From The Grio — Street star. Scandal-plagued aid director. Ex-Fugees hip hop frontman. The moment he filed his candidacy, Wyclef Jean became the most famous — and thus potentially most powerful — candidate in Haiti’s critical post-earthquake presidential election.
But for all his renown as a musician, charity provider and above all Haitian-born success story, a stark fact remains the morning after: Few in this impoverished and often rudderless country know who he really is, what he stands for, or what is driving him to seek the presidency.
He has compared his candidacy to that of U.S. President Barack Obama and says he wants to build Haiti’s economy principally by attracting foreign investment — yet his campaign borrows songs, style and support from the populist liberation theologian and exiled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
And before these questions even come into play his celebrity-driven campaign — he has promised to bring 50 Cent to Haiti — must deal with the biggest question surrounding the 40-year-old singer: Has Jean, whose parents took him to Brooklyn as a young child, lived long enough in Haiti to claim its most important job?
“I started coming to Haiti after the President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was taken outside of Haiti (in 2004),” Jean told The Associated Press in an interview after filing his candidacy Thursday. “What I did was I went into the slums and started with kids inside of the roughest communities.”
Haitian presidents must have lived at least five consecutive years in the country leading up to election day, slated this year for Nov. 28. By nearly all measures Jean has not. As the eight-member provisional electoral council spends the next 12 days verifying candidates’ credentials the singer’s campaign will argue his 2007 appointment as an ambassador-at-large exempts him from the requirement.
Some on the streets of this seaside, sugar-growing town west of Port-au-Prince are not convinced.
“The constitution says you have to spend five years in the country. Did he? I don’t think he did,” said Billy Francois, 38, who sells sundries from under a roadside tarp in Leogane, which was almost entirely destroyed by the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake that left a government-estimated 300,000 people dead.
The father of three said he was not opposed to Jean, but that neither he nor other potential candidates appear ready to tackle Haiti’s rampant unemployment and crime. “I’ve been voting since 1990 and nobody has done anything for me,” he said.