/ 9 March 2024

Kenya police deployment to Haiti: What’s next?

Demonstration Demanding The Resignation Of Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI- MARCH 07: A BIM police stands guard in front of the Brigade d'Intervention Motoris police base as a damaged armored police vehicle is seen behind while Haiti's government extended on Thursday the nighttime curfew and state of emergency in the capital of Port-au-Prince for a month amid a wave of violence unleashed by armed groups in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on March 07, 2024. An initial three-day curfew was announced over the weekend, but gangs have continued attacking police stations and other official institutions, which has the police besieged and outnumbered to combat the armed gangs. According to official figures, a dozen police buildings have been attacked. (Photo by Guerinault Louis/Anadolu via Getty Images)

A reciprocal agreement between Kenya and Haiti to send police from the East African nation to the violence-wracked country has raised hopes the Nairobi-led, United Nations-backed multinational peace mission could deploy soon.

But the Kenyan government still faces legal hurdles in soldiering on with the plan after a court decision put the brakes on the deployment to the gang-ravaged Caribbean country. 

Key questions arise about what lies next.

How soon can the deployment begin?

The plan has faced legal challenges at every turn since it was announced last year and was declared “illegal” by a Kenyan high court in January this year. 

Judge Enock Chacha Mwita ruled that Kenya’s National Security Council — which authorised the mission — only has the authority to send the military abroad and not police officers. 

But, the judge said, Kenya’s president could deploy police officers to a country if a reciprocal agreement exists.

The agreement was signed a week ago in the presence of Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry and Kenyan President William Ruto, who declared, “We are ready for this deployment.”

Ekuru Aukot, the opposition politician who filed a petition last year at the Nairobi high court, vowed a fresh legal challenge.

“The whole arrangement is hush-hush and is not in compliance with the judgment,” he said. 

“Kenya needs to gazette this reciprocity agreement and that also means article 10 of the Constitution will kick in on public participation,” said Aukot, a lawyer who helped draft Kenya’s 2010 Constitution.

Does the deal have public support?

Kenyans have questioned the wisdom of sending police officers to fight heavily armed gangsters when the country faces security problems of its own. 

And that’s before you consider the language and cultural barriers. 

“We are struggling to contain cattle rustlers and bandits in northern Kenya with weak firing power. How are we going to deal with gangs with machine guns?” barber Patrick Achuya asked. 

Businessman and opposition politician Jimi Wanjigi has called on Ruto to visit Haiti before sending ill-equipped Kenyan police officers to a “war zone”.

Ruto does not “care about risking the lives of our sons and daughters of the police force who are not trained for such a war-zone mission,” Wanjigi said on social media.

Rights watchdogs have also pointed out that Kenyan police have a history of using sometimes lethal force against civilians, and that they pose an unacceptable risk in Haiti where foreign troops have committed abuses in past interventions.

Kenya’s police chief, Japhet Koome, has defended his squad as being mission-ready, telling a government meeting last year “we have never failed”.

What is the situation in Haiti?

Haiti’s marauding gangs, which control swaths of the country, announced a coordinated effort to oust Henry last week, launching attacks against the capital Port-au-Prince’s airport, prisons, police stations and other strategic targets.

Powerful gang leader Jimmy Cherizier warned on Tuesday that the current chaos would lead to civil war and “genocide” unless the prime minister steps down.

In power since the 2021 assassination of then president Jovenel Moïse, Henry had been due to step down last month. But that has not happened.

At least 15  000 people have already fled the worst-hit parts of Port-au-Prince, the United Nations has said, although UN teams on the ground have been unable to report any death tolls.

Haiti, the Western hemisphere’s poorest nation, has been in turmoil for years, and Moïse’s assassination plunged the country further into chaos.

No elections have taken place since 2016 and the presidency remains vacant. — AFP