Why experts want Haiti gang leaders to be involved in interim power-sharing negotiations

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

Gang violence in Port au’ Prince continues spiraling out of control, with reports now indicating that the outlaws are controlling almost everything in the Haitian capital city.

Journalist, author and former diplomat Monique Clesca reports that gangs were in her neighbourhood three days ago and “everybody is on the edge, stressed, absolutely terrified that they might come back”.

“Yesterday another gang was in another town may be about 20 minutes from where I live. They terrorised the population in various neighbourhoods in that area. I saw some dead bodies on my way to work,” she wrote in her daily updates.

She dismissed reports that gangs are in control of 80 percent of the city, clarifying that they are in charge of almost 100 percentage although residents are also creating barricades on roads to either stop or retard them.

Residents were alarmed when several gangs launched a coordinated series of attacks against the National Palace since the beginning of last week.

Haitians looking to buy supplies in what used to be a busy market in Port-au-Prince fled in fear last Thursday as gangs clashed with police in front of the presidential palace.

The armed groups are now controlling 95% of Port-au-Prince and threatening to seize the presidency and many Haitians feel there’s no alternative but to involve them in interim power-sharing negotiations.

Experts have also cautioned that no meaningful pacification of communities will take place as envisioned by the United Nations Secretary-General and the international community unless all sides, especially those actively participating in the fight for change, are included in the process.

“There is need to reach out to militia leaders, because they are not gang leaders as they are being called, to help them work with the transition council, failure to which only a massive international military force and not police enforcement will pacify Haiti,” says Historian Prof Macharia Munene.

Doing that will solve other challenges, including disarming the militia because thousands of them being former police officers, they may be used either as vigilantes to bring peace and order and probably get coopted into the police service again later.

Early last week, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders meeting in Kingstone Jamaica agreed to form a leadership council to run Haiti but were still short of one name, amid fears that a continued delay could give gangs time to seize power and install one of their own leader.

So far, Haitian stakeholders have agreed to form a presidential council of seven voting members and two observers. That was part of the agreement arrived at last week by CARICOM, US officials, Haiti’s main political groups, key members of Haitian civil society and representatives from the diaspora.

It is set to include members from three traditional political parties, civil society group known as the Montana Accord, and representatives of the business sector with no mention of representation from the militias.

According to reports, the council’s tasks will include selecting a new prime minister and preparing a roadmap towards elections. 

After weeks of escalating gang violence, CARICOM and its backers led by the US hope that the transitional presidential council will restore calm if it is installed into office as promised by today.

From Prof Munene’s analysis, the world has to make up its mind on whether to talk to militia leader Jimmy “Barbeque” Cherizier and his supporters or not because the only other alternative will be a military intervention.

Cherizier is a 46-year-old known by the nickname “Barbecue,” who leads a coalition of armed militia called the G9 Family and Allies, which media reports allege has risen to become perhaps the most powerful gang in Haiti.

Prof Munene also argues that the situation in Haiti is bad and a decision has to be made quickly because it is the responsibility of the international community to create stability that can allow police to enforce law and order.

Fellow analyst Dr Hassan Khanejje from The Horn Institute also describes Cherizier as a defacto leader who should be involved in the talks because he has more legitimacy than the politicians picked to serve on the transition council.

Last week, The New Humanitarian reported from Santiago, Chile, that gangs began unleashing their violence on upscale neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince on March 18, leaving at least 24 people dead.

Gang leader

Khanejje reasons that Cherizier has so far been very successful and he cannot be ignored unless he is either eliminated, which can also create its own complications.

“We have to find a way of coopting him and take care of some of his interest because he claims to speak on behalf of the people and does not look at himself as a gang leader just like Boko Haram in Nigeria,” says Khanejje.

Daadab MP Farah Maalim thinks it will be more logical for the world to draw parallels with what happened in Somalia as global leaders embark on pacifying and rebuilding Haiti.

He calls for a discussion to be created in a friendly African country involving all stakeholders from Haiti, the way all factions in Somalia were hosted by Kenya at Mbagathi between 2002 and 2004.

Haitians have a lot of respect for Africans and people of the Black race because of the slavery history, which gives scholars confidence that with goodwill and support from the African Union, giant steps can be taken quickly to rectify the situation in Haiti.

Professor of Global Race in the Institute of Race, Gender, Sexuality and Social Justice (GRSJ) at the University of British Columbia, Jemima Pierre, strongly argues that Haiti can resolve its own problems if the US, France and Canada stop meddling.

The Haiti national opposes the proposed sending of the Kenya led multi-national force to her country, arguing that it lacks UN mandate and was only sanctioned by the UN Security Council led by the US.

“These forces are not welcome. This mission is explicitly a non-UN mission, which means that they are not under the purview of the UN. What people see is foreigners coming in once again with guns trained on them,” says Pierre.