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


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.

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

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