What Kenyan police need for Haiti mission


Armed members of "G9 and Family" march in a protest against Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, September 19, 2023. [AFP]

After protracted delays, Kenya has decided to send 1,000 police officers to Haiti, under the UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).

The UN Security Council Resolution 2699 handed Kenya the mandate to lead contingents from Chad, Benin, Bahamas, Bangladesh and Barbados. This, however, defies a court ruling in Nairobi that declared the deployment unconstitutional.

Former Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry, penned an agreement authorising a state-to-state arrangement, a move welcomed by President William Ruto as a way out of the landmine created by the court ruling. Additional succour for the mission was granted by the US when it offered $100 million to Kenya. Haiti has been skinned and chopped into an ugly, haggard, rugged and helpless dot in the Caribbean Sea by years of untethered gang violence and rudderless politics. This little state is now a stewing mess of wretched precarity. All previous attempts by the UN, the US and Brazil to create some order have unravelled. The UN reports that a record 200 gangs control 90 per cent of the country. They include the G9 alliance is led by Jimmy Chérizier “Barbecue,” the G-Pep of Jean Pierre “Ti Gabriel”, 400 Mawozo, the Canaan gang, the Galil Gang and a vigilante movement known as Bwa Kale.

When the formal state collapsed, members of the disciplined forces – gendarmerie, Haitian armed forces and the regular police – disappeared from their barracks and have since resurfaced as the engine driving the gangs. They looted assorted weapons such as grenade launchers, heavy machine guns, hand-thrown grenades, Katyusha rockets, mortars, towed artillery howitzers and assorted munitions.

Unfortunately, these are the weapons Kenyan police will encounter, a sharp contrast with their regular easy menu of unarmed opposition supporters. I can already see a worrying disequilibrium between the two sides. Our police are equipped with standard-issue semi-automatic G-3s, AK-47s and Uzis. Only a few specialised police units carry the more advanced, high-calibre FN-SCARs, sniper rifles, AR-15s, M4 carbines and M1A rifles, with telescopic sights, grenade launchers and laser range finders.

Our police are also bereft of heavy armour and force multipliers required in that smouldering Caribbean state. In the recent past, Kenya has made some half-hearted attempts to acquire armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs) for the police. However, these APCs and MRAPs have become increasingly ineffective: if not rolling over, they are irreparably breaking down. And their porosity to rifle fire and improvised explosive devices is concerning. In modern warfare, it is critical to sustain aerial surveillance on elusive and mobile enemies, which in turn allows you to interdict such targets from a safe distance.

Evidently, Kenya ought to have considered some proven aerial combat assets such as the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB-2 drone. This veteran platform has acquitted itself exceptionally well in Ethiopia, Libya and Azerbaijan. The sad reality is Kenya habitually relies on American donations of hand-thrown drones. But these are just a handful and are unarmed, which is likely to severely curtail their effectiveness in close quarter combat. This is why the Kenyan police group going to Haiti urgently requires surveillance and attack drones as force multipliers. They may be augmented by a dozen combat and transport choppers.

We have to ask: Why was the Haiti outing designed as a police mission? This is a military operation.

Once the heavy combat units have decommissioned the militia, then the police might move in. And looking at the numerical strengths of the militias, it would take at least 10,000 well-equipped troops to make an impact on the ground. 

Finally, decision-makers should answer these rather mundane questions: Are Kenyan police officers going to Haiti fluent in the French language? How will they gather intelligence, work with the civilian population and possibly train their Haitian counterparts without the relevant linguistic competencies?

The writer teaches at the University of Nairobi. [email protected]