“The cry of our brothers and sisters (Haitians) who were the first people to win their struggle for freedom from colonial tyranny has reached our ears and touched our hearts,” President William Ruto of Kenya said as he canvassed for multinational security support to curb gang violence in Haiti.
Addressing world leaders at the 78 United Nations General Assembly, President Ruto said, “Kenya is ready to play its part in full, and jointly, with a coalition of other nations of goodwill as a great friend and true sibling of Haiti.”
It is a response to a call by Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry for the deployment of foreign armed forces to curb gang violence more than a year ago.
The country has witnessed an alarming increase in gang violence, which the local police are struggling to contain.
The United Nations estimate that over 2,400 people have been killed, more than 950 kidnapped and another 902 injured from January 1 to August alone.
Adding his voice to the call by the Kenyan president, United States President Joe Biden called on the Security Council to authorise the mission immediately, saying the people of Haiti cannot wait much longer.
A week after this call was made at the UNGA 78, the United Nations Security Council responded by authorizing the deployment of the Kenya-led Multinational Security Support Mission to Haiti for an initial period of 12 months, with a review after nine.
This has elicited mixed reactions from Kenyans and Haitians, with many raising questions about the objective, the legal framework, the desirability of such an intervention, and its prospects.
Kenyan police as cannon fodder or pan-Africanist
Although the Kenya-led security mission to Haiti is a multinational security effort, some Kenyans have questioned why the country is deploying a thousand of its police personnel amidst domestic security challenges to a far away Caribbean country with closer proximity with a global power – the United States.
Featuring as guest on Africa Update on Trust TV, a Kenyan policy and governance expert, George Abwajo said Kenyans were suspicious of the involvement of western powers, specifically the United States pushing Kenya into doing its bidding.
“Apparently, from the Kenyans that are in the country, they are asking, in terms of closeness, even in terms of the numbers, the US that’s really pushing and has promised some financial assistance is closer to Haiti than Kenya. Why Kenya? That’s the reason people are asking: Is it the closeness of the western world that now, our president or Kenya is being used to push for proxy assistance to help the Caribbean country?” George asked.
US ambassador to the United Nations Security Council, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, had in August said the United States would work with other council members on a resolution “that will give the Kenyans what they require to establish their presence in Haiti.”
The President Joe Biden administration has also promised to provide logistics and $100 million to support the Kenya-led force.
Though the multinational security mission, which has secured support pledges from at least a dozen countries is not under the UN peacekeeping mission, the operations will be coordinated by Kenya with voluntary financial contributions from individual member states.
Geoge Abwajo said there were concerns that the deployment would put a strain on Kenya’s resources.
“It looks like Kenya is going to use more of our budget to sustain our policemen in Haiti. It is not a good time to be a Kenyan right now. There’s a high cost of living and people are basically concluding that it may not be a good time. Som there needs to be more explanation. Where is the budget going to come from? How long are we going to be there?”
President Ruto believes that no amount is too much to sacrifice for the “sacred duty” towards the country’s “own flesh and blood, carried into captivity to suffer in chains in a world far away from home and punished most severely over the centuries for claiming freedom for themselves.”
Haiti, a country of 12million people, mostly descendants of freed slaves, is the first black nation to gain independence from a colonial power, France, over 200 years ago, yet it remains the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
President Ruto considers Haiti a victim of “colonial plunder and repression, as well as post-colonial retaliation and exploitation.”
Ruto is optimistic that the mission will reinforce the 10,000 capacity “Haiti National Police with operational support and other joint interventions, to enhance its institutional capacity, defeat the onslaught of criminal gangs and the rampant violent crime, human, arms, and drugs trafficking, as well as other atrocities.”
The question of legitimacy
The Security Council voted in line with chapter VII, which allows it to “determine the existence of any threat to peace, breach of peace or act of aggression,” and to take military and non-military action to “restore international peace and security.”
However, Kenyan lawmakers said parliamentary approval was required before the deployment of police for the Kenya-led security mission in Haiti.
Section 240 (8) of the Kenyan constitution provides that the country’s National Security Council may, with the approval of parliament, deploy national forces outside Kenya for regional or international peace support operations or other support operations, amid the controversy that a Kenyan court issued a temporary order barring the Kenyan government officials, including the president and his interior minister, “from deploying police officers to Haiti or any other country until October 24, 2023.”
The order followed a petition jointly filed by one of the opposition political parties and two Kenyans, who said the decision to deploy the police officers outside the East African country was illegal.
Concerns have also been raised over the legitimacy of the mandate of the Haitian prime minister, Ariel Henry, to make the call in the first place.
On July 5, 2021, Ariel was selected as the next prime minister of Haiti by President Jovenel Moïse, but two days later, Moïse was assassinated, stalling the transfer of power.
With the incumbent Prime Minister Claude Joseph holding onto the Prime Minister’s Office, a group of prominent diplomats called on Henry to take charge as the head of the government, pushing Joseph to step down – an office that ordinarily requires the ratification of the Haitian National Assembly.
Haiti lost its last democratically elected institution in January after the terms of 10 remaining senators expired, leaving not a single lawmaker in the country’s House or Senate. The country is yet unable to conduct fresh elections.
China’s representative at the UN Security Council, who abstained from voting on the proposal to deploy the multinational security in Haiti said, “Without a legitimate and effective government in place, any external support can hardly have any lasting effect.”
Russia, which also abstained from voting on the resolution, said Chapter VII of the UN Charter was being applied blindly with respect to Haiti.
Since the announcement of the Authorisation of Security Mission by the UN Security Council, there have been mixed reactions in both Kenya and Haiti. While some applaud the decision as the way to go, others disagree.
In a demonstration against the multinational security intervention, a group of Haitians who protested in front of the Kenyan Embassy in New York, chanted “shame on Kenya,” with inscriptions describing the Kenyan President William Ruto as a “US Puppet.”
One of the protesters said, “The UN is not there (Haiti) to help the people fight the gangs; they are there to stop the people from organising and getting Ariel Henry (prime minister) out. That’s why he is asking for them to come so that he can maintain his power. If the United States wanted to, they could stop the weapons from going into Haiti.”
Speaking to Africa News, a citizen in Haiti said, “It is a very nice initiative that the UN prayed to come and help the Haitian people to get out of the situation we are in. I am certain that Haitians would cooperate with them.”
Observers have raised doubts over the prospects of the mission as previous interventions in the country were marred by scandals, resulting in a lack of trust for UN missions.
The United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti between 2004 and 2007 was accused of sexual abuses, fathering babies and abandoning them.
UN peacekeepers were also blamed for a cholera outbreak that claimed the lives of more than 9,000 people, with 800,000 others sickened.
The leader of G9, the most powerful gang in Haiti, Jimmy Chérizier, also nicknamed Barbecue, has warned that he will fight foreign armed forces that commit any abuses in Haiti.
“If the foreign intervention forces, like the UN peace keeping forces to Haiti in 2004, start raping boys and girls like the troops from Uruguay, or if they bring cholera like the Nepalese soldiers that killed 20,000 Haitians; if they come to the communities’ ghettos and start shooting and massacring, we Haitians would rise and fight them to the last drop of blood,” Barbecue said.
Although a former Kenyan foreign minister, Alfred Mutua, has said the security forces will be trained in the Haitian local language, human rights activists in Kenya fear that the mission could be marred by language barrier and terrain blindness.
However, some analysts believe that with the pan-Africanism campaign championed by President William Ruto, the mission will create some political capital for Kenya in the international community.
The mission is also considered as an opportunity to boost the capacity of the Kenyan police, enhance the ability to curb crime through training and to be better equipped.