Can Kenya combat gang violence in Haiti?

Former police officer Jimmy "Barbecue" Cherizier, leader of the 'G9' coalition, leads a march surrounded by his security against Haiti's Prime Minister Ariel Henry, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti September 19, 2023. REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Kenya has offered to send an intervention force of 1,000 police officers to Haiti to neutralise armed gangs, protect civilians and bring about peace, security and order. The gesture was a response to an SOS call by the Haitian government to restore order after the escalation of gang violence following the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.

The Arguments

Critics have questioned the capacity of the Kenyan police to combat armed gangs in Haiti which is an unfamiliar territory with a different spoken language. 

Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga has described the mission as a “wrong move” and a misplaced priority. He made the statement in an interview with a local TV station on October 5, 2023. 

“Before you even come to Africa, Haiti is at the doorstep of the United States which is the most powerful nation in the world. What is it that is so unique about Kenya that it is being chosen to lead the multinational force in Haiti?” Odinga said, adding that: “When coffins start arriving here, that’s when we shall regret. Haiti is dangerous and there’s a possibility our police will encounter problems there.”

Amnesty International has also criticised the mission through a letter to the UN Security Council stating Kenyan police’s poor record of responding to civilians using excessive and unnecessary force. It said it had documented more than 30 cases of Kenyan police officers killing protesters through shootings and tear-gas suffocation during various protests this year amid police beatings, unlawful arrests and detention.

However, the US has pledged to support the Kenya-led mission with $100 million. U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Kenya President William Ruto on October 3, 2023, to “thank him for answering Haiti’s call”. A press statement issued by the White House welcomed the mission formed to “bring relief to the people of Haiti, who have suffered for far too long at the hands of violent criminals”.

Canada has also pledged to finance the mission.

The Facts

The United Nations Security Council on October 2, 2023, approved the deployment of Kenyan police officers to Haiti for a year with a review after nine months.

According to Kenyan Foreign Minister Alfred Mutua, countries including The Bahamas, Jamaica, and Antigua and Barbuda have joined the mission with Spain, Senegal and Chile likely to join the Multinational Security Support (MSS) mission expected to be in place by the beginning of 2024. 

Kenya’s security forces have been battling the al-Shabab Islamist militant group for over a decade. With this experience, they will work with the local Haitian police to combat the violent gangs. 

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