Security experts raise concerns on Kenya's police mission to Haiti

President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Ariel Henry witness the signing of a reciprocal instrument between Kenya and Haiti on the Multi-National Security Support Mission in Haiti. [PCS]

Kenya finds itself embroiled in Haiti’s deepening crisis as it prepares to deploy 1,000 police officers to the troubled Caribbean nation amidst escalating gang violence and political turmoil.

The decision comes amidst cautious optimism and concerns from experts regarding the efficacy and implications of such a deployment.

The United States on Monday pledged Sh41 billion ($300 million) to the Kenyan-led multinational security mission to Haiti, emphasising the urgency of restoring stability in the region.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s announcement during a high-level Caribbean States (CARICOM) meeting in Kingston Jamaica underscored the international community’s commitment to addressing the crisis in Haiti.

US support

“I’m announcing today that the United States Department of Defense is doubling its approved support for the mission from $100 million to $200 million. And that brings the total US support to $300 million for this effort,” Blinken said.

The resignation of Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry, following his inability to return to the country after signing a police deployment deal with Kenyan President William Ruto in Nairobi, further complicates the situation.

The political fallout highlights the fragility of Haiti’s leadership and the challenges facing efforts to restore order.

Despite legal obstacles, including a court rejection of the initial proposal to send police officers to Haiti, Kenya remains steadfast in its commitment to lead the Multinational Security Support Mission sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki had earlier affirmed Kenya’s role as a lead nation in the mission, emphasising the country’s international obligations. Kindiki disclosed that the mission was at the pre-deployment stage and all other programmes were in place, including laws of detention, arrests, standard operating procedures, and other enforcement measures.

But Principal Secretary for Foreign Affairs Singoei Korir, Speaking to BBC, has expressed some reservations.

“Now what has happened over the last few hours presents a change in those circumstances because there is no administration on which to anchor deployment. As such, we will have to wait and see what kind of administration is going to be installed in Haiti. At this point in time, looks like there is nobody in control which means that the kind of deployment to deal with a situation where there is nobody in control is completely different from which they serve a modicum of control. So that is the situation right now,” said Korir.

However, security experts have raised concerns regarding the suitability of police deployment in addressing Haiti’s complex security challenges.

Security expert George Musamali warns against underestimating the historical context and nature of the conflict in Haiti, cautioning against oversimplifying the crisis as mere gang warfare.

“First, it’s been everywhere in the media that what is in Haiti are gang wars, that’s not correct. Here you are dealing with emancipation; this is a high-intensity war, not the small-time runaway crime of breaking into houses and stuff. This is a different kind of ball game,” notes Musamali.

On the US push to have Kenya deploy police officers, Musamali describes this as the art of outsourcing the dirty work.

“The US knows well that it is easier to get countries like Kenya to deploy than it is to deploy themselves... History tells us that the US has failed more than once to bring order to the Caribbean nation,” he says, adding, ” “We should simply not fall into the trap.” 

Byron Odera, a former special forces officer, said Haiti has a problem with runaway gangs, well over 200 are operating with a measure of freedom owing to the lawlessness.

Odera, who served in Somalia and Mt Elgon operations earlier, said Kenya has been involved in peacekeeping missions by its armed forces, but the police have never been involved.

“The World Internal Policy Index did rank our police as the third worst in the world, raising questions on the processes, legitimacy, recruitment, and outcomes and everything else,” said Odera.

As Kenya prepares to deploy its first contingent of officers, questions linger regarding the country’s preparedness and understanding of Haiti’s complex history and challenges.

Dr Kenneth Ombogi, a historian at the University of Nairobi, emphasises the importance of contextual understanding before involvement in Haiti.

“We must understand the history of Haiti if we are to send or not to... The country has not made any good progress in development because of calamities, violence, and disasters,” Ombogi said.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report titled, Haiti’s Criminal Markets: Mapping trends in firearms and drug trafficking, released in March last year, revealed alarming trends in firearms and drug trafficking, causing the security crisis in Haiti.

The statement said gang-related violence in Haiti has reached levels not seen in decades, according to the January 2023 report of the Secretary-General to the UN Security Council.

Human Rights Watch has called for a comprehensive international response to address the crisis, advocating a rights-based approach and the formation of a transitional government.