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Kenya's risky mission in Haiti: Peacekeepers in troubled waters?

President William Ruto inspects a guard of honour during a pass-out parade at Kiganjo Police Training College in January 2023. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

The government's decision to send 1,000 police officers on an offensive mission to Haiti has sparked concern. 

Pundits have expressed reservations regarding the planned deployment that was on Friday hailed by President William Ruto's Chief of staff Felix Kosgey and the country's police boss Japheth Koome, as recognition of Kenya's elevated "standards of our police service" and that "Kenya has never failed in a mission outside the country and that the officers were ready for the job ahead ". 

Civil society organisations however don't see it that way.  Activists claim that Kenya police have a poor human rights record and are unprepared to deal with the Caribbean country's ruthless gangs. 

The international community, led by the United States, has thrown its weight behind Kenya's leadership in a multinational security effort. The mission, which aims to restore peace and stability, is characterised by complications. 

It is impossible to stress how urgent the situation in Haiti is. The country is battling a variety of illicit activities that have brought about disarray. Crimes like kidnapping, pillaging, massacres, human trafficking, and the use of children as troops are only a few of the many that have unsettlingly become routine. 

Haiti's Prime Minister Ariel Henry, addressing the U.N. General Assembly, made a heartfelt plea for international assistance, emphasizing the dire need for police and military personnel to restore order. 

Kenya, stepping up to the plate, pledged to send 1,000 police officers as part of the multinational security mission. This commitment demonstrated Kenya's dedication to contributing to global peace and security. However, this mission is not without its controversies and questions. 

Critics have raised concerns about Kenya's motivations, particularly given the significant funding pledged by the United States. While Kenya's internal security responsibilities are substantial, foreign and diaspora minister Alfred Mutua maintains that this mission is akin to "doing God's work." 

The police boss Japhet Koome has assured that Kenyan personnel are well-prepared for the task ahead. But is this truly a peacekeeping mission, and can Kenyan forces effectively bring peace to a nation deeply entrenched in turmoil

Brigadier General (Rtd) Emilio Tanui, who heads the military veterans at the Kenya Veterans for Peace, does not mince words. He asserts that defining this deployment as a peacekeeping mission is ill-advised. 

He points out that Kenya has never before dispatched law enforcement units to a theatre with challenges comparable to Haiti's. The situation in Haiti, characterized by rampant criminal activities and political instability, makes it a uniquely challenging mission. 

One of Tanui's primary concerns, he told The Sunday Standard, is the absence of peace to maintain or enforce in Haiti. Unlike traditional peacekeeping missions, where maintaining an existing peace agreement or political process is the goal, Haiti lacks such a foundation. There is no ongoing political process on which to anchor a sustainable and predictable future. 

The veteran who commanded the Kenyan troops in Sierra Leone raises critical questions about the readiness and training of these officers for such a high-stakes mission. He wonders if they fully grasp the challenges they will encounter and the risks involved. 

“I fear for the safety of our policemen who have a challenge in tackling common crime, banditry, and cattle rustling,’’ said Tanui. 

The gangs in Haiti have already threatened to deal with any foreign forces entering Haiti. 

Kenya has never deployed law enforcement units to a theatre with challenges comparable to Haiti's. The likely units to be deployed, Sunday Standard learns, will likely be drawn from the General Service Unit (GSU) and the Administration Police (AP), which will face the daunting prospect of urban combat against heavily armed gangs. 

But the language barrier is also key during this mission. Tanui says it was a significant hurdle when operating on international missions. In such cases, interpreters are often required, adding complexity to communication and coordination. 

Kenyan police, who are expected to deal with highly armed gangs in Haiti, will require advanced equipment and specialised training. A minimum of six months of intensive training is deemed necessary, not only to familiarize officers with new equipment but also to prepare them for the unique challenges of the mission. 

Training is a crucial element for any police force operating in a hostile environment, and cohesion among officers is paramount. However, Tanui points out that Kenya's police force may lack the expertise needed for such comprehensive training. This raises critical questions about who will conduct this training and whether Kenya's police are experienced in instructing others in the use of foreign equipment which will likely come from the Americans. 

The challenges facing Kenya are further worsened by the state of Haiti's military. Reinstated after years of dormancy, it lacks the equipment and capabilities to effectively confront these well-entrenched gangs. This also raises serious concerns about the legitimacy of Haiti's interim administration and its capacity to enter into obligations on behalf of its citizens. 

Kenya's intentions in Haiti may be noble, but it cannot ignore the historical, moral, and legal concerns that surround its involvement. Haiti's history is littered with foreign interventions that have often failed to bring lasting stability. Kenya's mission is undoubtedly a challenging one. 

International law expert Evans Ogada suggests that Kenya may be approaching this mission with a degree of naivety, considering the complex and perilous challenges that await in the Caribbean nation. 

Ogada questions the legitimacy of Haiti's current interim administration. The presence of powerful and influential gangs within the country poses a significant challenge to the authority of this regime. 

It raises questions about its capacity to govern effectively and enter into international obligations on behalf of the Haitian people. 

Ogada points to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, particularly focusing on Articles 7 and 11. These articles deal with the authorization and means of expressing consent by a state to be bound by a treaty. 

In the context of Haiti, Ogada says the legitimacy cloud surrounding Prime Minister Ariel Henry's administration raises doubts about its ability to engage in international agreements. 

Furthermore, Kenya's recent diplomatic endeavors, particularly signing an agreement establishing diplomatic ties with Haiti. 

Ogada urges Kenya to exercise caution, emphasizing that its actions should reflect a well-informed, strategic approach rather than projecting an image of ignorance. 

“A nation must think before it acts. We cannot be that country that appears on the international plane as ignorant, tactless, and clueless,” argues Ogada.

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