Wyclef Jean officially announced his bid for the presidency of his native Haiti on Thursday's (August 5) "Larry King Live." Word began to surface last month that he was considering a run for the position. The job comes with a five-year term that would likely keep him out of the music game until 2015.
If news of Jean's political ambitions caught anyone by surprise, they clearly haven't been paying attention to the former Fugees leader's non-musical efforts for the past 15 years.
While Wyclef — who was born outside the country's capital, Port-au-Prince, and raised in Brooklyn, New York — was one of the first celebrities to call for assistance for his Caribbean homeland in the wake of January's devastating earthquake, the 37-year-old has been at the forefront of Haitian relief for much of his career.
Back in 1997, when the Fugees — whose Pras Michel and Lauryn Hill also are of Haitian descent — were still riding high, the trio headlined a benefit concert in Port-au-Prince. The six-hour homecoming show drew more than 70,000 fans as it raised funds for Haitian refugees and artists. (MTV News followed the band to the island for the show, which you can relive here and here.)
Although there were accounting problems with the money raised from the benefit concert, they were mostly ironed out, and 'Clef was honored for his work helping underprivileged kids through the Wyclef Jean Foundation two years later. In the following years, Jean continued to raise funds for his foundation and frequently reminded his audience about the troubles affecting his homeland, from AIDS and poverty to political corruption.
In 2004, Jean started the Yele Haiti foundation, which distributed more than 3,600 scholarships to Haitian children in its first year and, at one point, announced plans to build a Wyclef Jean School of the Arts and a cultural center on the impoverished island. That same year, as Haiti suffered from a violent uprising against the government, 'Clef voiced support for Haitian rebels and called for the resignation of embattled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. 'Clef also addressed the country's AIDS problem and promised, through education and prevention, to help the nation's children avoid contracting the HIV virus.
The singer was named a roving ambassador in January 2007, charged with improving the image of the island, which is perennially tagged as the poorest in the western hemisphere. He and Akon closed out the year in Haiti with a fundraising concert dubbed the Yele Festival.
After Hurricane Ike hit Haiti in 2008, Yele delivered food and assistance to those impacted by the storm, and in October 2008, 'Clef performed with Carlos Santana in San Francisco to raise funds for the foundation.
It was in the early hours after January's earthquake that Jean really became Haiti's favorite son, when he issued urgent pleas for help though his Twitter account and in multiple TV and radio interviews. Within days, Yele had raised more than $2 million for Haitian relief via text message, as 'Clef continued to keep the topic at the forefront of the news with interviews about the devastation and his offer to co-anchor MTV Networks' "Hope for Haiti Now" telethon alongside George Clooney.
Bringing some of his Creole background to his performance with "Yele," Jean also gave a moving performance of the reggae classic "Rivers of Babylon," before returning to the island the next morning to help with recovery efforts. He also pitched in on the 25th-anniversary remake of "We Are the World," which benefited Haiti relief as well, and helped anchor BET's "SOS Saving Ourselves: Help for Haiti," alongside Mary J. Blige and Drake.
What do you think about Wyclef's decision to run for president of Haiti? Share your thoughts in the comments.