Haiti needs more than security response to find real stability

Former police officer Jimmy "Barbecue" Cherizier, leader of the 'G9' coalition, gives a press tour of the La Saline shanty area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti November 3, 2021. [Reuters]

Until Kenya signalled its intention to lead an international force to Haiti, many Kenyans had never given any thought to this troubled Caribbean nation.

But in true Kenyan style, many experts have since spurted with strong views on why Kenya should or shouldn’t be part of this undertaking.

As I have partaken the diversity of views, I am left with the suspicion that most positions are informed by partisan politics than an honest evaluation of Haiti’s complex realities which do not lend themselves to binary options.  

I am for example bemused by arguments about non-constitutionality of the undertaking, not because it has no juristic foundation, but because for years, Kenya has been contributing to such missions, including two current ones in Somalia and DR Congo, with nary a sound from many constitutional purists.

But such is Kenya.  I believe appreciating some of Haiti’s tortured history and its relationship to the current crisis is important for one to have an informed opinion on Kenya’s engagement.

Basically, Haiti, renamed Saint Domingue by the French, was a wealthy French slave colony, benefiting from the lucrative sugar trade in the 17th Century. Its downfall to a broke, lawless, anarchic nation is the product of Western intervention at its worst.

Even before it won independence from France as the first independent slave colony in 1804, the French had in the middle of the 18th Century introduced a system of publicly funded militia gangs who terrorised citizens as they sought rebellious slaves. This planted the seed of the militia gang culture we see today.

As to poverty, the same can be traced to numerous mischiefs by its colonial master France, and their successors, the US. France demanded and received billions of dollars as reparations for “French property” retaken by the independent government.

Never mind that the French had stolen these properties from the indigenous Haitians! The US on its part, militarily occupied Haiti and ran the country’s economy for decades. To maintain their stranglehold, the Americans supported many unpopular puppet regimes as long they served Uncle Sam’s interests. Who can forget Presidents Papa Doc and Baby Doc, the Duvaliers who brutalised the country with on and off American support?

Any presidents who “misbehaved” were booted. Indeed, Haiti has the largest number of coups and presidential assassinations, the most recent being the killing of President Jovenel Moise in 2021.

Since Moise’s death, the country has reverted to militias and criminal gang control causing total state collapse, evidenced by uncontrolled gang violence, kidnappings, and general insecurity.  The situation has not been helped by the spate of natural disasters, the worst being the 2010 earthquake that left more than 300,000 dead.

Acting President Ariel Henry has been calling for an international intervention force under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council, but no country has been willing to undertake such a dangerous assignment courtesy of previous disastrous interventions which left Haiti worse off. It appears that with Kenya having offered to lead the force and countries like Spain, Peru and Rwanda joining the force, the intervention may finally get off the ground especially with America offering to underwrite the force.

Those who reject foreign involvement, including some in Haiti, have a legitimate point. Previous attempts at dealing with Haiti’s security through such methods have been a disaster.

Secondly, such approaches fail to recognise that Haiti’s security problem is a symptom of a deeper economic and social malaise that requires a “Marshallian” economic intervention particularly from America and France who engineered the tragedy that Haiti has become.

What these oppositionists fail to see is that while the military solution is not the panacea for Haiti’s challenges, the daily sufferings of the population can only be resolved through an external force, even as longer-term solutions are sought.

What all those that support Haiti’s ultimate stability need to demand from the international community, and particularly France and the US, is a clear pathway towards restoration of Haiti to stability and prosperity beyond dealing with security and justice questions.

For as long as there is no such plan, Kenya’s and other interventions will be an expensive experiment whose disastrous end one can easily foretell.    

-The writer is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya