Update: Apparently it’s tough not being allowed to run for President. Wyclef Jean was admitted to the hospital “suffering from stress and fatigue based on the grueling eight weeks he’s had.” Of course, eight weeks is a long time; but not nearly as long as the 260 weeks that comprise a 5-year Presidential term in Haiti or the 520 weeks he would serve if re-elected; or is it comparable to the stress precipitated by the grueling task of rebuilding a country where thousands lack basic shelter. Rest up Wyclef, you’ll need it for your next self-promoting gimmick.
Finally, now that the dust has settled, it is time to bring up Wyclef Jean’s abandoned run for the Haitian Presidency. During much of the initial hub-bub of whether he was going to run – or be allowed to run – I was sorely tempted to write a piece about the ramifications of a Jean administration, but, because they would nearly all be negative, I held off for fear of contributing to the buzz. That’s not to say that I believe that my writing would in any way dissuade Jean from running, as such an attitude would be ludicrous, incorrect, and the height of arrogance. Yet as is often the case with such candidates, they feed off of publicity – good or bad — and in some small way I felt that the responsible part for me to play was to be silent, until such a time that the issue was decided. Thankfully, the Haitian Election Commission rejected Jean as ineligible to run.
First, let me say that Haitians have the absolute and democratic right to elect whom they wish to the Presidency and Parliament, regardless of what us Yankees might say or think about it, and in a democracy it is sometimes the case that the candidate with the best policies is beat out by a less qualified, but more popular candidate. In the United States, we experience this phenomenon all the time: for example, take the recent Republican primaries in Alaska and Delaware, where long-standing and respected legislators were given the toss in favor of candidates running populist campaigns. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, a crucial part of being a politician is to provide leadership and be able to convince a skeptical populace to support one’s policies and being a popular figure certainly helps; and by most accounts, Wyclef fits the bill as perhaps the most famous Haitian since Papa Doc and Baby Doc. Indeed, his popularity was pretty much the only plank of his platform. For a country that is the poorest in the Americas – a fact that was only reinforced by January’s earthquake – there is a certain logic to electing someone who is a successful businessman and a visible figure in popular culture to bring attention and monetary aid to bear.
The reason to reject this logic is twofold. First, there is absolutely no reason that Jean can’t raise funds, while letting a more qualified person run the government, and, second, that making money for oneself is not the same as developing an economy that benefits an entire population. Making admittedly fantastic records with Pras and Lauryn Hill does not impart a working knowledge of global economics, infrastructure planning, and the myriad other aspects of governing with which any modern leader must grapple. Of course, one might say that Wyclef needn’t necessarily be a wonk to be a good president. True, but wouldn’t the Haitian people be served better by someone who has spent years learning the ins and outs of policy, instead of someone who didn’t? Furthermore, the long-term prosperity of Haiti will be based not on fickle donors and international aid, but on the domestic development of its economy. Perhaps what is needed to rebuild a country where most buildings in the capital were flattened is not a rock star, but a technocrat.
Regardless, the issue is now a moot point: apparently, not actually living in a country disqualifies one from becoming president. So take a listen to his made-to-order campaign song If I Was President and think about what might have been, for better or for worse.