Kenya police to rescue Haiti from gang violence
Kenya is preparing to send 1000 police officers to Haiti, leading a multinational security force to help restore order in the impoverished and gang-ridden Caribbean nation. The UN Security Council approved the mission on 2nd October, with a vote from which veto-wielding China and Russia abstained.
In an interview with the BBC a few days before the vote, Alfred Mutua, Kenya’s foreign minister, said the mission would commence at the beginning of 2024. In the meantime, the selected officers are getting French lessons and, presumably, the necessary training. For, though they have deep experience tackling terrorists and policing slums in Kenya, Haiti is a world away from their usual beat.
The roots of Haiti’s woes, as is well known, run deep, spanning centuries of almost non-stop tragedy, both natural and man-made. However, the current gang infestation has become particularly acute over the last two years. It burst onto the international limelight following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, and has become so bad that gangs now control most of Port-au-Prince, the capital.
In October 2022, Haiti’s overwhelmed government put out a call for international security assistance to tame the gang menace. This was not the first such call; they had made at least two other such calls following the assassination of Mr Moïse, which was followed a month later by an earthquake. Both went unheeded.
Out of the blue
The latest call was echoed by the United Nations, but also went unheeded until July 2023, when Kenya, seemingly out of the blue, stepped forward with an offer to send officers and lead any other willing countries to pacify Haiti. According to Mr Mutua, Kenya did this only after Haiti reached out directly, and did so purely for altruistic reasons, to “assist our brothers and sisters.”
Like all utterances from diplomats, his words should be taken with a healthy helping of salt. Kenya’s brotherhood with Haiti is a fat fiction. The two countries have no historical ties worth a jot, and their citizens speak different languages. Neither does ancestry link them, for the slaves whose descendants populate Haiti came primarily from West Africa. They didn’t even have formal diplomatic relations until last month.
Moreover, Kenya lacks the resources to back a foreign intervention at this scale, especially so far away from home. In fact, though other countries are signing on, including a number of Caribbean states that have committed a few hundred more officers to the mission, primary funding will come from the United States – US$100 million in direct funds, and another US$100 million in the form of intelligence, airlifts, communications, and medical assistance.
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The whole affair, whose boldness is only topped by its novelty, is therefore as much an American initiative as it is Kenyan. That Kenya is fronting it is probably a function of the fact that America and its Western cronies, having failed Haiti egregiously multiple times in the past, have so soiled their reputation in the country that they can no longer do anything there without being undercut by local opposition.
Or maybe this was the only way to get past the Security Council’s recent Ukraine crisis-induced gridlock. Although the UN’s approval isn’t necessary for interventions of this sort, Kenya insisted on getting one to give it the weight of international law. An overtly American-led initiative would have been torpedoed by China and Russia; both countries, however, are keen curry favour with African countries.
In any case, there is no question that Haiti needs this assistance. Gangs, many of them equipped with guns imported from the United States, have overrun the country and overwhelmed its 9,500-strong police force. They routinely terrorise civilians, and have killed thousands in the last year alone. The rot is quite deep, since even political parties are affiliated with some of the gangs.
Of course, the initiative isn’t uncontroversial. For instance, Haiti hasn’t held elections in years, which means the government of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who took over as interim leader after Mr Moïse’s death, lacks an electoral mandate. Some local activists, who have been calling on the government to step down, have painted Kenya’s intervention as a foreign plot to prop up an illegitimate regime.
But this is absurd. The government simply can’t step down; the resulting power vacuum would make the present security situation seem like a picnic. Nor is it in a position to conduct elections in the current environment. It is a tad unreasonable to expect a country whose main seaport and capital city are controlled by gangs to secure the complicated logistics of a nationwide election.
A more valid concern is the question of Kenya’s suitability for the task. Its police force doesn’t exactly have the world’s best human rights record. Just a few months ago, in July, some of its officers were credibly accused of killing up to 30 civilians during anti-government protests. One of my neighbours is a young gentleman who is still in crutches because the police broke his leg then.
However, even this weakness must be set against the fact that, for nearly a year, no other country stepped up to help Haiti. For all of Kenya’s failures, Haiti’s present predicament is in no way better than it would be if it had a dose of Kenyan-style policing, warts and all. Of course, one can only hope that Kenya’s officers will put their best feet forward during this assignment.
Not doing so would merely add them to the long list of international interventions that have failed to bring meaningful change to Haiti. And that, arguably, would soil not just Kenya’s reputation, but also that of the rest of Africa. This is a golden chance for them to demonstrate that Africa has more to contribute to the world than the usual cocktail of tragedy, war and poverty that foreign news media tends to focus on.
As things stand, there is no saying yet whether the mission will succeed. Only time will tell. But all decent people should wish Kenya well, and hope that it successfully helps claw Haiti back from the claws of gangs. The people of Haiti deserve this.
Mathew Otieno is a Kenyan writer, blogger and dilettante farmer. Until 2022, he was a research communications coordinator at a university in Nairobi, Kenya. He now lives in rural western Kenya, near the shores of Lake Victoria, from where he's pursuing a career as a full-time writer while concluding his dissertation for a master's degree. His first novel is due out this year.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
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