Haitian PM's whereabouts unknown since he signed police deal with Kenya

Suspected gang member surrenders as police battle to take control of Haiti's main facilities. [Getty Images]

The whereabouts of Haiti’s prime minister, Ariel Henry, were not known Monday, three days after he signed a bilateral accord in Kenya to pave the way for a possible multinational force to help restore security in the troubled Caribbean nation. A fierce battle between police and armed gangs took place in Haiti over the weekend, and a gang leader there has called for Henry’s ouster.

Haiti's government declared a 72-hour state of emergency after an intense battle between the country's police against powerful armed gangs over the weekend.

Macharia Munene, a professor of history and international relations at USIA-Africa in Nairobi, told VOA the upheaval is concerning.

"With [gang leader] Barbecue and his team saying they want Prime Minister Henry out, it's a revolution,” Munene said. “We don't know if they have been inspired by what is going on in the Sahel … the government was already incapacitated in Haiti, but this makes it even worse. That they can go to a jail, open up everything and release almost 4,000 people [prisoners]."

Barbecue, also known as Jimmy Cherizier, a former police officer and the leader of a powerful gang alliance, says the goal is to block Henry from returning to the country.

Henry traveled overseas last week to  drum up support for an international security force to intervene in Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.

In Kenya, he and President William Ruto signed a long-awaited bilateral accord that paves the way for 1,000 Kenyan police officers to lead a proposed multinational, U.N.-backed force that would help restore security in Haiti. Ruto said the urgency of the mission could not be overstated.

"It is a mission for humanity,” he said. “It is a mission for solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Haiti."

Henry thanked Ruto.

"We did this appeal, and you stepped up,” he said. “You said, we want to help Haiti … thank you president, we appreciate it."

Munene said the signing of the document doesn't legalize the deployment of Kenyan police given that a Kenyan court had deemed such a move unconstitutional in a recent ruling.

Ekuru Aukot, a constitutional lawyer and one of the petitioners who brought the matter to the Kenyan court, said on social media that the signing was "very misleading," that Henry was imposed on the Haitian people and had no capacity to commit Haiti to any treaty."

President William Ruto and  Haiti Prime Minister Ariel Henry during the signing of a reciprocal instrument between Kenya and Haiti on the Multi-National security support mission in Haiti. [PCS]

The Kenyan government has not commented on Henry's whereabouts since the Friday signing ceremony, even after repeated inquiries by VOA.

Munene said the Haitian prime minister should try to go back to show he's in charge.

"We don't know whether he is still in the country or has gone to another country,” Munene said. “We don't know for now where he is but it's clear that in Port-au-Prince, the Barbecue has said he wants to barbecue the prime minister once he gets there. That may not be a good indicator."

Munene said what happened this weekend in Haiti may complicate matters, not just for Kenya but for the other countries that have volunteered to participate in the intervention.

"How they will be received ... they will not be given tea and coffee to welcome them; instead they might have to defend themselves in a very rough way,” Munene said. “So, the developments are not very flattering for the countries that are supposed to send police officers to keep the peace."

While some Kenyans support the mission in Haiti, Munene said there are many others who still wonder why their country wants to lead the multinational force given that other countries are more powerful and better equipped but have not been willing to step forward.

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