Frederic Dupoux/Getty Images
Musician Wyclef Jean speaks to a crowd of supporters after submitting paperwork to run for president of Haiti.
Musician Wyclef Jean speaks to a crowd of supporters after submitting paperwork to run for president of Haiti. Frederic Dupoux/Getty Images
Marjorie Valbrun is a Haitian-American journalist.
It pains me to have to tell you this — especially in public. Particularly because it goes to the heart of someplace and something we both care deeply about. But I have to, because as much as I love you, I love Haiti more — so much so that I'm unwilling to put her fate in your hands.
So here goes. Wyclef you're making a big mistake. Running for president of Haiti is a bad idea. Bad for you and bad for Haiti.
Yes, over the years, your words and deeds on behalf of our beloved little island have been commendable. You've inspired legions of young Haitian people both here and back home. You've done the Lord's work with a zealot's commitment and a salesman's enthusiasm. We love you for it, we really do.
Who can forget the television images of you on the ground in Haiti just days after the earthquake, helping carry and bury battered bodies, going on the evening news to call for faster and better organized relief efforts?
I, for one, thank you on behalf of other Haitian-Americans who didn't have the means, the connections, the public platform, or the gumption to do what you did.
You have sung love songs for Haiti. Written poignant rap lyrics for her. Held her in a tender, rhapsodic embrace. Loved her when she seemed unloveable. Made people care about her. You had pride in her long before it became fashionable, and way before the earthquake. And even now, seven months later, you've kept her in the headlines and refused to let others forget her.
But Wyclef, everything changed after the earth shook violently that awful January day. After the ground buckled and sent houses crashing and bodies crumpling; after the grief consumed us; after Haitians picked themselves up and went about the business of living again, we started thinking and asking ourselves: "What's next? How do we build a new and better Haiti?"
By "new" I mean different - radically different. Not the Haiti of inept, corrupt and unqualified leadership. Not the Haiti of starving masses and well-fed, indifferent elites. Not the Haiti that housed its people in flimsy shacks turned post-earthquake tombs. Not the Haiti of coups and kidnappings, stolen elections and political killings, and venal, contemptible politicians.
Now, more than ever, Haiti needs a highly educated and experienced technocrat who understands the intricacies of governing and diplomacy. Someone who can wage a successful civic education campaign and get different sectors of civil society all working on the same page and tamp down the country's cyclical social unrest. Someone who knows how to get things done and knows how to build schools, hospitals and neighborhoods, as well as sewer systems, electric grids and roads. Someone who can feed the people and give them jobs. Someone schooled in international affairs and who will be respected by the international community. Someone who can rebuild Haiti and ultimately restore its dignity.
Frankly, Wyclef, that someone is not you.
You're just not qualified. You're fame and hype but Haiti needs sure and steady. You have an entourage of "yes" men but Haiti needs an army of yeomen. You're a uniquely talented music man but Haiti desperately needs a credible statesman. And then there are your messy financial problems and the questionable accounting practices at your charitable foundation. It's too complicated to get into here, but it doesn't look good and will be a distraction throughout the campaign. Had you not built up so much goodwill over the years, your finances — both personal and professional — would have totally undermined your standing.
Your presence in the presidential campaign will not only diminish your brand, both at home and abroad, it will trivialize what should be a serious election focused on the hard work ahead.
I'm not questioning your sincerity or dismissing your art. After all you are the people's poet. But poets are not presidents, they're poets - and they have their place.
Wyclef, we feel you. We really do. We share your frustration with the lack of progress on the ground. We know you want better for Haiti. We do too.
But there are better people for the job. That's not to say you can't still keep doing your part. Your mic is a powerful tool, keep using it to inspire and to agitate.
But please, Wyclef, let someone else take the lead.