Is the Haitian electorate stupider than any other?

Crowd of Cité Soleil residents trying to access aid back in January (Thony Belizaire, AFP)

Let’s assume from the outset that being illiterate means you don’t know how to read, not that you lack common sense.  Let’s assume that before the printing press hit the scene in the 1400s, human beings had figured out that, say, being a priest and being a merchant required different skillsets.

I’ve just read the umpteenth U.S. article about Wyclef Jean, which suggests he has a good chance of becoming president. He might. I just haven’t come across any convincing evidence that a large swath of the Haitian population thinks about Jean nearly as much as his American counterparts do. Key words: large swath. Please tell me in comments if I am wrong.

The Wyclef hype seems American media-made.  The hype also presumes that Wyclef, a musician with no experience in running a company or in politics, is a shoe-in because the Haitian population is largely illiterate and predominantly under-30.  Since when did illiteracy and youth mean the loss of all powers of discernment?

I’m not so much interested in Wyclef as in observers’ opinions of the Haitian public.  Yes, illiteracy presents a host of problems for any population but one of them is not the inability to discern the minimum experience necessary to run a country.  Is it not fair to assume that the Haitian public knows that whomever occupies the National Palace needs to be able to hold his own, not just on stage but also, in a private room with the likes of their business elite as well as rainmakers like former US president Bill Clinton?  Serious question. If it isn’t explain why so.

I’m not one to trust any electorate.  I’m coming off a decade of George W. Bush who got into office not once but twice.  I understand however, based on evidence, why Americans voted for him.  I don’t yet see credible evidence, at least in American coverage, of which way the Haitian voting public is likely to swing, if and why they’re enamored of Wyclef or even what they want from their next president.

And on a personal, skeptical note: I’m also wary of the fact that there’s no polling of the Haitian public.  Instead, reporting relies heavily on man-on-the-street interviews as well as expert opinion without sufficient explanation of who these people are or their past political affiliations–in a country with highly partisan and violent politics.  So I find myself reading a lot but coming away with no useful information, no clearer understanding of what’s happening on the ground.

Maybe it’s just me.

14 Comments to “Is the Haitian electorate stupider than any other?”

  1. All this publicity about Wyclef becoming president is a rouse, a smoke screen to distract peolpe from the issue of illegally banning the Famm Lavalas party from participating in the elections. These will NOT be FREE AND FAIR elections.

  2. I think one of the things that foreign journalists have to realize is that the same person wearing the Yele or Fas a Fas shirt today, will be wearing the shirt of a different party next week. Haitians don’t hold the same level of loyalty to a party or brand as those in the US. They don’t see a long term ramification of being photographed with a shirt endorsing something or someone. Hence, you will never know for sure how many supporters any candidate has until the day of the elections.

  3. Makes sense… even the youngest of children… even infants know when things are going bad around them. But the illiterate will also be the most gullable. Going for the fastest talking person with the shiny objects. And can be convinced that their time to prosper is coming. Because that person doesn’t know any better, they have nothing to go on except to believe that person until a faster talking person comes around and makes more promises. It would be a never ending cycle of manipulation which can possibly be even more dangerous if that power is put in the wrong hands.

    • I think the gullability of which you speak is due to extreme poverty, to not having a pot to piss in–not illiteracy. I feel like people confuse the two. In my experience, people who have nothing tend to live by their wits, i.e. common sense, a lot more than those who’re comfortable and live in well-ordered worlds where the buses run on time.

      • Nah… I mean literally, people who don’t know any better so they follow who sounds like they know what they saying. All that other stuff I look at it as a natural instinct. Like a cat knowing to shit in a kitty litter pan. If its trained enough times, it would eventually figure out what to do. Even if there was no clocks, something would trigger eventually (at least those with survival instincts) that this bus comes when the sun is this high up or when this many cars drive across… or something to distinguish. But when people as a whole cannot form their oen opinion because they cannot dissect the info on their own and formulate their own opinion, that gets dangerous because they can only depend on the next person that they perceive is smarter and so on until the buck stops at who would more than likely be their leader. Because no matter what they may watch on the tv or what neighbors say, there will always be a spin on it whether it be an flat out opinion, a speaking tone, a facial expression…. even down to the background music before a news broadcast comes on… something is triggered to drive some sort of emotion or opinion that is not their own. And I say that it is dangerous because there have been many leaders and dictators who have taken a gullable public and driven them to do terrible things or be able to drain their economy for their own selfish purposes.

  4. I actually do think that if allowed to run, Wyclef would have a good chance of winning, or at least winning in the large urban areas. But that is my personal opinion. You’re right, Carla, that it would be good to see some actual polls and real statistics being used to analyze this stuff. It’s fine for people to sit around debating what they think will happen, but you’d think journalists would do a little more work than that.

  5. I cross-post on Haiti Rewired and I’m re-posting a portion of a comment there:

    “You don’t need to be literate to listen to radio, watch TV, talk with friends and family. You don’t need to be literate to hear political candidates promise stuff then observe that they fail to deliver.

    You don’t need to be literate to get a job, although it helps. … There are degrees of illiteracy. I am not seeing that distinction in Haitian statistics.

    You don’t need to be literate to witness break downs in security and liberties.

    We all have several senses and a brain. I have heard that people who have lost the use of a sense, like sight or hearing, get the others developed with greater acuity, because they are used, exercised more. I suspect that people who cannot read or write, may have developed other portions of their brains better, such as remembering details. Literate people may be more likely to believe politician lies that are currently in print. Illiterate may be more likely to remember historical truth.”

  6. I have been hearing this buzz about wyclef potentially becoming president of haiti and it is hard to guage how legit this really is and how much of it is just us creating something out of nothing. But I can say that if the voting public in haiti is like in america than he has no chance. I’m almost sure that the reason wyclef is even mentioned right now is because of the younger potential voters. Keyword in that is potential because I think it is highly likely that the same people talking him up probably isn’t going to get up and vote. The key to his victory is what the older citizens think of him. I’m sure the whole country has an idea who he is but do they see him as that step away from traditional politics that has seemed to fail them well before the earthquake shattered their infastructure or do they see him in the same light as older people in ny see puffy? I’m sure they respect what he achieved but would any of them take him seriously as a political contender?
    It is not to say that it is totally out of the question… minnesota elected a wrestler a governor as well as a comedian as a senator. California elected an action star as a governor. And there is a us city (I wish I remembered where it was) that elected a teeneger as its mayor. So it is not out of the realm of possibilities that he can do the improbable.
    But on election day in haiti… get your popcorn ready.

  7. Don’t think there is any. Ate fritai with some teenagers from Delmas last night and they all told me, “Wyclef is an artist, he’s a good artist, so he should stay making music – he shouldn’t be President. That’s for others.”

  8. I don’t even think you have to go out to the provinces. Why is P-au-P assumed to be locked down for Wyclef? On what evidence?

  9. It’s not just you. If journalists would get out into the provinces I’m pretty sure they’d find hardly anyone gives a damn about Wyclef, if they know who he is. I keep telling people that…

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