Not police, guns: Here is how Kenya could help Haiti

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The Multinational Security Support mission is a new form of international intervention. It’s authorised under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter. However, it’s not formally a peacekeeping mission, which would be composed of peacekeeping forces and (theoretically) regulated according to UN standards of conduct.

The reticence to call this intervention a peacekeeping mission is a product of recent history. The last major UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti – known by its French acronym Minustah and which ran from 2004 to 2017 – was responsible for killing civilians. Peacekeepers fired machine guns from helicopters in the name of combating gangs in 2005.

Further, after Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, faulty sanitation practices at a UN peacekeepers’ base introduced a cholera strain in the country that killed at least 10,000 people.

Peacekeepers also raped and sexually abused Haitians.

It’s no mystery why nobody wants to see blue helmets arrive in Haiti again.

The new mission is to be led by Kenya with troops participating from other Caribbean countries, such as Jamaica, the Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda. The US has pledged $100 million.

More than 2,700 people in Haiti have been reported murdered and 1,472 kidnapped in the eight months to June 2023, according to the UN. The numbers are likely to be higher. They don’t include indirect deaths caused by inadequate access to healthcare and nutrition, which is exacerbated by insecurity.

What will the Kenyan police confront in Haiti?

The question of whether they will go is still not decided.

Kenya’s parliament has approved the mission but a court hearing on its constitutionality is scheduled for January 26, 2024.

If Kenya does deploy to Haiti, its police officers will confront a complex web of more than 200 paramilitary-style criminal gangs. They control territory across the capital city of Port-au-Prince and many other areas of the country.

Haiti’s insecurity and poverty are rooted in its punishment for winning freedom from racial slavery in 1804. France forced Haiti to repay French slaveholders. This instigated a cycle of indebtedness and is how Haiti became, in the words of Haitian poet JeanClaude Martineau, the only country with a last name: “the poorest country in the western hemisphere”.

Security was already in crisis before the 2021 assassination of de facto president Jovenel Moïse. Today, gangs control about twothirds of the country, which has a population of 11.6 million.

There are more guns in Haiti now than before the last peacekeeping mission that ended in 2017. Like Haitian police, Kenyan police may find themselves outgunned by gangs who control (and trade in) vast troves of weapons.

Without in-depth knowledge of a complex and volatile situation, Kenyan police will somehow have to distinguish civilians from gang members, and gang members from police.

The notorious leader of the “G-9 Family and Allies”, Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, is a former police officer. Lines between police, government and gangs are deliberately blurred.

Chérizier is one of multiple gangsters, police officers and government officials implicated in the 2018 massacre of at least 70 civilians.

After the assassination of Moïse, the same political party responsible for this and multiple other massacres remains in power. It continues to collude with gangs.

The Kenyan mission is allegedly coming to Haiti at the request of the Haitian government.

gs with information, weapons and uniforms through the police.

There is also a language issue: Kenyan troops speak English and Swahili. Haitians speak Krèyol and French.

What are the concerns about Kenya’s police?

The security support mission to Haiti will largely comprise Kenyan police, whom Kenyan civilians have described as treating them “like ATM machines”. Extrajudicial executions, extortion and abuse are well-documented practices of the police force now charged with restoring legitimate policing in Haiti.

What’s in it for Kenya?

Kenya stands to benefit economically from leading the mission. In September, the US and Kenya signed a defence agreement  that gives Kenya resources and support to fight Al Shabaab.

Kenya’s own Defence Ministry has publicly stated that UN missions provide a rare opportunity to obtain UN allowances that are ordinarily not offered by the KDF (Kenya Defence Forces).

Peacekeeping missions have also been an opportunity to gain international credibility, as my research in Haiti has shown.

If not policing, what’s the best approach to solving Haiti’s crisis?

Change in Haiti will not come through yet another UN or outsourced US intervention.

Speaking after UN approval of the Haiti mission, Kenya’s president William Ruto said Haitians were being punished for “choosing to be free human beings”. He was referring to the country’s independence in 1804.

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