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Radio France Internationale
Radio France Internationale
Melissa Chemam with RFI

Can Kenya help solve Haiti's deep insecurity crisis?

National police officers patrol an intersection in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Saturday, on 5 August 2023. © Odelyn Joseph / AP

Kenya is preparing to lead an international police force to combat gang violence in Haiti – an historic first for the East African nation.

Members of the UN Security Council this week debated the mandate of an international security mission, requested by Haitian authorities, to support its underfunded and understaffed police force.

The Caribbean country has about 10,000 police officers for more than 11 million people. Kenya has pledged to send 1,000 security officers.

No other country has been willing to take charge of Haiti's security. Canada considered it before deciding it was too risky.

More than 2,400 people have died in Haiti's violence since the start of the year, according to the United Nations.

History of peacekeeping

In July Kenya volunteered to lead a multinational police intervention to train the Haitian police, but the mission still needed a green light from the UN Security Council.

Kenya's proposition is "bold and comes in good faith", Keith Mines, as an expert on the Caribbean with the United States Institute of Peace, told RFI.

Nairobi cited its “very long history of global peacekeeping” in Kosovo, neighbouring Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo as a key reason to lead the mission.

It is still heavily involved in fighting the Shabaab extremist group in both Kenya and Somalia.

Amisom Kenyan troops in support of the Somali National Army (SNA) has been steadily liberating areas and villages in Southern Somalia formally under the control of the Al Qaeda-affiliated extremist group al Shabaab AFP

For Kenyan President William Ruto, the mission to Haiti is a chance to once again perform on the international stage, says Roland Marchal, an East Africa analyst at CERI Sciences Po Paris.

"Ruto is also thinking about how much money the Kenyan army and police would receive for such a mission," Marchal told RFI.

"Given few countries volunteered, for Ruto it's a financial opportunity as much as a choice of external policy, while his predecessors in Kenya were very absent on the international scene."

Ruto last week urged the UN to quickly work out a framework to allow the mission to begin.

However, observers say the main weakness of Kenya's plan is the lack of legitimacy of Haiti's own government.

Multiple challenges

The Haitian government is unelected, with Prime Minister Ariel Henry coming to power following the assassination of Jovenel Moïse in early July 2022.

"The international community should stop supporting the Haitian government because it is illegitimate and corrupt," says Frédéric Thomas, of the Belgian NGO research centre Centre tricontinental (CETRI).

It is also unpopular and "contested by the majority of the population", he adds.

Amnesty International worries about a "troubling history of abuses and impunity associated with past multinational or foreign interventions in Haiti".

Thomas says there is also evidence the Henry government is linked to the local gangs, and profits from trafficking.

Another issue is the US involvement in the Kenyan mission.

On Monday, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin went to Nairobi to sign a deal to establish a plan and a supporting budget for the mission over the next five years.

Some say the United States has a historic responsibility to help Haiti and that supporting Kenya's mission is insufficient.

The Kenyan army, meanwhile, is said to have little experience of good urban policing.

'Troubled nation'

The UN discussions on the Kenya-led mission happened as a bleak report on Haiti came out on Wednesday.

Haiti is sinking further into bloodshed and lawlessness, the United Nations chief Antonio Guterres warned, urging the international community to provide security and financial aid.

"Gang-related violence has continued to increase in intensity and brutality, with gangs expanding their control within and beyond Port-au-Prince," Guterres said.

"Sexual violence, including collective rape, continues to be used by gangs to terrorise populations under the control of rival gangs."

Guterres urged world leaders to show "significant political will and commitment to securing adequate, predictable and sustained financing to preserve institutional gains in the long term".

The UN Human Rights Council will hold an interactive dialogue with UN Human Rights chief Volker Turk on his report on Haiti on 10 October.

After this dialogue, the Kenya-led mission may be implemented.

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