Kenya considers leading a force in Haiti: What you need to know

Support for foreign intervention in crisis-racked Haiti has grown, but civil society groups warn of past abuses.

Members of the Haitian national police force leave a news conference
Kenya's foreign minister says the country is ready to help train and assist the Haitian police to 'restore normalcy' in the Caribbean nation [File: Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters]

Kenya has said it is willing to lead a “multinational force” in crisis-hit Haiti.

The announcement represents a possible breakthrough for supporters of such an intervention, who have argued it is needed to address spiralling insecurity, gang violence and a growing humanitarian emergency in the Caribbean nation.

Last year, Haiti’s interim government officially requested an international deployment, garnering support from United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the United States.

But while several countries had previously backed the prospect of sending what the UN has dubbed a “specialised support force” to Haiti, prior to Kenya’s announcement on Saturday, no country had stepped forward to lead the intervention.

On Monday, the US Department of State welcomed the Kenyan government’s willingness to lead a potential mission and said Washington would introduce a UN Security Council resolution with Ecuador to authorise the deployment.

Haitian civil society groups have widely opposed such a move, however, citing past problems caused by foreign intervention and fears that the international community would be propping up Haitian officials seen as partially responsible for the country’s crises.

Here’s what you need to know:

What has Kenya offered?

Kenyan Foreign Minister Alfred Mutua said on Saturday that the East African country is ready to deploy 1,000 police officers to help train and assist Haiti’s police to “restore normalcy in the country and protect strategic installations”.

Mutua said in a post on social media that Kenya’s “proposed deployment will crystalize” once it gets a mandate from the UN Security Council “and other Kenyan constitutional processes are undertaken”.

The minister also said that a Kenyan police team would undertake an “assessment mission” in the coming weeks to “inform and guide the mandate and operational requirements” of a mission to Haiti.

How did Haiti respond?

“Haiti appreciates this expression of African solidarity,” Haitian Foreign Minister Jean Victor Geneus said in a statement on Sunday, “and looks forward to welcoming Kenya’s proposed evaluation mission.”

How did the UN and other countries respond?

Guterres welcomed the Kenyan pledge, saying he “values Kenya’s consideration to possibly lead a non-UN multinational force”, according to UN spokesperson Farhan Haq.

“The Secretary-General reiterates his call to the Security Council to support such a non-UN international operation and encourages member states, particularly from the region, to join forces with Kenya,” Haq said on Monday.

Canada, which had previously pledged $75m ($100m Canadian) for Haiti’s police, among other support, also hailed Kenya’s offer.

“We stand ready to work with Kenya and all partners to ensure the success of the upcoming reconnaissance mission and any subsequent possible deployment under UNSC mandate,” the Canadian ambassador to Haiti, Sebastien Carriere, said on Tuesday.

US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters on Monday that Washington, for its part, is “committed to finding the resources to support this multinational force”.

“I think it’s too early to get into new details about what those resources might be. But after the Kenyans have conducted their initial assessment mission we will of course be in contact with them,” Miller said.

People displaced by gang violence stand in a makeshift encampment in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Thousands of Haitians have been displaced due to gang violence in recent months [File: Ariana Cubillos/AP Photo]

Why did Haiti request international intervention?

Interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who assumed the post following the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise, called on the international community to set up a “specialised armed force” in Haiti in October of last year.

The request, which enjoyed the support of Henry’s cabinet, came amid a surge in gang violence in Haiti, including a gang blockade of a key fuel terminal in the capital, Port-au-Prince, that caused widespread shortages and skyrocketing prices of basic goods.

Henry said at the time that the “immediate deployment” of such a force was needed to address “the humanitarian crisis caused by, among other things, the insecurity resulting from the criminal actions of armed gangs and their sponsors”.

The request also came as demonstrations against the government, fuelled by the violence and high cost of living, had grown. In May, the UN said about five million people – half of Haiti’s population – were facing hunger.

Why are some Haitians against international intervention?

Wariness over foreign deployments stretches back to Haiti’s independence from France in the 1800s.

The country has seen numerous foreign interventions since then, including a 1915 invasion by US Marines that began a 19-year occupation and a US mission in the 1990s to remove a Haitian military government following a coup.

More recently, UN deployments in Haiti have widely been viewed as failures: UN peacekeepers sent to the country after a devastating 2010 earthquake were linked to a cholera outbreak that killed about 10,000 people, and UN troops who withdrew from the country in 2019 also have been linked to sexual violence against Haitian women and girls.

Civil society groups cited those past interventions – as well as fears that another foreign-led mission could prop up corrupt Haitian officials – in rejecting Henry’s October 2022 appeal for the armed force.

“It’s a bit like repeating the same mistakes,” Rosy Auguste Ducena, a lawyer and programme director at the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH) in Haiti, told Al Jazeera last year.

Civil society groups also have condemned international support for Henry, who in 2021 indefinitely postponed presidential and legislative elections. In February, the prime minister formally installed a transition council meant to prepare for the long-overdue vote, which he stressed could not take place until safety is restored in the country.

What have the rights groups suggested instead?

In June, a group of leading Haitian human rights and civil society groups said it supported “an urgent, rights-based response” from the international community.

But they said such a response should support a transitional government, be focused on building up the country’s woefully under-resourced national police, and stop the flow of arms to Haiti.

“An essential first step is to stop propping up the set of actors who created the crises facing the country, including those currently in power,” the groups said (PDF).

What comes next?

It remains unclear when the US and Ecuador will put forward the UN Security Council resolution to authorise a Kenyan-led mission to Haiti. But Miller at the State Department said on Monday that it would happen in the near future.

It also remains unclear what other countries would participate in the mission – and in what capacity – should it be given a green light.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies