For the world to win in Haiti, support of NGO actors is vital


Armed gang leader Jimmy "Barbecue" Cherizier and his men are seen in Port-au-Prince, on March 5, 2024. [Getty Images]

With this week’s resignation of Prime Minster Ariel Henry, the Kenyan police mission to Haiti has collapsed, at least for the time being.

Many Kenyans would not point at Haiti on a map and must be wondering why we are sending our police to what sounds like a brutal far off banana Republic where gangs, 4,000 of whom have just been released from jails by their comrades, run the Capital City. A bit of history. Haiti was the first “Slave Republic” when in 1791, the African slaves working in the French plantations, carried out the Haiti Revolution.

In a world where the West defines history, you will find other revolutions glorified in history books but not this one. Even the famous General Napoleon Bonaparte was unable to subdue these slaves and had to abandon attempts to recapture the colony after many losses, enabling the former slaves to declare the first Republic in the Caribbean in 1804.

Unfortunately, Haiti’s history has been defined by calamities, some imposed by an unforgiving West, others by nature while others have been of its own making. The economic problems of Haiti are for instance a product of the heavy financial burden that the young Republic had to carry when France demanded that the country pay reparations in exchange for diplomatic recognition. These reparations, whose first instalment was equal to 6 times Haiti’s annual revenue, were to compensate France for the loss of the sugar plantations and the slaves therein by French slave owners during the revolution. 

A succession of dreadful leaderships has also defined much of the country’s history. Students of history will know of the Duvaliers, “Papa Doc” and his son “Baby Doc” who ran the country with a ruthless iron fist between 1957 and 1986. Other than the challenges wrought by French reparations, and brutal leaders like the Duvaliers, Haiti  has also been a “colony” of the United Sates of America.

During its history, starting from the days of President Woodrow Wilson, America has been interested in Haiti’s resources and has therefore invested heavily in regime determination.

In 1915, the US militarily invaded Haiti and occupied it until 1934, an arrangement demanded by the National City Bank of New York which wanted their government to force Haiti to pay off the huge debts owed to the bank.

Even after the end of the occupation, the US has been accused of involvement in regime change, including funding several coups and civil uprisings. The country’s misfortunes do not end there. In the last decade, in 2010 and 2021, Haiti has been hit by two major earthquakes both measuring over 7 on the Richter scale triggering loss of human life and devastation of the fragile economy.   

In the last 10 years, Haiti has known no peace with presidents either murdered or exiled and large parts of the capital Port Au Prince ran by violent gangs. The current spate of violence has origins in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021 and what many consider the unconstitutional elevation of Ariel Henry to the presidency.

The pervasive breakdown of law and order eventually led the United Nations Security Council to pass Resolution 2699 in 2023 for the setting up of a Multinational Security Support Force to restore order and create conditions for peaceful elections. Kenya offered to lead the force.

Unfortunately, Haiti’s experience with peace keeping forces has not been positive especially after the child sexual abuse scandal in the last mission in 2004. Consequently, many Haitians did not support the proposed multinational force and there were fears that it was headed for a blood bath.

From the happenings of the last few weeks, it is clear that unless there is some form of intervention, Haiti is headed to failed state status, with terrible consequences for its population, many of whom are already starving.

Such intervention will however require support from critical constituencies in the country, particularly civil society, and other non-state groups.

Unfortunately, criminal gang leaders including Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier are transitioning to political activity and may well have to be part of the negotiations towards securing peace in Haiti.

Whatever it takes, the world must find a way to rescue the people of Haiti from ongoing anarchy and the imminent total collapse of this once proud nation.