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Craig and Marc Kielburger Headshot

Is "Wyclef for President" best for Haiti?

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One thing is certain, Wyclef Jean has the best campaign song-cum-platform of Haiti's Presidential candidates.

"Instead of spending billions on the war, I can use that money so I can feed the poor," rapped the artist in his song, If I Were President. "Cause I know some poor when it rains, that's when they shower."

Jean might have to live those words. Haiti is holding elections in November and the Haitian-born musician has entered the race.

Stranger things have happened. Entertainers like Sonny Bono, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse "the Body" Ventura won elected office. Plus, the 28 years Jean spent living in the United States after immigrating at nine-years-old is less than Michael Ignatieff's 30-year absence.

But, this is the presidency of the poorest country in the western hemisphere, not a concert tour stop. Haiti has millions allotted to food aid and thousands of people living in refugee camps with hurricane season bringing more than showers.

Novelty of "President Wyclef" aside, Jean has whittled canvassing down to an art-form. Why announce your candidacy on the Haitian television station you own when Larry King gets more viewers? Many hope this proficiency and his celebrity spotlight will guilt the international community into actually delivering their aid commitments.

No matter who wins the election, Haiti's president will be forced to play the role of part-time debt collector. But, it's astonishing that solicitation has become a prime qualification. It's stranger that people the world over want to award leadership to an inexperienced entertainer who spent most of his life living in the United States.

"I would worry that everyone would vote for Jean just because they want to see a star become president," says Eroode Jean-Baptiste, a Haitian working as a chauffeur for an NGO. "Haitians are always looking for a hero."

With Port-au-Prince still unfit for building, Haiti's culture of dependence is being perpetuated. The international community is largely to blame. By July, less than two per cent of the $5.3 billion pledged in March was delivered. Progress is painfully slow. Amidst frustrated complaints, one local engineer said he estimates three to five years before the rubble is cleared and five to 10 before large-scale rebuilding begins.

Yet, few are leaving the IDP camps to rebuild in the rural areas. Instead, they are turning tents into homes waiting for the promised salvation of aid dollars.

Families are marking plots of land 10 feet by 10 feet with rocks. They estimate their tents will last two years and are worth more than the shacks they rented in Port-au-Prince's former slums. With food aid and free education more abundant around the city, they see little reason to leave and start farming in the surrounding rural areas. Many hope the Americans will just take control and turn Port-au-Prince into a new Miami.

But, Haitians aren't the only ones looking for a hero. If a rap star as president seems odd, what about a former American president?

Development economist Paul Collier has called for a temporary development authority with power to act headed by Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton. Canada implicitly approved the idea. In July, International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda advertised our more than $1 billion aid commitment to Haiti, but was reluctant to commit more until she and Clinton had a face-to-face meeting.

This attitude is just as disheartening as the dreams of Port-au-Price turning into Miami. As Haiti struggles with this culture of dependence, the international community is also fruitlessly searching for a Superman.

The reality is that Canada can move ahead without Clinton's blessing. The international community can deliver its aid commitments without Jean's solicitation. Haiti can rebuild without ceding power.

It's disheartening that a culture of dependence prevails. What's absurd is that we perpetuate it.

This is why the international community must deliver on its commitments. That way, whoever becomes president can stop acting as a collection agent and start helping Haiti help itself.

Call us idealist, but stranger things have happened.