Aug 6, 2010

How big a change does Haiti truly need?

Unless you've been living under a rock, or have no interest in international politics, you are probably aware that Haiti is preparing to have an election this year. There hasn't been such an international buzz around Haitian elections since the first democratic election that brought Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power in 1990. This year, the buzz is all around Wyclef Jean, the hip hop star-cum-president hopeful.

Judging by the media hype, you would think that Wyclef is the only artist looking to be elected in November. Actually,  another charismatic singer has thron his hat in the race: Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly, also know as Prezidan (president, in Haitian creole).

Clef is getting all the press, but honestly, if both of them were to be on the ballot, I wouldn't be so quick to say that he is a shoe-in. In fact, if there were only two candidates, Clef and Sweet Micky, it would probably be a very close race. And you know that whoever wins, it's going to be some party. With the headache to go along with it...

I can't comment on either man's political acumen, nor can I say that either of them is better equipped to become president. The problem in Haiti is that anyone who touches the presidency becomes corrupt. Everyone. It happened to Aristide, many people say it happened to Préval, the current president. Let's not mention the litany of army generals in the '90s. The Duvaliers before that, Magloire, and so on. The position is poisoned. In order to fix this, I think something very different has to happen, and that may be where Clef has an advantage.

He's been around the world, has been educated in the US, and is an accomplished businessman. That should help him bring new eyes and a new vision of what Haiti can and should be as a country, the first Black-led independent country. La perle des Antilles, the Carribean Pearl.

Clef has charisma, he can make things move. He loves his country and can probably propose a vision that is much more optimistic than a politician could. Because, let's face it: in order for Haiti to get out of this mess, the people need a dream. They need hope, they need something to look up to, something drive for. Maybe it's education for all. Maybe it's rebuilding a new city, where everyone will have safe housing. Maybe it's a job for everyone who is willing and able to work. Maybe it's food on the table three times a day, every day. Maybe it's knowing that all your babies will reach adulthood, that they won't die of malnutrition or water poisoning or some other ailment brought on by poverty and famine. There has to be something more than waking up and barely being able to survive.

What Clef doesn't have, yet, is a team. If he were to be elected, I could see him as the leader. I could see him as the one pointing the way. I don't see him as the president, though. I don't see him as the one to make the difficult decisions about monetary policy, foreign affairs, and so on. He will need a solid team to whom he can say "This is what I want our country to look like. Tell me how we're going to do it." He has to be surrounded by people who will say "Let me find a way" not "We can't do that." Can he create that team? If so, does he have enough humility to stand back and say "OK, you know this better than I do. Explain to me how it works, do your thing, and I'll talk to the people."

Which could be another issue: Clef's French and Creole are not quite there yet. I won't say his Creole is "mawon" but will the people look past the accent if, indeed, he is able to lead the country efficiently? I don't know.

Can Clef draw enough money and machinery to clean up the rubble that is Port-au-Prince in order to let it rise from its ashes?

Can he do it in five years, which is all he is allowed to have under the current constitution?

Can he clean up his image quickly enough and make people forget about all the allegations surrounding his Yele Haiti foundation?

Is he ready? Is he able? We all know he's willing and that may be half the battle. He'll have to go through a lot of muckraking and mudslinging just to reach the vote. And it won't stop there, he'll probably still be attacked after the vote, if he wins. Will he be able to withstand it?

For most of these questions, I don't know.

How about the other singer, Sweet Micky? Can he make a decent president?  I don't know. I know he's charismatic, I know he can work a crowd, I've seen him do it. Unfortunately, the only images I have of Martelly is of a man so drunk on stage that he can barely stand straight, uttering a constant stream of profanity-laced ramblings. From what I hear, he has always been rather cozy with the richer and shadier individuals in power. To me, that doesn't bode well for his presidency.

As I mentioned in an interview after the earthquake, Haiti isn't lacking a president. What it's lacking is a leader. Préval was an awful leader during the earthquake. He was largely unseen, and unheard. He should have been on the radio, on TV, every day, to let the people know what was happening, what he was doing to clear this mess, and how he was planning on pulling the country out of yet another catastrophe.

There needs to be a severe change of direction in the country. But not so abrupt that it causes it to go past the tipping point and fall.


  1. I think Clef could and should play a leadership role in a constructive team in Haiti, like Preval had already put him 3 or 4 years ago. But the latest successful Haitian born, american raised to want to become an accepted candidate; Dumarsais Siméus, was completely whipped of the face of politics when he was refused by the CEP in 2006. A lot of observant then thought he had good enough credentials to be elected but was just dragged in mud and disappeared. In creole we would say; "tout vlé chèf" and in context it also means that it is more about every leadership role other than the presidency. So i think it is vital that they find a way to offer him the best suited role and position possible to help give the boost Haiti desperately needs instead of kicking him out witch is what might happen. In fact they should even create one considering his strength and his weaknesses and maybe be a little creative about the structure of power because great challenges command unexplored avenues.

  2. Karl, thanks for your comments.

    I agree that if Wyclef wants to join the race, he should be allowed to do so. Hey, Haiti is supposed to be a democratic country and in such a country, anyone who wants to lead should be given the chance, provided he/she fits the basic requirements.

    In Canada, if you're 18 you can be elected as prime minister.

    In the US, you must be native-born, at least 35, and must have resided 14 years in the country.

    In Haiti you must be native-born, never have renounced Haitian nationality, be aged 35 or more, must never have been imprisoned, own property in the country, live there, have lived in the country for five consecutive years, must not be in charge of public funds.

    I don't think they should bend the rules to let Clef in. The requirements are more stringent in Haiti than in Canada or the US, but they can't make special rules just for him.

    I'm not sure where I sit with regard to his presidency. I honestly don't know if he has what it takes. I do hope he stays in the race long enough for the world's eyes to be focused on the plight of the country.

    If his candidacy can bring only that, he'll have done a lot for the country already.