how much of that revenue was shared and how much made it into Port-Au-Prince? We must stop fooling ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with tourism, as long as we have more fairness and opportunity for the Haitian people.
Dr Goddess’s essay emphatically speaks of new possibilities. She speaks of Hope and reflects a mindset that many feel which is ‘Haiti needs to be shaken up’. It needs new blood, new infrastructure, new everything. The real question is as follows: Is Wyclef Jean allowing his own imagination to go wild? Is he dreaming about ways to forge a bold, new and ambitious path for Haiti that allows for her true independence or is he gonna be a shining front man for US political and corporate backed interests which keeps Haiti stagnant as it has in the past?
This was a question raised last night (Aug 5 2010) by actor Sean Penn who has been doing humanitarian work in Haiti ever since the recovery from last year’s devastating earthquake kicked in. Penn who appeared on CNN was diplomatic but firm questioned Wyclef’s motives and expressed concern that larger corporate forces that are opportunistic and would come in on the back Wyclef and not treat Haiti right.
Penn went further in and said he was suspicious of Wyclef because as he’s been MIA in Haiti for the past 6 months. He noted that Clef has an important voice that is needed in term of asking the hard questions that many on the ground are asking around the issue of money, contracts for rebuilding etc. Penn also pointed out that when Wyclef has shown up in Haiti he’s come on some elitist, bling bling status complete with entourage and fancy cars in tow which was glaring and borderline obscene in the face of extreme poverty.
Many who are fans of Wyclef and saw him as the face of Haiti’s relief efforts were taken back by Penn’s remarks and immediately saw him as a straight up hater. Many heard Penn and were immediately reminded about the harsh and what many considered, unfair and racially motivated attacks launched at Wyclef and his Yele Foundation.Wyclef was accused of taking money and using it for his personal expenses.
Many saw the attacks against Wyclef as outlandish especially when they recalled how larger so-called respected relief organizations like the Red Cross were ‘out to lunch’ and had questionable activities during Hurricane Katrina. Many wanted to know why the attacks on Yele while other larger relief organization who collected millions more yet still haven’t delivered what they collected were untouched. Many circled the wagon around Wyclef to oppose the perceived racism.
However, those who have been working in Haiti and following her politics long before the earthquake could immediately relate to Penn’s criticisms. The political connection and motives of the Wyclef have been under scrutiny for a long time. He’s been criticized for supporting the US backed coup that overthrow the popular President Jean Betrand Aristide and banned Haiti’s largest political party the Lavalas who will not be allowed in the upcoming elections that Wyclef is running in. This is major. For some it would be the equivalent to banning the the African National Congress from South Africa’s elections in the fight against Apartheid.
Here’s what the Black Agenda Report had noted in their February 2010 article..Haiti, Katrina and Why I Won’t Give to Haiti Through the Red Cross
Corporate media manufacture “celebrities” all the time, people who are famous for being well known. We know more about the lives, tatoos and and personal business of celebrities than we know about the public affairs in our own cities and towns and school boards. Haitian musician Wyclef Jean used his celebrity, and the earthquake, to raise millions for his own Haitian charity.
We make no judgment on the allegations that its bookkeeping may be irregular. But it’s worth noting that Wyclef Jean has family ties to the group of gangsters and thugs that the Clinton-era CIA installed in office when it removed Haiti’s elected president, Jean-Betrand Aristide from office in the 1990s. Wyclef Jean has repeated the contemptible lie all over black radio that Aristide skipped the country with $900 million stolen from Haitians. We understand where this comes from. Wyclef’s uncle was the Washington DC representative of the short-lived 1990s un-elected gangster government of Haiti. He runs a right wing rag of a Haitian newspaper dedicated to spreading outrageous and self-serving falsehoods against Lavalas, the only Haitian party capable of winning free elections in that unhappy country.If Wyclef will lie about that, we wonder what else he’d lie about, and why we should trust him with our money.
Concerns about Wyclef’s political leanings and family ties were brought up in 2004 where it was noted that he and his people were in lock step with the Bush policies on Haiti which included to overthrow President Aristide. Here’s what was written in 2004 by Haiti Information Project in their article It’s not All About That! Wyclef Jean is fronting in Haiti.
With all the aura of a superstar aside, Wyclef’s assertions that he can now play the role of “peacemaker” in Haiti might conjure illusions of a Nobel Peace prize in his mind but it does little to match the current reality on the ground. If he really wanted to bring to peace to Haiti he would start by checking the unlicensed hatred his own family bears towards the majority political party of the ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Actually, he was quite lucky that Lavalas militants did not remember his own statements before he recently entered the pro-Aristide slum for a photo opportunity. Many in Lavalas promise this won’t happen again.
Wyclef’s uncle is Raymond Joseph, the highest-ranking official abroad representing the U.S.-installed government in Haiti. He is the un-elected government’s representative in Washington. Wyclef’s uncle, who he has often praised, is responsible for fomenting outrageous lies about Aristide and members the Lavalas political party that has contributed to the current climate of witch-hunts, arbitrary arrests and murders in Haiti today. Wyclef’s uncle is also the co-publisher of Haiti Observateur, a right-wing rag that has been an apologist for the killers in the Haitian military going back as far as the brutal coup against Aristide in 1991.
On October 26th Haitan police entered the pro-Aristide slum of Fort Nationale and summarily executed 13 young men. Wyclef said nothing. On October 28th the Haitian police executed five young men, babies really, in the pro-Aristide slum of Bel Air. Wyclef said nothing. If Wyclef really wants to be part of Haiti’s political dialogue he would acknowledge these facts. Unfortunately, Wyclef is fronting. There is nothing substantial in his offer until he proves otherwise. HIP wishes Wyclef the best for his next concert in Haiti. We all want peace in Haiti. Most of us want peace with justice.
This is the backdrop that many who have been covering Haiti for a long time have come to understand about Wyclef. The concern is if he’s running for President does he bring this team of people with him? While many of us here in the states have come to like Wyclef and would probably see him as a strong and even outspoken ally in terms of some left leaning US politics, how does that translate over to politics in Haiti? Most of us are enamored with personalities but are we equally enamored with issues? Are we only listening to the Wyclef narrative or are there other more popular perspectives being ignored? Wyclef hasn’t been asked some of those hard questions yet around his politics.
In 2004 we caught up with Wyclef at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. There he spoke at Russell Simmon‘s Hip Hop Summit in Roxbury where he encouraged young people to get out and vote. We caught up with Wyclef backstage to get his perspective on things including his feelings on President Aristide who was ousted. Wyclef said he wasn’t down with Aristide and that he “was for the people”. That was sharp contradiction because the majority of the people elected Aristide.
Does Wyclef have a strong vision for Haiti? Does he even stand a chance in winning? Will his popularity as a singer translate to political popularity? Its interesting to note that Wyclef’s cousin and former bandmate Pras has stepped out to say he will not be voting for Wyclef. He doesn’t think he’s qualified. Ironically Pras is supporting another musician/activist named Michel Martelly who is better known as Sweet Mickey who according to some Haiti activists also has right leaning politics in terms of him opposing Aristide. One might ask how all that will play out in the upcoming election.
Will leave off with what Clef said in this recent Wall Street Journal article
Why did you decide that Haiti would be best served by you running?
Well, my whole country, my whole life since I was a kid, the country has had political turmoil. The reason why is that there’s never been one person who can unite all parties and get them to work together. And Haiti has a history of coup d’états. And after Jan. 12, I felt there would be a new beginning and the international would be more involved, America would be more involved, and I call myself more connected. I’m someone who can connect the parties together and basically be a leader for the youth for what they’ve been crying for for years. If you have a population that can’t read and write that’s been around 200 years and the majority of the population is a youth population, it’s basically modern slavery. And for me to just sit back, and if you’ve watched my career, I’ve been singing about this my entire life, not just the Haitian cause whether it’s Tibet or human rights, the idea is to not just shame but to turn it into policy and to really engage in another manner. I always say that Wyclef Jean is not running for the presidency of Haiti, I’m being drafted by the people of Haiti.