‘It’s mission impossible’: fear grows in Kenya over plan to deploy police to Haiti

‘It’s mission impossible’: fear grows in Kenya over plan to deploy police to Haiti

Haiti’s raging gang insurrection has prompted growing concern in Kenya over plans to deploy hundreds of paramilitary police officers from the East African country on a UN-backed multinational mission to counter the violence.

“If they come back in body bags, what will [Kenya’s president, William Ruto] tell the nation?” said Ekuru Aukot, leader of the opposition Thirdway Alliance, who last year filed a legal challenge against the deployment.

The mission, which was slated to begin in early 2024, has faced intense public and legal scrutiny in Kenya, especially since the country’s high court ruled against the deployment, arguing that a deployment would be unlawful for lack of a “reciprocal agreement” between the two countries.

The resignation of Haiti’s embattled prime minister, Ariel Henry, threw up yet another roadblock, after armed groups formed a united front to force him from office, launching attacks on key infrastructure like international airports, police stations and prisons.

That insurrection began while Henry was in Kenya, signing a deal intended to clear the legal obstacles facing the deployment. And despite his resignation, violence has only escalated: gangs now control 80% of the capital, and thousands of Haitian officers have abandoned their posts fearing for their lives.

The spiraling bloodshed has revived public concerns over the safety of the Kenyan officers being deployed. Reports also emerged earlier this month that some of the Kenyan paramilitaries scheduled for deployment had dropped out.

“The [Kenyan] public is much more concerned now given the meltdown in the security situation,” said Murithi Mutiga, Africa program director at the International Crisis Group.

“The context is much more forbidding,” said Mutiga. “State institutions have essentially crumbled and the gangs have built up this unprecedented unity. That makes it infinitely more challenging than when the mission was authorised.”

Authorities in Nairobi paused the plan following Henry’s resignation, citing a “fundamental change in circumstances in Haiti” and “complete breakdown of law and order”.

But Kenyan authorities have indicated an intention to press on with the mission once Haitian political factions have agreed on a transitional council. Opposition leaders have promised further legal challenges, and criticised the perceived government “secrecy” around the deal, which has not been made public.

Opposition figures have also questioned why the country’s elite forces are being sent abroad while security challenges at home go unaddressed.

“We have to balance interests: is this a luxury we can afford?” asked Aukot. “Why are we going to put out a fire elsewhere when our house is on fire?”

Kenya’s acceptance of the Haiti mission baffled many ordinary Kenyans, especially as several other countries, including Canada and Brazil, had declined to lead the operation.

Kenya has participated in other peacekeeping operations in recent decades – including in neighbouring Somalia and DRC – and the mission reflects the Ruto government’s interest in building up the country’s international profile. Observers also see Kenya’s involvement as a way of maintaining relations with the US – and securing security support. The US has pledged $300m (£238m) in intelligence, logistical and medical support.

Kenyan leaders describe the mission as a moral obligation. There is wide sympathy, among Kenyans familiar with Haiti’s history, for the struggles the country faced as the first Black nation to free itself from enslavement in 1804. Following independence, Haiti was forced to make century-long repayments to its former French colonisers, pushing it into a debt cycle with lasting impacts on its development, followed by two decades of a brutal, oppressive US occupation, which oversaw gross human rights abuses and economic exploitation.

Later interventions, by the US and the UN in the 2000s, also had a chequered legacy, so Kenyan forces also risks being seen as a proxy force for an “outsourced US intervention”, said Kenneth Ombongi, a history professor at the University of Nairobi.

“Steeped in that history, you cannot go to Haiti under the cloud of American support and succeed,” he said. “It’s mission impossible.”

Questions are also growing over how effective the multinational force would be at addressing the crisis in Haiti.

“There is no military solution to institutional collapse, which is what we are seeing,” said Mutiga. “The solution has to begin with building domestic political consensus – it would be unfair to send the police in [otherwise].”

Emmanuela Douyon, a Haitian activist and writer, said she believed Haiti did need “external support” in the form of money and equipment its resource-starved national police force could use to combat the gangs. External advisers with experience in complex security missions might also be useful if they came to support the Haitian police.

But Douyon opposed the idea of yet another foreign intervention, which would do little to strengthen the Haitian institutions essential to ensuring long-term stability. “What we do not need is a typical peacekeeping intervention with a lot of staff, a lot of money being wasted on paying foreigners and leaving the police without support,” said Douyon, who believed the money ear-marked for the Kenyan deployment would have been better spent recruiting and training Haitian officers.

“We need to support the Haitians by giving them what they need to ensure peace and stability in the country themselves so they get used to doing it and so they can do it in the long term. That’s the preferred approach,” Douyon said.

Source: theguardian.com