In the wake of the earthquakes in Haiti, Haitian-American rapper Wyclef Jean has taken a prominent and sometimes troubled stand as he attempts to aid Haitians and galvanize Americans to support. As both a celebrity and philanthropist--his charity, the Yele Haiti Foundation, has worked in Haiti since 2005--Jean has quickly become an informal, high-profile representative of Haiti to an American public eager to help. But as the severity of the quakes and their aftermath mount, both Jean and Yele have struggled under the incredible need in Haiti and the subsequent scrutiny in America. Yele, for which Jean raised millions this week, has come under fire for suspicious finances and a poor track record of providing effective relief.
An outspoken celebrity no stranger to cameras, Jean has made very public his personal turmoil in seeing his country in ruins and in watching his charity degraded. American commentators have struggled as well, unsure whether to treat the story with the scorn and scrutiny typically reserved for celebrity scandals, or to cover it with the seriousness and restraint usually afforded humanitarian disasters. Jean
- The Case Against Yele The Washington Post's Susan Kinzie reports, "an analysis of the charity's tax returns raises questions about how it has spent money in the past, with administrative expenses that appear to be higher than comparable charities and payments to businesses owned by the musician and a board member, including $100,000 for a performance by Jean at a 2006 benefit concert." She finds several other instances of Yele paying Jean-owned businesses. Charity watchdog official Dean Zerbe tells the Post, "It seems clear that a significant amount of the monies that this charity raises go for costs other than providing benefits to Haitians in need. [...] It brings real caution for donors that want to help in Haiti that they might want to take a harder look at this organization."
- Jean Defends In a press conference, Jean defended Yele, conceding mistakes had likely been made but denying wrongdoing or personal gain. He is calm until discussing the situation in Haiti, when he begins to tear up. Video:
- This Is How Non-Profits Work Reason Magazine's Tim Cavanaugh is sympathetic. "Non-profit management is an ugly business under the best conditions. There are few major charities where you won't find most of the pennies on your donated dollar diverted to waste, rent-seeking, politicking and other forms of institutional self-perpetuation," he writes. "[M]ost charities, like most everythings, are failures, and despite Yéle's previous poor performance it could still succeed with its new windfall."
- Jean Means Well, But Yele Fails Politics Daily's Emily Miller is among many to draw that conclusion. "I think Jean is sincere in his love of his homeland, and the many years dedicated to helping the poverty-stricken Haitians proves his heart is in the right place. But questions remain: Is his charity truly delivering relief and aid to the needy with minimum overhead in administrative and other expenses incurred by Jean and his staff?" She answers that other charities, such as Doctors Without Borders, do so more efficiently.
- In Over His Head Christian Science Monitor's David Grant says the job of rebuilding Haiti is simply better left to bigger relief agencies. "[L]arger and long-standing aid groups have the logistical expertise and staff on hand to manage the chaos of large-scale relief operations, when simply getting aid into the hands of the needy can be a daunting challenge and keeping track of resources and staff are a constant battle." He adds that other groups can put a much greater percentage of donations towards relief work as opposed to administrative costs.
- Jean's Hubris and Yele's Failures Gawker's John Cook has been hitting hard with a series of lengthy pieces eviscerating Yele's work and Jean personally. "Jean's aspirations for his foundation, Yele Haiti, to be more than just a celebrity vanity project have long been outstripped by realities on the ground," Cook writes, citing a parade of people familiar with Yele who call the foundation a poorly run "joke." Cook echoes the "fear that Jean's celebrity and very real desire to help his homeland are diverting scarce resources from more capable and transparent organizations." Cooke added, "despite raising somewhere on the order of $1 million per day under the pretense of providing emergency relief, Yele Haiti hasn't spent one dollar yet on earthquake relief." Cooke's most recent recounts, in a detailed 1,800 word piece, the petty personal and financial squabbles during Yele's start-up.
- Jean Calls For 'Exodus' In his defense of Yele above, Jean announced, "In 48 hours, the U.S. Army could probably set up 100,000 tents. So I
think the first solution is, we need a massive exodus outside of
Port-au-Prince, with the help of the Haitian government identifying
land where these people can go to. This massive exodus will allow a
swifter cleaning process so that we can start getting these demolition
trucks in, the logistics in, so we can start to do our work."
He continues on Twitter: "We need an Exodus out of da capital, N the U S army need to set up tents outside the capital 4 my people get da tents I will have dem exit. [...] 6.1 Earthquake again We need 2 evacuate people out side of the Capital. 2 n open field with tents through out haiti, I'm Asking 4 a Exodus [...] buildings falling N da Capital of haiti , but n order 2 clean up da capital we need a massive Exodus. I am calling on da US Army."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.