“We’ve had years of our leaders speaking French, where has that got us?”
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Singer Wyclef Jean officially announced his bid to be president of Haiti to a roaring crowd of supporters on Thursday, thrusting himself into a contentious race to lead an impoverished country reeling from a devastating earthquake.
At one point the hip hop artist-turned-politician bodysurfed on the hands of bandana-waving backers in Haiti’s capital and stepped onto a speaker truck to address the crowd of hundreds. Jean had submitted his candidacy papers 10 minutes before the provisional electoral office closed.
“America has Barack Obama and Haiti has Wyclef Jean,” shouted Jean, who was born in Haiti but raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. Many in the crowd wore T-shirts distributed by supporters. At times, Jean carried his daughter in his arms.
“It’s a moment in time and in history,” the singer told The Associated Press. “It’s very emotional.”
The former Fugees frontman enters a highly competitive and crowded race for a difficult and dangerous job. Only one person has completed a democratically elected 5-year term in Haiti’s history — current President Rene Preval — who is poised to do it again and hand it off to an elected successor.
The winner of the Nov. 28 general elections inherits a destroyed capital, 1.6 million homeless people and countless groups fighting over billions of dollars in international reconstruction funds pledged after a January earthquake that killed an estimated 300,000 people.
Jean originally planned to join the coalition of Pierre Eric Jean-Jacques, former Chamber of Deputies leader. But he switched at the last minute to Jean-Jacques’ brother’s party to make room for government planner Leslie Voltaire in Jean-Jaques’ coalition.