Jean CNN Interview Painful To Watch

As I watched the Wyclef Jean Interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, in which he declared his candidacy for the presidency of Haiti, the first thought that came to mind was a fight between Muhammad Ali at his prime, and an amateur welterweight from the local gym.

With what can only be described as “kid glove” treatment, and with perhaps a sympathetic if not apologetic undertone, Blitzer forewarned the erstwhile Haitian resident – Jean after all did leave his native land at the age of 9 to pursue the American dream that he is now professing to bring back with him to Haiti, that there were some tough questions coming.

Similar to Ali letting the amateur know that a hard uppercut was on the way, Blitzer deftly handled the interview so as to avoid it falling into an unctuous exchange of meaningless platitudes, while at the same time ensuring that CNN would avoid the obvious pitfalls associated with offending someone whose popularity amongst the Haitians is considerable.

Fortunately, I have no such restrictions governing my commentary.  Although I will say this, that should Jean’s presidency gain serious and legitimate traction, the somewhat genteel tone of this initial interview will ultimately give way to the kind of tough questioning we have come to expect from Blitzer.  In this regard, my advice to Jean would be to run . . . and I am not talking about for the presidency.

To start, what is this propensity on the part of Jean to talk about himself in the third person re “Wyclif Jean could sit with any political party, have a conversation and coming in neutral.”  I felt like I was watching “The Jimmy” segment from Seinfeld.  Can you imagine if President Obama or for that matter any other political leader talked about themselves in the third person?

Then after making a vague reference to Haiti’s tumultuous political history of corruption and violence with the statement that “200 years we have suffered the exact same thing” Jean, in support of his candidacy, offered what I can only describe as being a cross between “we’re the Pepsi generation” and the Life brand “try it you’ll like it” Mikey commercial, suggesting that “when you vote for Wyclef Jean you basically trying something new.”

In the event of course that you missed it with the previous comment, Jean then reminded us that he “represents the voice of the youth which is over 50% of the population.”  Unfortunately, and without having any real concept as to what this demographic really means, Jean’s candidacy appears to be one that is based on “cashing in” on his popularity.

As pointed out in my previous post, more than 70% of Haiti’s population is under the age of 30.  The reason that this is significant is that research (and history) indicates that “in countries in which 60% or more of the population is under the age of 30, there is an elevated risk for outbreaks of “civil conflict” or unrest and, autocratic governance.”

Coupled with rising unemployment and a rapidly growing urban population, Jean’s “trying something new” platform will quickly wilt in the face of the harsh realities of a nation in which 48% of the people are illiterate and 80% are living under the poverty line (54% in abject poverty).

There is no doubt that Jean’s celebrity and voice can play a role in rebuilding Haiti.  However, and at this incredibly crucial juncture in the republic’s history, it is important that we do not confuse popularity with political capability.

NOTE: follow our coverage of the Haitian presidential election on Twitter at #pihaiti

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