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Nichole Black: Why I’m against Wyclef running for Haitian Presidency

The right choice for Haiti?

Wyclef for President & my mother for Secretary of State!

That’s about as serious as I am willing to take the grammy award winning artist’s attempt at governing Haiti. It seems up until a few months ago he would have second me as evidenced in his song “Wyclef for President”: ‘If I was president, I’d get elected on Friday, assassinated on Saturday, and buried on Sunday’. It seems however that he now feels that probability is weighing in his favour. Odds that are likely to be stacked on the endorsements of American companies looking to annex Haiti as a hub for cheap labour.

This is not an objection to Wyclef. I am presenting a contemplation on the future of Haiti – the only Caribbean nation whose independence was won through a successful slave rebellion and the first post-colonial independent Black-led nation in the world. As a country possessing a history of intellectual, spiritual and cultural importance to people across the African Diaspora it is barely credible that it’s next leader should be a popular musician. And the issue is popularity.

We live in a celebrity-centred culture which is an extension of the aestheticism (the devotion to and pursuit of beauty) of this age. We continue to marginalise those possessing knowledge, specialism or expertise in place of an all star celebrity cast. Comedian Dave Chapelle made this point brilliantly in his satirical representation of MTV’s post 9-11 interview with Ja Rule:

“Who gives a **** what Ja Rule thinks at a time like this!? This is ridiculous, I don’t want to dance I’m scared to death! I want some answers that Ja Rule might not have right now.”

I am not negating the necessity of artistry in our world whether it be music, literature, film etc. As a creative writer I am well acquainted with both the power and transcendence of art. That is, there are cross cultural, historical and social connections to be made at all levels of our experience and what better example than Wyclef as part of ‘Fugees’. They were one of the greatest Hip-Hop groups of all time. I remember sitting on a swing on Cowley Estate in Brixton, South London singing Lauryn Hill’s infamous bridging adlib on ‘Killing me Softly’, still in primary school and wearing bobbles. Everyone I know owned a copy of their album ‘The Score’ – the convergence of art and politics through lyrical expression. They were top of the game and to our most successful artists we give ‘celebrity saviour status’. No wonder Wyclef refers to himself as ‘standing in front of the burning bush’. Moses analogy. Honestly? Celebrities like Wyclef become our demigods and we worship them with blind faith and full allegiance as most fundamentalists do.

Nichole Black: why Wyclef?

This roar of praise fuels his audacity to run rather than the quiet counsel that would have him use his voice and money to endorse a more politically competent candidate. I have heard countless defences that are founded on one concept: ‘he really cares for the Haitian people’. I maintain that compassion makes you human, it is not definitive of leadership.

What we are experiencing is the new American empire, the home of Hollywood, the great exporters of celebrity culture. Wyclef may unfortunately be a figure head of the greater project of Anglo-American dominance in the Caribbean (not to mention France and other imperial powers). ‘The international community lead by America, France and Canada overthrew by military coup Haitian President Aristide on two occasions. He is reported to have the most popular party in the nation but lives in exile. He is notably a man who governed with policies in the interest of the Haitian people including campaigning to raise the minimum wage to $2 a day, and demanding that France pay back the 150 million Francs of reparation Haiti had to pay out (for loss of Frances earnings at the over turning of the slave trade and as indemnity for Haiti‘s independence).

The Haiti Observateur newspaper reported:

“On Oct. 26 [2004] Haitian police entered the pro-Aristide slum of Fort Nationale and summarily executed 13 young men. Wyclef Jean said nothing. On Oct. 28 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.”

Strong words from a Haitian perspective. What Wyclef did say during the 2004 military coup that removed President Aristide and almost threw Haiti into civil war was: ‘Keep your head up’. Perhaps that would have sounded better against music.

As we know from dependency theory the advancement of the West is dependent on the underdevelopment of the global South. Wyclef has not presented himself as a leader able to withstand the weight of abusive international relations. Instead he has become an agent of the colonial binary. His idea of introducing English as a main language in Haiti is concerning in its ‘americentricity’. Edward Kamau Brathwaite (an important figure in the Caribbean literary canon) emphasises the cultural and political importance of Creole (which 80% of the Haitian population speak) in his text ‘Nation Language’. In addition to this, French is an official language of Haiti.

All Wyclef’s discussions have the concept of Haiti as a helpless and dependent nation – a very similar narrative to the genesis of colonialism. His statement “seriously, we’ve had years and years of politicians speaking French. And where has that gotten us?” is childish. As is his proposal on Larry King Live to solicit monetary support from the Black Diaspora to generate jobs in Haiti. What is that – The International Bank of Black People? Wyclef please stop this madness.

By Nichole Black

You can follow Nicole on Twitter here: http://Twitter.com/IamNicholeBlack


20 Responses

  1. I enjoyed that. These are my sentiments as well. Wyclef is a great artist, and has achieved many great things – however he is not qualified to run a complex country like Haiti (any country to be honest).

    And yes I know the arguments, politicians have not made the country any better, how about a lay man – No – there is presently to much at stake.

    You are spot on with our need for celebrity consumption – rappers were taking over the roles of actors, then activists and now they are planning to take over governments. We must accept the roles within society to which we are best suited – wyclef is an artist – not someone I would put in charge of health care or my children’s education. Of course by all means get a degree in political science – spend some time in the country at least, speaking to the people (a couple of years might do it) discovery what their concerns are.

    Would you trust a rapper to perform art surgery on you? I think not. Individuals have dedicated their lives to particular areas of human endeavor – we should respect our intellectuals, academics and political thinkers and give them credit where credit is due.

    Here here.

    • Hear Hear!

    • He isn’t qualified. That is the simple truth we ought to confront, I agree bro. I loved your simple ‘NO’ to the layman suggestion. I feel exactly the same. This response is a reminder that the world also needs you to be writing. Don’t keep us waiting. A pleasure as always.

  2. Absolutely right, Nichole. Unfortunately many artists think that because they are good at their art they must be good at everything else they want to do. They are vulnerable to seductive talk from their yes-men and yes-women and frin their egos, inflated by the unreasonable amount of fame and prominence they are given (especially musicians and film actors) in our society.

    Absolutely right too that Haiti in particular deserves much better — unfortunately its record after the days of L’Ouverture and Desallines (?) has been abysmal.

    • “They are vulnerable to seductive talk from their yes-men and yes-women and from their egos, inflated by the unreasonable amount of fame and prominence they are given”


      Haiti needs more. As you say L’Ouverture and Desallines were formidable forces. I do believe that there are leaders with the same spirit. I’d like to learn more about Aristide but thus far I endorse his efforts to rule in the interests of the Haitian people without unecessary compromise with the West (because I admit it is at times needed).

      Thanks for reading and responding.


  3. Wait a minute Nichole before we tightly pull the noose on Mr wannabe president’s neck. The thing is, he loves where he’s from, his root -no doubt and we can never overlook that fact. And who says he can’t do it better? Well, we have heard about artists becoming congressmen, governors etc. We never heard Arnold Schwarzenegger flawed in Califonia do we? Most definitely not. I just think he needs some time to participate in the grassroot politics first and not running for presidency like it’s a piece of cake. Who climbs a mountain from it’s summit? No one does. I think that is what he’s trying to do.

    • Dare,

      Would you be able to clarify whether you think he is paritcipating in grassroot politics? I will not negate his love and commitment to Haiti, I think a love for your history, culture, and heritage (that includes art, family, socio-politics) is absolutely necessary to a healthy human existence. I am not saying he cannot do it better. I am saying he cannot do it best, and I am demanding the best for Haiti.

      With regards to other contemporary examples like Arnold Schwarzeneggger, California has a $19 billion deficit. So not a good precedent to follow.

      Just to reiterate, this is not about Wyclef for me. I am not attempting to ‘hang him by noose’, this is no judgement on his personhood. It is an opinion that he is not a suitable candidate. I think that is apparent, beyond the excuse making.

      Glad you read it, thanks for taking the time out to respond too!


  4. I concur with the above comments in the absurdity of Wyclef’s presidential bid. What is perhaps most worrying, is that Wyclef doesn’t even have one sensible, honest friend, who can sit him down, and tell him his being an idiot.

    On the plus side, Haiti has one of the most politicised electorates in the region. They elected a popular leader from within the slums with very little financial support, and as the article shows, have a press which is not scared to criticise US-backed agents, be they the state authorities or Wyclef himself.

    Wyclef’s only chance of getting into power is for the US to impose him after a coup, maybe they can get The Rock to do it.

    • ‘Maybe they can get The Rock to do it’

      Adam you made me laugh out loud.

      Ex-band member Pras said that he loved Wyclef but did not support his campaign. However, he is supporting another popular Haitian musician so I’m a little suspicious of his position.

      The vibrancy of their press and the tenacity of the people is incredible. Good point, I hadn’t truly considered the importance of that.

      Respect your opinion a lot. Thanks for reading.

  5. you beautiful soul that was lovely………….

    but i say to you and all before you critcise as much as we are mad privy to….. much is also consealed and usually comes out through a correct amount of pressure being applied and what i mean to say is that, why if wyclef has a degree in politics….. then what…… what if he has some legitmate claim to being president of haiti …. then what, in my heart of hearts i know it would not be wise, but i still want him to run, the people should always have a candidate that teaches them not to squander there vote e.g. John McCain aka mr im a soldier i was in the war i ran troops i can run the country…….


    • Bless you Mike. 😉

      I think criticism is a necessary part of any healthy society. The issue is whether it is constructive. I believe my article was.

      I do understand the emotional connection to the idea of Wyclef running for President, but this really isn’t an Obama moment. LOL.

      Thanks for reading bro.

  6. Number 1

    Aristide’s party is barred from the election so he can’t run. You have dismissed a candidate with out informing the readers of who the other candidates at present are…

    Surely depending on who his opponents are can one deduce whether he is the best of bad bunch or not…

    Wyclef can’t be any worse than the US puppet, who has a degree in Biology and Business. I guess that means he is more fit to perform surgery than a RAPPER (many of which have degrees and masters as well may I add)

    Number 2

    Mr Obama’s track record is another conversation for another day.

    But Black ppl supported him purely for his celebrity status. To insult black ppl even more he got Jay Z to endorse his campaign and admitted that he has taken drugs in the past loooooooooooooool

    Number 3

    I hope we are not saying that our political leaders have to be students that studied Politics at SOAS or Oxford or Cambridge or Harvard??? If everyone had that view then Toussaint_L’Ouverture, Patrice Lumumba and even Jesus wouldn’t have a leg to stand on!!!!

    So I do not find you criticism constructive for some of the reasons mentioned above but I do feel you would make a good politician

    • Thanks for your response Jason.

      Since my audience will not be voting in the election discussing the other candidates was not a priority for me. My article was not a comment on who is the best of the bunch, it was an anaylsis of the way popular culture impacts politics and how that may richochet onto our lived experience.

      I would disagree that Obama was a celebrity, he was relatively unknown to the populous, the global community definitely, before he decided to run. I think a discussion on Obama would be a distraction at this point.

      I do assert that education is not just important, it’s essential. I don’t think that it has to be confined to the academy, but it is integral to the ability to lead. Both Jesus and L’Ouverture were educated men.

      Disagreeing with my persepctive is certainly your perrogative. However, holding an alternate view does not make my own unconstructive. I think the article very clearly seeks to ‘improve or advance’ the situation.

      Finally, I advocate the need for different level of activism. So whilst I doubt I would pursue governmental politics, I will always engage with the issues that impact our living. For this reason, I hope you too will make a good politician. 😉


  7. Just one more note on the terminator governor. He is one of the most reactionary republican governors and governs over a very diverse state.

    Has main plans have involved slashing the budgets of state schools and privatising the prison system.


  8. President Reagan was an actor before becoming one of America’s most notable presidents. Acting is not a morally superior to art form to Black music. Maybe we should not be so quick to judge? Politicians come from many backgrounds. Some, former fish and chip shop managers, one recent former minister here was a postman.

    Would you rather they went to Oxford or something?


    • Imran I think the objection expressed in the article is not one based on the nature of Wyclef’s academic or intellectual background, but the nature of Wyclef’s ideology and vision for Haiti. Are his ideas and plans clear? Is he merely going to reaffirm the same [neo]colonial vision that has been imposed on Haiti since its independence? These are valid questions that I think we should all ask. Thankfully, as pointed out by Adam, these are questions that the Haitian people are already asking. I think your comment above detracts from the central premise of the arguement and is not really a direct response to the points that were highlighted.


  9. I forgot to add, you said ‘an extension of the aestheticism’.

    Giggle. 🙂

  10. ‘As we know from dependency theory…’

    I say no more 🙂

  11. Funnily I was looking at Wyclef’s picture and was reminded of Obama and many other underdogs that defied the sceptic. He could indeed be the President of Haiti …hmmm i would say watch the space.

    Also many a true characters are tested and proven by the test they undertake. I was going to say keep on keeping on my brother but then one may say i am being emotional because he is a black brother. So instead i will say keep on keeping my fellow human being who is striving and desiring a better like for your country and people.

    Yes let their be a better Haiti under President Wyclef i just love it so much when the scpetics are confounded …giggle giggle!!!

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