Now you see it; now you don’t affair: Kenya will still deploy police force in Haiti as the West keeps off the hot potato. 

  • 14 Mar 2024
  • 4 Mins Read
  • 〜 by James Ngunjiri

Kenya will still lead a UN-backed multinational police force in the Caribbean country of Haiti to help quell gang violence once a transitional presidential council is formed. 

President William Ruto, on March 13, said in a post on X (Twitter) that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had briefed him on the latest developments in Haiti and that he assured him of Kenya’s commitment to deploy a police force to the Caribbean country. 

A statement from the US Department of State, Office of the Spokesperson, on March 13, attributed to spokesperson Matthew Miller stated that Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Kenyan President William Ruto to discuss the expeditious deployment of the Multinational Security Support mission to provide security and stability to Haitian people, including immediate next steps to facilitate deployment.

“Secretary Blinken and President Ruto underscored the United Nations Security Council’s stated expectation that the Multinational Security Support mission to Haiti deploys as soon as possible to provide support to the Haitian National Police. Secretary Blinken updated President Ruto on commitments by the United States and other international partners to support the mission,” the statement indicated.

A day earlier, Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Korir Sing’oei had said the government had put on hold the deployment of 1,000 police officers until a clear administration is in place in Haiti. This announcement was made after Haiti Prime Minister Ariel Henry said he would resign once a presidential council was created. 

The Prime Minister agreed to resign following weeks of mounting pressure and increased violence in Haiti. The resignation announcement came after regional leaders met in Jamaica on March 11 to discuss a political transition in Haiti. Mr Henry is currently in Puerto Rico after being prevented by armed gangs from returning home. He has not been allowed back into Haiti after leaving the country in late January for visits to Kenya and Guyana, where he signed a deal on the deployment of an international security force to help tackle violence in his country. 

On January 26, the High Court ruled that any decision by any state organ or state officer to deploy police officers to Haiti contravenes the Constitution and the law and is therefore unconstitutional, illegal and invalid. The High Court went further to issue an order prohibiting the deployment of police force to Haiti or any other country. 

Gang leader promises to fight on 

On March 13, Jimmy Cherizier, a powerful Haitian gang leader popularly known as “Barbecue”, said his coalition of armed groups did not care about Mr Henry’s resignation. “We are going to continue the fight for Haiti’s liberation,” Barbecue said to a Spanish-language network W Radio

Barbecue is a former police officer and faces sanctions from both the UN and the US Department of Treasury.

The violence in Haiti has forced tens of thousands to flee their homes in the past few weeks, adding to the more than 300,000 people already displaced by gang violence. The violence has also affected the distribution of essential supplies by aid organisations. For instance, the World Food Programme (WFP) has suspended its maritime transport services in Port-au-Prince from distributing aid across Haiti due to the instability. 

Additionally, the country’s healthcare system is near collapse, and many medical centres have been forced to reduce their operations due to violence and lack of personnel and medicine. 

Already, Guyana President Irfaan Ali, who heads the regional bloc the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), has said the crisis in Haiti was likely beyond the capacity that Caribbean militaries could handle. “The situation in Haiti tells you how ill-prepared we were as a region.” France 24, a French state-owned international news television network based in Paris quoted him at a University of Guyana event in Georgetown. “We are scrambling to put together joint command, joint operation.”

West evacuates its people

The US and other diplomatic missions have begun evacuating personnel from Haiti as gang violence continues in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. On March 10, the US military conducted an operation to airlift what it called non-essential personnel from the US embassy and to bolster the security of its mission in the capital. President Joe Biden had approved the operation, according to a National Security Council spokesperson who said President Biden remains “deeply concerned” about the situation. 

CNN also reported that German and European Union missions in Port-au-Prince had also evacuated diplomatic staff, including their ambassadors.

What awaits Kenyan police in Haiti

Last year, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Haiti is experiencing a multi-faceted security and humanitarian crisis that he called “a living nightmare”. The country’s capital city is estimated that 80 percent of it is either controlled or regularly terrorised by heavily armed gangs.

These gangs have names in the Haitian Creole language, such as “Kraze Barya” (Barrier-Crusher) and “Gran Grif” (Big Claw). The gangs have over the past two years, been robbing, looting, extorting, kidnapping, raping, and killing.

These gangs use automatic guns smuggled in mostly from the US, and the gang members often out-gun the police and burn their vehicles and police stations. The gangs conduct regular raids along the main routes in and out of the capital city. 

How will Kenya benefit? 

The UN-backed multinational police force missions will raise Kenya’s global profile, and the country stands to benefit economically from leading them. Kenya also hopes to gain favour from the US.  

How previous foreign interventions fared

Haiti, founded by former slaves, was a French Caribbean colony and was the first Black republic in the world to gain independence in 1804, after a revolution that began in 1791. The country has a history of foreign interventions.

The first one was when the US invaded and occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934, sending in marines and military administrators. Other US military interventions occurred in 1994 and 2004 to “defend democracy” and “restore order”, according to the US government. These interventions made many Haitians wary of outside interference, especially those involving the US. 

Between 2004 and 2017, the UN’s peacekeeping mission was marred by allegations of sexual assault by its troops and staffers and peacekeepers from Nepal were blamed for introducing cholera into Haiti’s largest river in October 2010 by sewage runoff from their base. The UN acknowledged it played a role in the epidemic and that it had not done enough to help fight it, but failed to specifically acknowledge it introduced the disease.  

The big question: Will the Kenya-led UN-backed multinational police force succeed where others have failed?