Why are Kenyan forces going to intervene in Haiti and how is the United States involved? | police news

Kenyan President William Ruto is in the United States for a three-day state visit in the first such trip by an African leader since 2008.

When Ruto meets his counterpart Joe Biden at the White House on Thursday, top of his agenda will be a multinational security intervention in the troubled Caribbean nation of Haiti, a mission that Kenya leads and Washington supports.

While the United States has declined to contribute any forces to the U.N.-backed initiative, Washington has emerged as Kenya’s strongest supporter and the mission’s largest funder, even as Nairobi faces internal challenges over the strategy.

The planned police deployment to Haiti – the first in an East African country outside the continent – ​​has sparked intense debates in Kenya’s parliament and its courts.

Here’s what we know about the planned mission, how Kenya got involved, and why some are fiercely opposed to it:

Kenyan President William Ruto speaks during an interview.
Kenyan President William Ruto (File: Monicah Mwangi/Reuters)

What is the backdrop to the Haiti crisis?

The Caribbean nation has been wracked by violence in recent months after gangs declared war on former Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s government in February.

The UN says more than 2,500 people were killed or injured across the country between January and March, while at least 95,000 people fled the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Last year, Henry had pleaded with the U.N. Security Council to deploy a mission that would bolster Haiti’s fragile security forces and help crack down on rampant gang violence. For months, the Security Council failed to find a country to step forward and lead such a mission after a previous UN mission to Haiti was plagued by controversy.

In mid-2023, it emerged that the United States was considering backing a Nairobi-led police mission and Kenyan officials were weighing the proposal. It came as a surprise to many: Kenya has sent troops on missions in and out of Africa, but no African country has ever led a security mission outside the continent, and an army deployment is more traditional than a police mission.

Kenyan officials highlighted the historical connections between Haiti and Africa.

“Kenya supports people of African descent around the world,” said then Foreign Minister Alfred Mutua.

Residents carry their belongings as they flee their homes due to gang violence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Residents of the Lower Delmas area carry their belongings as they flee their homes due to gang violence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on May 2, 2024 (Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters)

What is MSS?

On October 2, the UN Security Council voted in favor of motions from the United States and Ecuador to deploy the Multinational Security Support Mission (MSS) to Haiti. It is not a UN mission, but is known as a “UN-supported initiative.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the mission “fundamental.” Washington has pledged $300 million in funding, while Canada has pledged $123 million to Haiti, of which $80.5 million has been allocated to the mission.

The 2,500-strong force will be led by 1,000 Kenyans from the paramilitary Battle-trained Administrative Police Unit and General Service Unit, called Recce commandos. Previously, the commandos were tasked with quelling internal unrest and participating in operations against al-Shabab in neighboring Somalia.

Several other countries have also pledged police, including Benin, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Guyana, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Bangladesh and Chad.

Hundreds of Kenyan police officers have reportedly been undergoing training and taking French classes in preparation for their deployment. Kenyans speak English, Swahili and other indigenous languages, while Haitian French and Creole are the official languages ​​of Haiti.

This week, an advance team of Kenyan forces landed in Haiti, according to Kenyan media reports, coinciding with Ruto’s meeting with Biden.

The MSS will work in collaboration with the Haitian police. They will seek to quickly recover key government infrastructure from gang control. Senior Kenya Police Commander Noor Gabow will reportedly lead the mission.

Why is Kenya involved in Haiti and who opposes the MSS?

The deployment faces fierce pushback from opposition lawmakers, human rights groups and Kenyan lawyers, but Ruto has pressed ahead. In January, he told reporters this was because the mission was “a bigger call to humanity.”

Opposition lawmakers accuse Ruto’s government of failing to protect Kenya and say the country is part of the initiative only for monetary gain. They also say that authorities are deploying police in contradiction to the constitution, which only allows military deployments.

After a lawmaker challenged the mission in court, a judge declared in January that the government did not have the authority to deploy police and that a special security agreement with Haiti would be required. It was that agreement that Henry was in Nairobi to sign in February when the gangs declared war in the absence of the then Haitian prime minister, forcing him to resign and remain in exile in Puerto Rico.

The Ruto government temporarily halted the deployment of the MSS in March after Henry’s resignation, but resumed plans after the recent appointment of a new transitional government council in Haiti under new Prime Minister Fritz Belizaire.

However, despite Ruto’s maneuvers, opposition lawmakers in Kenya filed another lawsuit that will be heard in June.

Meanwhile, human rights activists point out that Kenyan police have long been accused of extrajudicial killings and torture. In July, police opened fire on people protesting rising taxes and rising costs of living, killing at least 35 people.

Many in Haiti are also wary of foreign interventions. The 15-year-old U.N. mission there has a tainted legacy, plagued by accusations of sexual abuse against peacekeepers and accusations that they introduced cholera to the country.

Enrique in Nairobi
Former Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry, second from left, after giving a lecture at the United States International University in Nairobi, Kenya, on March 1, 2024 (Anrew Kasuku/AP)

Why did the US nominate Kenya and why is it not in the MSS?

Washington has been adamant about not sending troops to Haiti, although officials have not given reasons. Despite “frantic” exchanges by Haitian leaders for Washington to send an emergency unit at the peak of the country’s recent violence, the United States refused and promised to act quickly in deploying the MSS, according to US media.

However, American contractors have been in Haiti for weeks, building the base of operations that the MSS will use and securing supplies for the incoming police force. US officials have also reportedly been training personnel in Kenya for deployment for months.

It is unclear how the United States came to back Kenya for the Haiti mission (one official said “Kenya raised its hand”), but in recent years Washington has become increasingly dependent on Nairobi for its security interests in the Horn of Africa. Kenya has a US base in Lamu County and cooperates with US forces fighting al-Shabab in Somalia.

While Washington’s friendly relations with Ethiopia have turned sour after the latter’s two-year war and Washington has criticized Uganda under President Yoweri Museveni for alleged human rights abuses, Nairobi has remained a staunch ally in the region.

However, there are disagreements about the mission to Haiti, analysts say.

Kenya is “demanding that the United States do more to secure financial support for the UN pool that will cover the costs of the mission,” said Meron Elias, a researcher at the International Crisis Group.

“Kenya also wants the United States to commit greater support to stem the flow of weapons to Haiti, including from US ports in Florida.”

What else will be on Biden and Ruto’s agenda?

Ruto’s state visit comes as the United States seeks to counter the growing influence of China and Russia in Africa. Washington is eager to show that he is still in the game, despite having recently been on the defensive in the Sahel region. Niger and Chad recently sent U.S. troops stationed there to pack their bags.

Meanwhile, Ruto is seeking more foreign investment to offset Kenya’s debts. The country has barely avoided defaulting on a $2 billion debt that was due in June. Most of Kenya’s foreign debt is owed to China. It has borrowed hugely to shore up major infrastructure projects, including a rail line between Nairobi and the port city of Mombasa.

“Kenya means business,” Ruto tweeted after meeting with American business leaders in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday. Atlanta is home to companies such as Delta Air Lines, which is considering acquiring a major stake in national airline Kenya Airways.

Climate financing for African countries, a cornerstone of Ruto’s foreign commitments, will also be in the spotlight as Kenya and other East African countries have faced deadly floods in the past month.

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