We need to cultivate our rich culture of entrepreneurship by increasing the availability of microcredit and simplifying
laws and bureaucracy.
By WYCLEF JEAN
nine years old when I left Haiti for New York City, taking with me memories of
long days spent playing with cousins and friends. We were happy-go-lucky kids
even though we were surrounded by poverty and deprivation. As I grew up, I
realized that my childhood was like Haiti itself: full of optimism despite
storms of economic, political and environmental adversity.
I am running
for president because this little nation with big problems and even bigger heart
can no longer wait to turn a corner. After the January earthquake, people around
the world were glued to their TVs, awed by the grace, dignity and hope of the
Haitian people as their capital crumbled around them. And while I don't pretend
to be a miracle worker, I wholeheartedly believe that at this important time in
Haiti's history, I am the right person to put the country on the road to the
brighter future it so desperately needs and deserves.
Some will question
my lack of political experience. I will tell them that being a nontraditional
candidate is one of my greatest advantages. My only loyalty is to the well-being
of the Haitian people; my only agenda is to help the country I love grow and
prosper. And while running for office may be new to me, my commitment to Haiti
is part of my DNA.
Throughout the world, my efforts on behalf of Haiti
are as well known as my musical accomplishments. Yéle Haiti, the NGO I
co-founded in 2005, has given me a unique opportunity to work side by side with
Haitians from all walks of life, to hear their concerns, ideas and dreams, and
to see their daily challenges with my own eyes.
Though the needs are
many, I believe there are four basic but urgent priorities we must address first
in order to begin transforming Haiti socially, politically and
• Security: People cannot even consider building better
lives unless they feel safe. In Haiti, more than a million earthquake victims
are still living in tents and other temporary encampments. The harsh and
unsanitary living conditions increase the risk of injury, disease and crime.
Though the ultimate goal is permanent housing, of course, we must at a minimum
put people in secure shelters as soon as possible.
• International aid:
Foreign governments pledged $5.3 billion to Haiti after the earthquake, but only
9% of it has shown up. Haiti needs a president who can turn promises into
reality—someone who will crisscross the earth and convince world leaders to
deliver on their promises to the Haitian people.
• Job creation: Haitians
need jobs, and there are jobs to be done in Haiti. We must train a generation of
engineers, tradesmen and carpenters who can improve our roads, water, sewers and
other infrastructure while supporting themselves and their families. We also
need to cultivate Haiti's rich culture of entrepreneurship by increasing the
availability of microcredit and simplifying laws and bureaucracy.
Education: Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world, yet 90% of
students must pay for school after first grade. Moving forward means changing
education from a privilege to a birthright, and establishing schools to teach
technology and other 21st-century skills.
I have already begun to make
progress in all of these areas. Since the earthquake, Yéle's emergency relief
and community programs have distributed about 500,000 gallons of water per month
and fed between 4,500 and 7,000 people every week. Yéle's scholarship program
has put thousands of children in school. As Haiti's goodwill ambassador—a
position to which I was appointed by Haiti's president in 2007—I have tapped my
contacts, recognition and resources to bring money and publicity to Haiti. The
presidency is a springboard to do even more for Haiti's nine million
The presidency will also give me a chance to help redefine
Haitians' role in the political process and empower them to take a more active
part in shaping their future. The most valuable lesson I learned from running
Yéle is that Haiti's greatest asset is the energy of its people, at home and
throughout the diaspora. By turning government of the people into a movement by
the people, I know we can overcome challenges that may have seemed impossible in
There is a reason why our national motto is "L'union fait la
force"—"Strength through unity." There are no instant fixes or easy solutions,
but there are plenty of creative new approaches to explore as we work together
to make Haiti better.
Mr. Jean, a Grammy Award-winning musician, is
co-founder of the Yéle Haiti Foundation.