Ten things Kenya must do before sending troops to troubled Haiti

The G9 gang coalition leader Jimmy Cherizier (right) talks to reporters near the perimeter wall that encloses Terminal Varreux, the port owned by the Mevs family, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. [AP Photo]

Kenya is preparing to go to Haiti because President William Ruto wants Kenyan police officers in the troubled little country to help keep the peace. The challenge is one of effective implementation so as to minimize likely human liabilities. Not being the first country to offer benevolent peace services to Haiti, Kenya has the advantage of learning from the misadventures of such powerful entities as the US, Brazil, and the UN. Instead of keeping the peace, they seemingly increased miseries for Haitians who then doubled their suspicion of the international do-gooders. Kenyan mission planners would want to find out why Brazil, the UN, and the US failed in their Haitian missions to deliver ‘peace’ despite the resources and facilities at their disposal. They had and still have more resources than Kenya has or can master.

It is a recurrent question with no answers which forces Kenya to reflect on the shortcomings of previous peace-keeping missions, among them being attitude which probably accounts for the misadventures and failures of the supposed ‘peace-keepers’. To do supposed good to the ‘peace-kept’, they tend to adopt ‘saviour’ attitudes which objectify and other-rise the people to be ‘saved’ who might not want that salvation. Often, this othering is a racialized promotion of slavery and colonialism which creates poverty as a control mechanism. Imperialists excel in objectifying and other-rising and driving the target people into deep trouble.

One of the reasons for racialized imperial otherings is to eliminate examples and evidence of black people succeeding in different fields, thereby inspiring others to aspire high. Since two black-ruled countries, Haiti and Ethiopia, committed the ‘sin’ of appearing to defeat European imperial powers and inspire black people, France and Italy sought to punish them by creating poverty to ensure underdevelopment and conditions of perpetual dependency. From its inception as the second independent entity in the Western Hemisphere after the US, for instance, Haiti suffered ‘othering’ mainly because it was a bad example that inspired slaves to overthrow their masters. Similarly in the 1930s, Benito Mussolini tried to eliminate Ethiopian independence and argued he was doing British and French colonialism in Africa a favour by eliminating the Ethiopian bad example of black people ruling themselves. The success in making Haiti poor and dependent for roughly 200 years therefore accounts for the country’s current virtual collapse.

It is geographically unfortunate to share the island of Hispaniola or little Spain, as Columbus named it in 1492, with the Dominican Republic which disdains Haitians because they are mostly black. Roughly 50 miles from Cuba and 150 miles from Florida, Haiti’s misfortunes include assorted natural disasters and race-related manufactured ones. Slaves had successfully defeated Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops to gain independence in 1804 which produced four consequences. First, it was the reason that Napoleon ceded the Louisiana Territory to the US for $15 million although the Americans, as President John Quincy Adams wrote, tried to hide that fact. Second, Haiti inspired other colonies in the Western Hemisphere to seek independence. Third, it intensified the US’s search for a dumping ground for unwanted free blacks to stop being bad examples to slaves by going to Africa for ‘liberty’ in what became Liberia. Fourth, the strategy was designed to make Haiti perpetually poor by siphoning its resources through the 1825 ‘indemnity’ demands to compensate slave owners for the loss of human property.

In struggling to pay the indemnity to former slave owners in Europe and the US, black-governed Haiti was transformed into an object of pity, underdevelopment, and contradictions of human rights ideals and the reality of racially inflicted atrocities. The US and the Dominican Republic, therefore, relate to Haiti in terms of racism. Thus, supposed idealist US President Woodrow Wilson invaded Haiti in 1915 and colonized it for about 20 years during which Haitian gold and related wealth reportedly disappeared to banks in New York. In the 1970s, President Jimmy Carter turned back thousands of desperate Haiti boat people. And now, President Joe Biden reportedly wants Haitian migrants yanked from the USA and sent to violent Haiti while empathizing and welcoming Ukrainian ‘refugees.’ Biden’s ambassador to Haiti resigned over skewed anti-Haitian policies.

The Dominican Republic sees itself as a white country in which black people are barely tolerated. In 1937, President Raphael Leonidas Trujillo authorized the massacring of thousands of Haitians to eliminate blackness in his country, known as the Parsley Massacre. In the 21st Century, Presidents Danilo Medina and Luis Abinader have made reminding Haitians of their supposed inferiority such a norm that mistreating the Haitians is normal. Abinader has gone to the extent of building a 380-kilometre wall to keep the Haitians out.

Not wanted by their neighbours or the global power that is the US because they are black, initially feared in white circles because of inspiring the oppressed, and kept underdeveloped through poverty creation, Haiti is collapsing and unable to meet its obligations as a state. Unable to provide such basic services as order, black people kill each other for internal and external reasons. Internally, they disagree violently on how to run the state. The killings in Haiti, however, are primarily about created poverty becoming a culture of the oppressed to serve racialized ends. Haitian leaders such as Jimmy Barbecue Cherizer control roughly 20,000 properly armed militias who often outnumber Haitian security forces.

Such is the environment in Haiti that the 1,000 Kenyan officers are likely to confront. Although Kenyan planners have American commitment for logistical, material, and financial support, that commitment is a small part of what might be needed in the mission. It requires careful thought and an adjustment in mission attitude from the regular ‘peace-keeping’ mentality so as to be different from what others had done before. The UN, the US, and Brazil’s past failures should inform mission planning to win the Haitians.

For Kenya to prepare for Haiti, therefore, an attitude overhaul is called for with an emphasis on common sense rather than routine knee-jerk reactions. Subsequently, convincing the ‘peace-kept’ to accept being Kenyan ‘peace-kept’ would need more than GSU riot guns and rungu. It would need the use of common sense in tense and volatile situations to build trust which is currently missing. Kenya also needs to take into account the negative influence of the Dominican Republic which has genocide inclinations toward the Haitians. How Kenyans handle the likely Dominican meddling needs serious reflection. The Haitians, given their bad experience with previous entities are highly suspicious of new ‘do-gooders’ even if they are black. Kenyans should not expect to be accepted simply because they are black and from Africa. Kenya’s approach should not be the same as those of the failed missions.

The writer is professor of history and international relations