HAITI | Kenyan Multinational Security Support to arrive in Haiti On May 23/24

HAITI | Kenyan Multinational Security Support to arrive in Haiti On May 23/24

NAIROBI. Kenya, May 17, 2024 - The first contingent  of 200 highly trained, battle ready Kenyan police officers, are expected to arrive in Haiti on 23/24 May. Their arrival was timed to coincide with a state visit by Kenyan president William Ruto and his delegation to the United States. 

“Kenya is ready to pay its part in full and join with a coalition of other nations of good will, and there are many, as a good friend and true sibling of Haiti,” President William Ruto said during general debate at the U.N. in New York“Kenya is ready to pay its part in full and join with a coalition of other nations of good will, and there are many, as a good friend and true sibling of Haiti,” President William Ruto said during general debate at the U.N. in New YorkThe deployment comes seven months after the Security Council gave the go-ahead for the East African country to lead the multinational mission. 

‘Expect the first boots to hit ground in Haiti. This time we are serious,’ said a senior official in the Ministry of Interior and Administration of the National Government.

The elite officers are drawn from Kenya’s police Recce Squad, Rapid Deployment Force and Special Operation Group, the latter of which has been fighting al-Shabaab insurgents along the Kenya–Somalia border. 

No strangers to violent armed actors, half of the contingent are expected to secure critical installations, including the airport, while the rest will be involved in close-quarter combat against the gangs, which have taken control of over 80 percent of Port au Prince. 

An advance team of hundreds of Kenyan reconnaissance officers and top police personnel were sent for special training in the US in late last year to prepare them for the mission. 

News about the deployment caused initial excitement within the Kenyan security sector but was later almost scuppered by a court ruling in Nairobi in January that declared the envisaged deployment of Kenya police officers unconstitutional. 

The presiding judge said that the two countries lacked the requisite reciprocal agreement, and that the president does not have the constitutional mandate to deploy police abroad. Kenya’s president, William Ruto, and then Haitian prime minister Ariel Henry had to scramble together a bilateral agreement on 1 March  2024 to circumvent the court’s ruling.

On the eve of the signing of the agreement, Haitian gangs launched coordinated attacks targeting crucial infrastructure, including the airport. The gangs freed thousands of prisoners after overrunning two jails. 

President William Ruto and Haiti Prime Minister Ariel Henry witnessing the signing ceremony of agreement on deployment of police to the Caribbean nation at State House on March 1, 2024 Image: PCS President William Ruto and Haiti Prime Minister Ariel Henry witnessing the signing ceremony of agreement on deployment of police to the Caribbean nation at State House on March 1, 2024 Image: PCS Haiti's National Police has struggled in its fight against gangs with only about 10,000 active officers in a country of more than 11 million people.

"More than just a simple vote, this is in fact an expression of solidarity with a population in distress," said Jean Victor Généus, Haiti's foreign affairs minister. "It's a glimmer of hope for the people who have been suffering for too long."

Henry, who was banned from returning to Haiti by the ganga resigned and a state of emergency was declared. A Transitional Presidential Council (TPC) has since been put in place in readiness for the mission. 

The Kenyan police deployment had initially faced opposition from many sides. It was described as a ‘multilateral invasion’ and the Communist Party of Kenya likened it to a ‘betrayal of principles and a dance with imperialism’. 

Raila Odinga, a political opponent of Ruto, asked MPs not to approve the deployment in Kenya’s National Assembly. There was also public opposition on the streets and skepticism in the media.

Torn apart by gang violence that has caused an estimated 2 500 deaths in the first three months this year and an ensuing humanitarian crisis, Haiti appealed for international assistance which prompted the UN Security council to adopt the mission last October. 

The police contingent volunteered by Kenya will lead the mission, which will also have troops from Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Belize, aims to stabilize the country, which has been plunged into gang-fuelled lawlessness.

  Armed members of "G9 and Family" march in a protest against Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023. Odelyn Joseph/AP Armed members of "G9 and Family" march in a protest against Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023. Odelyn Joseph/AP The final thumbs-up for Kenya’s deployment comes after months of changing circumstances. The Kenyan parliament and cabinet had approved the mission to deploy 1000 officers to the gang-ravaged Caribbean country in November 2023 but the envisaged deployment stuttered, following a court ruling that opposed it on judicial grounds and the resignation in April of Haiti’s acting prime minister, Ariel Henry, which put the deployment on hold. 

According to a senior government official Kenya’s position should be seen as part of a multinational collective effort: ‘It isn’t just Kenya. A number of African countries have expressed their willingness and are ready to deploy to Haiti. Kenya took the lead.’ 

Several other non-African countries have also pledged support for the Haiti mission. Now, with the cabinet and parliamentary approval sealed and the reciprocal agreement signed, the final piece in the deployment jigsaw is in place, and an elite, trained squad is ready for action.  

According to the Global Initiative against transnational organized crime, There was one thorn lingering in Kenya’s side,   and pointed to the Kenyan police force’s record of corruption and human rights violations, cited by activists and human rights groups. 

A survey by Kenya’s Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission found that 80 percent of Kenyans believe the police service is corrupt. Meanwhile, a civil justice advocacy group documented 1264 cases of executions and 237 enforced disappearances from 2017 to 2022 at the hands of the police. 

Amnesty International Kenya has called for human rights, accountability, and the safety and dignity of the Haitian people to be at the forefront of the mission. 

The issues of corruption and human rights have been central in the pre-deployment training of the police officers. 

The contingent has been warned that officers risk deportation and/or jail if they engage in acts that jeopardize their terms of engagement. ‘For two weeks we were taken through the laws and constitution of Haiti, as well discipline and rules of operations while in the field. Any breach would lead to deportation and prison, we were told,’ one of the officers said. 

Forecast uncertain 

The Haiti mission potentially augurs a new international approach to how organized crime actors are tackled. Ensuring international tools are effective in mitigating harm caused by gangs in Haiti is therefore vitally important for the country and international community.   

In welcoming the Kenyan contingent along with the regional troop  contingent, Barbados’ Ambassador to the Caribbean Community, David Comissiong noted that the  security personnel will only come if Haiti's Presidential Transitional Council requests them to assist. “And they will only be coming in order to give support and assistance to the Haitian National Police.'

“In fact, the modest number of security personnel slated to come in, and the make-up of the personnel of the Security Support Mission would indicate that their only purpose could be to augment the Haitian National Police and support law enforcement operations.

“And, ultimately, the whole purpose of the exercise is to help Haiti reach a state of affairs in which free and fair Elections are held, and the Haitian people are afforded the opportunity to elect the persons that they truly wish to govern their country,” Ambassador Comissiong said.

The Barbados ambassador said "as far as the USA is concerned, what we know is that the USA has made it clear that they are not willing to contribute US personnel to the Multinational Security Support Mission, but that they are willing to contribute financial resources and logistical support.”

“No doubt, the USA will have its own reasons for acting as it is. But we too in the Caribbean Community must have our own reasons for pursuing our own policy. And as far as we are concerned, Haiti is our Member State, and we must be prepared to lend assistance to our Member State's Police Force at a time of great need and challenge,” Commissiong declared.

“There is nothing unique or peculiar about this,” he said, “there have been multiple occasions on which the Police and Military personnel of CARICOM countries have gone to other CARICOM member states to lend a hand.”

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