Wyclef Jean: The hip-hop star bidding to run Haiti

Wyclef Jean, the Haitian-born hip hop superstar, plans to run for the country's president. So what are his chances of winning?

Ravaged and ruined by the earthquake that hit in January, destitute Haiti "now has another force of nature heading its way", observes The Times. Wyclef Jean, the Haitian-born hip hop superstar, plans to run for president. "America has Barack Obama and Haiti has Wyclef Jean," he proclaimed to "crazed" fans as his cavalcade swept through the shattered streets of Port-au-Prince last week.

However, Clef, as he's known, is hardly on peak form professionally, says The Independent on Sunday. His music career peaked with the Fugees in the mid-1990s, and subsequent solo albums have been "a study in the art of diminishing returns". So what makes him think he's qualified to run for the presidency of Haiti? In a word, vocation, says Time. The son of a Nazarene preacher, who emigrated to New York when he was nine, Jean likens himself to "a modern-day Moses, destined to return and lead his people out of bondage". He views the earthquake, which killed more than 200,000 people, as the biblical event that sealed his calling.

Critics, noting that Jean disappeared soon after the quake, view his candidacy as a publicity stunt. "I haven't seen or heard anything of him in the six months I was in Haiti," says Sean Penn, the US actor who ran a camp for 50,000 earthquake survivors. There are also concerns about Jean's financial probity. He is said to owe some $2.1m in back taxes. The "stickiest accusations", says The Guardian, relate to his charitable foundation, Yle Haiti established long before the quake which stands accused of diverting funds into Jean's own businesses. Payments include $250,000 to TV station Telemax, which Jean co-purchased in 2000, and more than $100,000 paid for a "benefit concert". Questions are now being asked about the $9m the fund raised for earthquake relief, says The Times.

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Still, there's no doubting Jean's attachment to Haiti, says Time. Despite his Brooklyn and New Jersey upbringing (he recalls weekly "beat up a Haitian days" at school), Clef has always been "unabashedly proud" of his heritage, and never took US citizenship. His parents steered him towards music. He boasts that he learned to play 15 instruments, eventually forming the Fugees (the name is short for refugee) with his cousin Pras Michel, and singer Lauryn Hill.

The Fugees break came in 1996 with their second album, The Score, which sold 18 million copies and shot them to stardom. They soon disbanded, but Jean continued to weave Haitian rhythms and popular protest lyrics into his work, earning him the badge: "Haiti's Bob Marley".

Given his financial track record, some people ask whether Jean, 40, "is the right man to run a country rife with corruption and instability", says The Independent on Sunday. But there's no stopping him. The election is in November. "Ready or not, here he comes."

What are his chances of winning?

Wyclef Jean's presidential candidacy is the most improbable bid for political power "since the soccer star George Weah sought Liberia's presidency in 2005, or Arnold Schwarzenegger first ran for governor of California in 2003", says Martin Fletcher in The Times. He is asking to govern "the poorest and most wretched" country in the western hemisphere, "a synonym for violence, corruption and Aids, even before it was struck by the worst natural catastrophe of modern times".

Jean has made a good start, identifying "four policy pillars" of education, job creation, agriculture and security, says Peter Beaumont in The Observer. But there isn't much in his CV to suggest he's equipped for the challenge of rebuilding Haiti. He shrugs this inexperience off. "People will say, 'Man, Clef, what does he know about politics?' All I know is that I'm a natural leader and I will surround myself with top-notch policy experts."

Jean speaks neither French nor Creole, notes the FT. His trump electoral card is that his international standing will enable him to form "a bridge" between Haiti and its 850,000-strong diaspora "often cited as a key resource that Haiti must tap". Remittances from migrs already account for more than a quarter of GDP.

In fact, Jean and his reformist party, Viv Ansanm (Live Together) have every chance of winning, says Tim Padgett in Time. "Pop-culture celebrity hardly disqualifies one from high office"; and in Haiti, where half the nine million population is under 25, "it's an asset as golden as a rapper's chains" particularly given the "epic shortcomings" of the ruling political class. Most Haitians consider President Ren Prval "to have been all but AWOL since the quake". There's a feeling on the streets that Jean "could do no worse than the old guard and could shake things up for the better".