When Wyclef Jean released his new single, not many in the U.S. could figure out what it was all about. The hip-hop star sings it in Haitian Creole. But translated, the song reveals an angry Jean attacking the electoral council that disqualified him from running for president of Haiti, accusing the current head of state of being a deceptive “Lucifer” who betrayed him, and urging the country’s citizens to “remain mobilized.”
In the song, which he released via his Twitter account—accompanied by a demand for “equal rights and justice”—Jean argues that his disqualification amounted to a rejection of Haiti’s youth, “peasants,” and, indeed, entire population. NEWSWEEK asked two fluent Creole speakers to listen to the track and translate the lyrics, which have not been available in English. Singing slowly and deliberately on the guitar-laden tune that’s more protest song than hip-hop paean, Jean accuses outgoing president René Préval of engineering the Provisional Electoral Council’s ruling on Aug. 20 that barred the musician from the race. “Even though you say that the decision came from the Provisional Electoral Council, I know you hold all the cards./I voted for you for president in 2006, why do you reject my candidacy today?” Jean intones.
Evidently both hurt and outraged, Jean insists he will challenge his disqualification, singing, “The children of God cannot be barred,” in the song, titled “Prizon pou Kepa”—in English, “Prison for the CEP,” the acronym for the Provisional Electoral Council. (See below for a translation of the full song.) By choosing to sing in Haitian Creole, Jean jabs at critics who questioned his fluency in that dialect as well as in French, the colonial language. Immensely popular in his native country, the American-reared singer became an immediate frontrunner in a field of more than 30 candidates when he entered the race last month.
But his candidacy was derailed by a constitutional requirement that presidential candidates reside in Haiti for at least five years prior to an election. Jean claims he has done so, though evidence indicates he was a U.S. resident most of that time. According to Reuters, “Council officials said Jean, who left his homeland with his family at the age of 9 to live in the United States, did not meet residency requirements.”
Jean is not alone in claiming that Préval may have influenced the decision of the council, which he essentially appointed. But the panel also rejected more than a dozen other candidates. The list included Raymond Joseph, who is Jean’s uncle and, as Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, may have had more legitimate reasons for living abroad. Jean had vowed to appeal. “I cannot surrender now,” he said in a statement after the decision was announced. “My vision of a nation renewed and redeveloped is a vision for which I am willing to fight.”
But “Prizon pou Kepa” may be his only way of appealing—directly to the Haitian people. Samuel Pierre of the council's legal department told Reuters that, under Article 191 of Haiti's electoral law, rulings by the election authority's disputes tribunal are definitive and cannot be appealed. "Therefore there is absolutely no possibility for Wyclef Jean to be added to the list of candidates approved to run in the next presidential elections," Pierre said. "So it's over." An expert in Haitian law told NEWSWEEK the same thing. Regardless, Jean sings, “I won’t give up ... Face to face, lies lose.”
In demanding equal rights and justice, Jean may be hitting the right notes for a nation long troubled by corruption, despotic rule, and poverty. At the same time, it is not clear how being asked to meet constitutional residency requirements amounts to being singled out for injustice. Even as he prays for the help of the Archangel Gabriel in his song, it might seem to some that Jean, long accustomed to special treatment and perks as a pop star, may actually be demanding more-than-equal treatment under the law.
Wyclef Jean, “Prison for the CEP,” translated for NEWSWEEK:
I am going to challenge, going to challenge, going to court to challenge
Look, they disqualified Wyclef,
They say that Wyclef does not speak Creole. He’s the candidate from the diaspora.
Even my Haitian people, they curse me on Facebook, when they heard that I was running for president, they said Wyclef should be barred ...
Even the priests of the Catholic Church were shocked. They said I left Petit-Goâve for Les Cayes ...
All the weekend I was celebrated the feast of Our Lady. I disqualified.
Port Salut disqualified, children cried
There are activists/militants who said I made a deal with Préval.
But I didn’t do a deal with Préval,
It was a president asked to see a candidate. I could not refuse it ...
I only told him I’d come back. When I got there he served me coffee ...
He wanted to assure our friendship. He told me I was a good candidate.
He put me on the phone with Jude Celestin. We had a good talk.
Afterward Préval barred me.
Even though you say that the decision came from the Provisional Electoral Council, I know you hold all the cards.
I voted for you for president in 2006, why do you reject my candidacy today?
You didn’t reject Wyclef. You rejected the youth.
You didn’t reject Wyclef. You rejected the people.
You didn’t reject Wyclef. You rejected the fellow hawking sweets on the street.
You didn’t reject Wyclef. You rejected the peasants.
They rejected Wyclef. Some people say that I went to [the] Saut d’Eau [falls] to get some special powers.
But I just went there to bathe in the falls.
If I had gone there to get special powers, perhaps I would not have been disqualified.
The CEP [Provisional Electoral Council] disqualified me.
Don’t forget my father was a pastor. The God who is with me is stronger than Lucifer.
Lucifer is in control of the CEP. The Satan disqualified me. The children of God cannot be barred.
Fas a Fas. Youth for Youth. Front to Front. We want education for all for us to get there. In the schools, we want to get there. In the universities, we want to get there.
Youth sector, peasant sector, we will not allow them to trample on our rights. We must get there.
Black bandanna. Red bandanna. Red and blue.
We’re all the same. Haiti is our lady. Let it not break our hearts.
Before I go to bed, I always read a psalm.
I pray to Hosanna: get the people out from under the rubble, and send Archangel Gabriel to protect the women living in the tents where they are being raped ...
Wyclef Jean, indeed, I will continue to challenge the CEP. We must remain mobilized. I won’t give up.
Face to face, lies lose.