Haiti hip-hop star turns presidential contender

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Hip-hop star Wyclef Jean announced on Thursday that he would run in Haiti’s presidential elections in November.

The former Fugees singer and three-time Grammy award-winner became a leading figure in relief efforts when as many as 300,000 died and 1.5m were left homeless after an earthquake struck the Caribbean nation on January 12.

“I would like to tell President Barack Obama that the United States has Obama and Haiti has Wyclef Jean,” the three-time Grammy award-winner told cheering supporters in a downtown area of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.

“This is the only president who will dance when Creole hip-hop is being played,” Mr Jean, 40, said in a speech after formally declaring his candidacy

He filed papers at the electoral council to run as a candidate for the Viv Ansanm (Live Together) political party, as excited young supporters clad in white and red T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Fas a Fas”, the party’s youth movement, packed the surrounding streets.

After previously denying rumours of his presidential ambitions, the 37-year-old Haitian-American rapper has at last come clean about his desire to succeed President René Préval, who has been the focus of widespread frustration about the slow pace of recovery efforts. Mr Préval’s non-renewable term expires next February.

Nevertheless, doubts remain as to whether the musician has what it takes to revive a country widely considered a difficult case, something that has eluded generations of politicians since independence was secured more than two centuries ago.

Mr Jean, who released a song two years ago called “If I was president”, said that following the January earthquake what Haiti needed was education, job creation and investment.

Moreover, in order to run for president, Mr Jean, who moved to Brooklyn, New York, at the age of nine, must prove he has lived in Haiti for at least five consecutive years and that he owns property in the country. He must also show that he is not a citizen of another country – something that could be used against him given that he is understood to have US citizenship.

Politicians in Haiti have traditionally seen the Haitian diaspora as a threat. They have attempted to exclude expatriots from involvement in politics and there are limited incentives or opportunities for them to return.

Even so, Haitians living abroad are often cited as a resource Haiti must tap to recover from its plight. They also represent a key pillar of the economy, with remittances in 2008 estimated at $1.5bn (€1.1bn, £940m), or just over a quarter of gross domestic product.

Asked whether he thought Mr Jean would be a competent president, Paul Wander, a Caribbean analyst at the Inter-American Dialogue, said: “Frankly, no. He has had trouble managing his own estates ... Does the added weight that he brings from the international community, his connections with Brooklyn and the aid community, outweigh his lack of political experience? In the final analysis, not quite. It’s an uphill battle.”

A further problem is whether the forthcoming elections are considered valid at all, especially if there is a low turnout as feared. A politicised electoral council and bans on some parties, including that of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the still popular former president, may compromise the result and lead many to boycott the poll. Should the exiled former Roman Catholic priest return to Haiti before the elections, the campaigning could be stirred up considerably.

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